Ever wish your group could have its own social networking site? What if you could run your own little Facebook with the simplicity and elegance of WordPress? Enter BuddyPress, a free WordPress plugin that adds:
- activity streams
- user groups
- custom profile fields
- private messaging
- and more …
… all within WordPress.
BuddyPress is fairly popular – it’s had over 900,000 downloads.
WordPress: Freedom, Privacy, Portability
Is BuddyPress worth the trouble? Sure, you could just start a Facebook page. (If all your potential users are already on Facebook.)
But consider the advantages of your own social networking site with WordPress and BuddyPress:
- Freedom to customize: Add features, change the theme, do whatever you want. Remember, it’s still a WordPress site, so you can add other WordPress plugins too.
- Freedom to migrate later: With WordPress, you can export all the data and migrate to another platform. No restrictions.
- Privacy: If your users aren’t already on Facebook, they may prefer to trust you with their personal information.
- No “Facebook” barrier: By now, anyone who isn’t on Facebook probably doesn’t want to be on Facebook. For these users, joining your specialized site will offer a much lower barrier to entry than opening the Facebook floodgates.
Try BuddyPress on a Spare Site
BuddyPress is one of those Huge Plugins that transforms your site. You should always test new plugins on a copy of your site, not the live site. But this is especially true for a big plugin like BuddyPress.
This is a great reason to install a local copy of WordPress with VirtualBox. With a local copy, you’ll be able to test and tweak BuddyPress all you like.
If you don’t want to mess with VirtualBox, there’s also an online demo for BuddyPress.
Seriously, don’t test BuddyPress first on your live site.
As always before installing a new plugin, first make sure WordPress and any active plugins are up-to-date. Log in as admin, and check the Plugins entry on the sidebar to see whether anything needs to be updated.
Now go to Plugins -> Add New. Type buddypress and click Search Plugins. BuddyPress should appear first in the list. Click Install Now.
After “installing” the plugin, you’ll click Activate Plugin as usual.
However, unlike most plugins, BuddyPress also has an “installation wizard.” Basically, it walks you through each of its settings screens.
Don’t worry too much about your choices now. After you finish, you’ll be able to access these screens again on the sidebar menu.
As part of the installation, BuddyPress asks whether you’d like to use your current theme or the BuddyPress theme. You’ll probably want to go with the BuddyPress theme. Your current theme almost certainly won’t support all the new BuddyPress features.
BuddyPress Sidebar Menu
You can always tell a plugin is “huge” when it creates a whole separate area on the sidebar. BuddyPress adds a section like this, with menu links to each of the settings screen. There’s also a link to add profile fields.
It’s always good to take a peek at the database after installing a new plugin. Behind the scenes, BuddyPress creates several new tables in your database: wp_bp_activity, wp_bp_activity_meta, and so on.
You might feel this is cluttering up your database. Actually, it’s the opposite. A huge plugin like BuddyPress has to store a lot of data. When it makes its own tables, that’s a good sign. If you ever want to uninstall BuddyPress, it might actually come out without taking the rest of your site with it.
Verdict: Let BuddyPress Take Over
Still, once you start using BuddyPress, it will probably be difficult to remove it and lose all that functionality. This is a long-term relationship.
But if you want your own social networking site, BuddyPress may offer just what you need.