Having launched last week my twelve month free Social Media Roadmap Webinars 2011 program, not without a few technical hitches on the day but launched nevertheless, I turned my mind and energies to setting up a community site for participants in the series.

BuddyPress community site software

In this post I explain how and why I chose BuddyPress and how that has worked out so far. I hope this will be helpful for others who are thinking about setting up a community site.

I chose to go the free route

I could have used an industrial-strength platform like WordFrame Integra, but even though I have a business partner relationship that would have set me back $349 a year – not an unreasonable amount by any means, but this whole webinar thing was a bit of an experiment at this stage and being as how it is free there was not a revenue stream to cover that cost. As a solopreneur I have learned the hard way that when I think about expenditures I need to think about where the revenue will come from so that I am not out of pocket!

On the free side I could have used Google Sites, but having used that service for a few groups I’ve belonged to or set up, I have to say I’ve found it less than user-friendly to set up (for this particular user anyway).

I know too about Drupal and Joomla! but those are way beyond my skills to set up and manage. The last time someone told me Joomla! was “easy” I think I wasted at least a day and a half before I gave up! Maybe it’s changed but I wasn’t of a mind to experiment. I wanted something I could set up without outside help and would function effectively.

Why and how I chose BuddyPress

It was not because I knew much – anything really – about BuddyPress, which is a WordPress plugin, but I had seen it mentioned quite a few times and knew there was a BuddyPress plugin for the iThemes Builder theme which this site is currently using. As I’m reasonably comfortable with Builder I thought that could be the way to go but, when I studied the support thread on the Builder BuddyPress plugin I did not find much enlightenment or recent comment. I didn’t need complications if they could be avoided.

So I then spent quite a bit more of my time online that day reading up on BuddyPress. The official site naturally provided plenty of information on features and benefits, but of course did not suggest any downside. Most of the blog posts I read about BuddyPress basically regurgitated the official list of features and benefits, which I found a tad frustrating. At times like this a good trick is to search on “product X sucks” or “product Y problems”. Happily the results of that sort of search, with “BuddyPress” inserted for “product  X” did nothing to deter me (just more fan posts mostly). But through further search about BuddyPress I found a blog post which discussed pros and cons.

BuddyPress as Ning Replacement,  posted in April last year by Mike Richwalsky, told me that BuddyPress, like Ning, offered key features of

  • Friends
  • Private and Public Groups
  • Forums
  • Private Messages

More musically to my ears he asserts in the post that installation is “dead easy”.

He lists, as I say, pros and cons and as a “big pro” mentions the control you have:

Finally, by running your own network, you are not beholden to any company that can stop offering its service with little or no warning. If you run the show, you decide what goes on and when it’s time to upgrade or shut it down.

Having known people to be quite distressed when their community networks on other sites were shut down without warning, possibly on the basis of one person’s malicious or stupid (or both) actions, I value highly the feature of being completely in control of the site. I can always outsource some of the administration if it should grow beyond my scope to manage (happy thought, that!)

The cons were decidedly unthreatening. The main one was the flip side of control-as-pro, namely the responsibility of managing the site, with attendant risks.

By striking out on your own, you’ll be responsible for everything from managing spam, user accounts, content and so on. Something to be aware of in an era where we’re all being asked to do more with less, both in terms of people and budgets.

All in all, the prospect of BuddyPress meeting our needs looked good. And if I had wanted to I could have accepted Mike’s invitation to join the network he had built and try it out.

I decided to just get on with it and install the plugin.

It’s basically a WordPress install

I can’t tell you how opaque a lot of the stuff online about BuddyPress had been for me at first. You can call me dumb, but I have had years of mucking about with WordPress sites yet it did not dawn on me straight away that installation really is “dead easy” because it’s a WordPress install, then a plugin install, then a selecting of a BuddyPress compatible theme, one of which is supplied with the BuddyPress plugin.

So “how to install BuddyPress” goes like this:

Step 1: install a blog with WordPress.org (not WordPress.com) – either by doing the “famous 5 minute download and install” or by using Fantastico (I know, purists say don’t use it but I was by then in a hurry and if worst came to worst I could always start again).

Step 2: install the BuddyPress plugin (as for other plugin installs)

Step 3: activate BuddyPress compatible theme (supplied with plugin install)

Easy peasy, if you have spent any time working with WordPress.

So far so good – but there was a “but”

The “but” is But I wanted the site to be private.

Which is where my troubles started.

I resolved that by setting up a private group within the overall site.

But that’s another story for another day. Tomorrow hopefully.

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Des Walsh is an executive coach. He helps business owners and entrepreneurs worldwide deal effectively with the feeling of being left behind or overwhelmed, or both, about social media – especially LinkedIn - and how to engage safely and effectively with social media to help grow their business. Connect with Des on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get Des’s weekly Social Business Bites (select snippets of his "best of the week" online finds).