Since returning from WordCamp NYC I’ve been working on updating the Voices service. (Just have to mention that it seems one of the tagaroo updates would appear to have fixed the lag while writing. Nice job!) One of the things I was really excited about at WCNYC was the way a few people had used BuddyPress to create some really cool community sites. I was particularly impressed with what Mike Pratt had put together for West Point creating Bugle Notes and the Nourish Network site Lisa Sabon-Wilson showed. So I decided that I needed to use BuddyPress on the Voices site.
I must say it has been relatively painless to convert Voices from just a plain WordPress Multi-blog setup to a BuddyPress powered community site. My first step was to convert my existing Multi-blog setup on DreamHost to use BuddyPress and mark it as the development environment. Once that was done in late October I began looking at my options for a theme to use as the main site theme. This was before the changes in theme structure for BuddyPress. At first I tried to code something myself, but given that I wanted it to be ready for this semester and that I have other duties, it was clear I couldn’t take the time. I looked at some of the free options like Bruce, but could not get them to really work consistently and be stable. In the end I settled on BP Corporate by incsub. It is a nice clean theme, which is what I really wanted since the content of an academic community should be the focus.
Once I had picked a theme I started playing with where to put the widgets and how to make sure the site had a dynamic feel. I ended up using the plugins Ahjira Recent Site-wide Articles, Auto Group Join (with some modifications to make it work), BP Groupblog, BP Events, and Recent Global Comments Widget. The homepage also uses some of the built-in BuddyPresss widgets like Groups, Site wide activity, Who’s Online Avatars, Members and Recently active member avatars. Eventually I’d like to add a Featured Post widget, but the ones available currently do not seem to work. I think the overall effect has been very good. The site feels dynamic and people can see what community members are writing about.
I would say it has definitely been worth it. Even though the main use is for class blogs at the moment, we are getting a number of users joining because they want to be a part of the community. This is something that was not happening before BuddyPress allowed us to easily create the community features. The feature with the biggest impact though has been BuddyPress groups with the Auto Group Join plugin. This has made creating class blogs super easy and faculty have really loved it. There are still some things to tweak, but overall I’m happy with how it is going.