Playing with Technology

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. ~Arthur C. Clarke

Building a community

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.


2 responses to “Building a community”

  1. Boone Gorges Avatar

    Glad to see that you’re getting things up and running, Jon. After meeting your colleague Katie Holt at THATCamp this weekend, I remembered that I hadn’t checked out Voices in a while, so I took some time yesterday to poke around and was very impressed with what I saw. From my point of view, what you’re doing with BP and classroom integration is really ahead of the curve. I’m very anxious to hear ongoing updates about how the faculty and students take to the platform, and the ways in which you continue to build out the system to meet their needs.

  2. Jon Avatar

    Thanks Boone. I wish I had more time and that we had more resources for doing customization. I didn’t attend the CUNY Academic Commons session or else it would have been one of the inspiring implementations. You have some very cool stuff going on.

    I’ve often wanted to sit down in a room with D’Arcy, Scott, Jim, and a bunch of the other people who are working with WPMU in a campus environment and just bounce ideas and share horror stories or successes. Maybe at an NMC, Educause, or some other conference we could put something together.

    Jim also mentioned some thing at WCNYC about exploring the possibility of a few smaller institutions like UMW and Wooster collaborating on setting up a shared WPMU. Wonder if he is still interested.