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DIY Social Networking with BuddyPress

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Social networks don’t have to be massive sites catering to millions. Phil Thame shows you how to set up a network for your hobby or for friends and family.

WordPress.com is a well-known blogging site similar to Blogger. Slightly less well known is that the software that drives it is free and open source and released on WordPress.org for free download, so anyone with a web server can run their own WordPress site. The beauty of running your own is that it’s almost infinitely customisable, with thousands of themes and plug-ins so that a WordPress-based site doesn’t have to look remotely like traditional blog.

One of the most amazing plug-ins to my mind is BuddyPress, which turns a WordPress site into a fully interactive one with sign-up pages for your users, password reminders, profile pages and a forum – ideal for any kind of hobby or special interest group.

Installing the software

I am definitely not a web server wizard; if you are, you can skip this bit, but if you aren’t, here’s how to get the system set up. You need a Linux web server. You can apparently install WordPress on Windows Server, but it’s not really intended for that and you have to know what you’re doing, so choose a web host that offers Linux servers. Then, before you enter into a contract, make sure the hosting service provides a simple web-based setup and software installation system. My hosting company uses the very popular cPanel system (www.cpanel.net) for site admin and Fantastico (fantasticoscripts.com) to install web software. Most smaller providers seem to use the same combination, but some larger ones have their own systems. Keep the login details safe or you’ll lock yourself out of own website! Login by going to www.yoursitename/cpanel.

cPanel is where you set up the admin username and password and email addresses based on the site URL. You can also run a File Manager to browser, open and edit the files that make your site work – advanced users only! Ignoring that for now, scroll down to the software section and choose Fantastico DeLuxe, then install WordPress from the sidebar. You’ll need another username and password for WordPress – keep these safe too. Log in to the WordPress Dashboard by going to www.yoursitename/wp-admin.

Description: Installing Buddy Press is just like any other plug-in: simple

Installing Buddy Press is just like any other plug-in: simple

The defaut WordPress setup has a single static page and a single blog post, both showing welcome messages. By all means, play around and create more if it’s your first time on WordPress, but don’t do anything serious; BuddyPress will create a heap of new pages. The last time I looked, the default theme was still 2011, with 2010 installed as an option. You can play with others if you want, but BuddyPress requires a particular layout and certain features to work properly, so don’t get too attached to any theme at this stage.

BuddyPress

In the WordPress Dashboard, go to ‘Plugins’, then ‘Install new’. Run a search for BuddyPress, and install it. You might also want the BuddyPress toolbar, which adds a dedicated toolbar to the WordPress Dashboard, but without it BuddyPress works fine from the normal Setting sidebar. If you want a more Facebool-like setup, then there’s also BuddyPress Media Component.

 

Themes

To change the theme, go to ‘Appearance’, ‘Themes’, then ‘Install Themes’. BuddyPress requires certain features in a theme to work properly, so search for BuddyPress in the themes page and choose a compatible one. If none appeal, then it’s possible to modify a non-BuddyPress compatible theme using the Buddy Press template pack. I modified WordPress’s 2010 theme using the default settings and point and click; apparently some themes need serious script-editing skills. If you want to try, load your chosen theme, then go back to Plugins and install the template pack, activate it and follow the instructions.

Other Plug-ins

There are literally thousands, but these are the ones I used:

Askimet – default WordPress system to prevent blogspam. Activate and follow the instructions

BP-Registration-Options – allows the admin (me) to vet all user registrations

Member Access – control which pages non-members can see. Buddy Press Privacy Component or BuddyPress Private Community would do as well, but I’m familiar with Member Access

Registration-Login – puts registration and login tabs on the toolbar, but you need to edit php code via cPanel’s file manager. Registration Form Widget is simpler

SI CAPTCHA – sets up ‘Captchas’ on your registration and comments pages

Simply Show IDs – puts page ID numbers on the ‘All Pages’ screen, making linking easier.

Description: All pages, displays er… all the pages

All pages, displays er… all the pages

Description: A typical member’s page

A typical member’s page

BuddyPress setup

I don’t need to go into details here. Activate the BuddyPress plug-in and the settings pages appear. Follow the instructions; they’re accessible from the Dashboard sidebar (or the toolbar if you installed it).

An important section for my site is the ‘Profile Fields’ settings. This allows me to define how users’ profiles are set up

Site setup

WordPress shows its blogging roots by defaulting to a blog page as the front page. That might suit you, but I wanted a page explaining what my site was about, so I created one and published it. To set it as the front page go to ‘Settings’, ‘Reading’ and choose ‘Static Page’ then browser and select your new page.

I want the front page and a couple of others open to the public but members’ profiles only available to other members. Go to ‘Settings’, then ‘Member Access’ and choose your options. I set it so that by default only members can see pages and posts, then overrode the settings in certain pages. Non-members trying to access hidden pages are returned to the front page. If you do this, don’t forget to override the settings for the registration page created by BuddyPress or no one will be able to register!

Menus

Menus are to some extent dependent on your choice of theme, but by default new pages are assigned and ‘order’ of 0 (zero) and all such ‘top’ level pages appear on the menu bar. If you assign a higher number and specify a ‘parent’, they should appear below the parent in a drop-down menu. You can fine tune which page appears where by going to ‘Appearance’, ‘Menus’ and creating your own menu, though in this case I left the 2010 them and BuddyPress to sort it out for me.

Widgets & Jetpack

There are plenty of widgets you can add to WordPress pages, and if you install the WordPress ‘Jetpack’ you get even more. Once again, themes vary, but most have several ‘Widget Areas’ where you can place them. Just go to ‘Appearance’, ‘Widget’ and drag and drop them. The text widget I useful if you can handle some basic HTML, it lets you define your own widget, or more commonly gives you somewhere to post ‘widget code’ from other sites. I’ve found it useful for adding Facebook buttons and the like on other sites.

What’s the site?

Ah, well it’s only for people fortunate enough to live in Llangollen, and they can get the URL from next month’s Llangollen News

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