CMS Fridays: First Take On BuddyPress

I’ve been playing a bit with a BuddyPress installation, the new social networking application for WordPress. It requires WordPress MU as the platform. I really like it — it’s like they say, the basic features of Facebook in a box, plus you get to add blogs and other functionality that some sites don’t have.

BuddyPress is an uber-set of WordPress Plugins that add a lot of structure and functionality to WordPress, but even with that, the installation isn’t as tough as you would think.

The pluses

  • Social networking: You can add friends, create groups, create blogs — all the actions you would expect in any social network, including emails that will be sent out during particular actions. It’s all open source too, so you have complete access to the code base to customize it, and believe me, you can customize WordPress a lot.
  • Customizable profiles: While there’s some wonkyness to adding fields to profiles (you can’t order them), adding them is a snap. I have no idea how you would actually search the fields in an advanced search sort of way — looking at the database, it didn’t appear to be very easy — but the amount of customization you can do and the easy of use to do it is ridculous.
  • WordPress Plug Ins: You get full access to the thousands of plug ins that have been developed for WordPress, including the BBPress discussion forum, which plugs right in the to the groups.
  • Your server, you own it: While Ning is a great solution (I’ve seen some awesome implementations) at the end of the day if you’re a business, it’s best to have it on your box so you are less suspectible to the platform. BuddyPress is that.

The minuses

  • Installation: It’s on WordPress MU, so moving it over from your standard WordPress installation isn’t as easy as you would hope (well, it’s not for the normal WordPress user). There was some database installation funkiness that a few extra minutes in PHP would have solved in handling errors better. Outside of having to delete the WordPress configuation file a few times, the installation was fairly run of the mill.
  • Designing The UI: With the extra funcitonality comes the extra overhead of designing a look and feel for the application. While the first theme is great — I used some of the examples to solve design issues with a marketing directory I’m working on — there is a significant amount of work that has to be done that’s well outside of the “well, it’s WordPress, I can pay only $500 to design in” comments by clients. It is Facebook in a box, and should be treated as such for complexity, and I can imagine spending a month at least designing a decent social netowkr.
  • WordPress Plug Ins: Not all of them will work well with WordPress MU, so the predictability of what works and what doesn’t is trial and error. You’re going to have to live with the caution of “well, this may work, but it will be an adventure” on some of the plug ins.
  • Performance: It seemed a bit sluggish, and if you are running a social network of any size, I recommend having it on a dedicated server. Some of the plug ins haven’t been tuned yet, so there is a lag. Remember, it’s version 1.0.