To Socialize or not?

That is the question.
My mate Jon Breitenbucher has been beavering away and produced a sh*t hot system for the College of Wooster that he calls ‘Voices’. Let’s take a quick look at the home page:

screenshot of Voices site

Screenshot of Voices site

Very impressive I think you’ll agree. But there’s more. The Privacy Policy and Terms of Service are actually readble and make sense! Jon has modelled these on weblogs at Harvard Law but kudos for doing this!

Let’s have a look at How is Voices doing. Evidently Jon has got a Google Analytics plugin operational and he reports:

Would you have believed that Voices has had 15,836 visitors, from 74 countries and territories, and generating 52,957 page views since the semester started on August 24? The only state that has not visited Voices is South Dakota and we’ve had over 200 visitors from the United Kingdom.

This is impressive n’est ce pas? He concludes:

Clearly all of you are writing about things that people want to read. We just want to thank you and say keep expressing yourselves!

Earlham admissions would kill for this sort of coverage! So, nice one, Jon.

To BuddyPress or not to BuddyPress?

This site has of course raised the bar for social networking here at Earlham. Should I start with BuddyPress + WP-MU or keep things a bit simpler by doing everything through WP-MU and migrate later? I wonder how much you have to undo when moving to Buddy Press (BP)? I’d like to get a pilot up soon and so I don’t want to waste my time exploring WP-MU options if I’d be better off doing the same thing through BP. Seems like a Skype call to Jon B is on the horizon.

Questions for Jon

  1. Groups. Can any user create a Group? Or can group creation be restricted? Ideally, I’d like to institute a system whereby the group creator has to accumulate a quorum of other willing users before the group gets created. So, the way it might work is that someone proposes a new group, lists members who might like to join, and then a certain minimum number need to respond ‘yes’ before the group gets created and they are enrolled. I wonder whether this is possible? This would ameliorate the situation whereby it’s often the case in social networking systems that 90% (or thereabouts) of groups are duds which are never active.
    1. Can you have a group blog automatically created when a group is created?
  2. Privacy options. Can you have Public — Logged in users — Private options for privacy?
  3. I’m wondering what the point of ‘The Wire’ and ‘Forums’ are within Voices? I think I’d like a college wide open discussion forum where students and faculty could sound off about their concerns. This would a ‘logged in users’ only forum. But it seems to me that in general the Forum and Group Blog functionality overlaps. Ditto ‘Wire’ and blog. There’s a cool blog theme that allows twitter style comments.
  4. Twitter feeds — what’s the dope on importing Titter feeds?
  5. ‘Friending’ options. I didn’t see any friending but that’s a feature, right?

Just getting started, and this is looking good.

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6 thoughts on “To Socialize or not?

  1. Hi Mark,

    Jon tweet-directed me over here, and I thought I’d give what info I could.

    1) It’s possible to make groups only appear on group lists when they have a certain number of members, though BP doesn’t let you do it out of the box and I’m unaware of anyone who has extended it in this way. An easier method might be to set your default group listings as in order of popularity or recent activity, which will ensure that unpopular or inactive groups are near the bottom of all lists. In any case, I would be wary of blocking certain groups just on the basis of the size of their membership, since in my experience small groups can sometimes be the most vibrant, and large ones the least interesting and active.

    1b) Yes, there’s a plugin called Buddypress Group Blog http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/bp-groupblog/ that does this quite nicely. It’s currently a bit broken with the most recent BP, but the developer has promised to fix it in the upcoming days/weeks. I run it on my sites and I love it.

    2) Sort of. BP group content can be either public or private, which is to say visible only to members. Blog privacy can be handled with something like More Privacy Options (google it) which allows fine grained privacy for blog posts, combined with http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/bp-mpo-activity-filter/, which filters private blog stuff out of the BP activity streams. Or you can go wholesale and hide your entire BP installation from non-logged-in members; search the buddypress.org forums to find instructions.

    3) If you’re using the P2 theme for a BP group blog, then you’re right that it might reduce the usefulness of the wire and the forums. The wire is deprecated in new versions of BP anyway (in favor of a more P2-ish activity stream) and the forums can be activated/deactivated on a group-by-group basis.

    4) Check out the plugin page on buddypress.org to see a few different options for this.

    5) Yes, that’s the cornerstone!

  2. Hey Mark. Thanks for the positive comments. I’ll be more than happy to chat about what I’m doing. Let’s start with what I can say to your questions:

    1. As it stands in our install, any user can create a group. I do not know if I could restrict this to just a few users or users with a certain role without doing some hacking. I am pretty sure group creation does not work as you describe, but I think that would be very interesting.
    a. Yes, if you enable the GroupBlog plugin. There is a Group Wiki plugin.
    2. Groups can certainly be public, private, or hidden. As far as Profile, Activity, etc. privacy goes, Jeff Sayre has taken a lead and has released a privacy component.
    3. The Wire was phased out in 1.2 (I think), but as with most software hosting course related data, we are in a feature freeze until classes end in may. I think I could have opted to not enable the Forums but I see expanding this to allow the class cohorts to have their own discussion area. That is why I created the class groups. Thanks to the Auto Join Groups plugin and some extra fields in the registration page the students are all automatically members of their cohort.
    4. I have not played with this at all. It is something that is on my list.
    5. Yes, their is “friending” and friends get more access to portions of a person’s profile.

    I have been playing with a setup running off of WordPress 3.0-alpha trunk and BuddyPress trunk here and have been planning for the upgrade that will happen in May when classes are finished. So that is sort of where my head is at right now.

  3. Right now BuddyPress is in sort of a “free for all” state, which means it’s up to site administrators and information architects to determine what components and actions should be available to which users when. This means that the scope of user and group privacy is something that needs to be considered and then handled specifically for your environment.

    There should be enough hooks and filters in place to allow for any particular kind of setup to happen, it’s just a matter of hiring a professional to make it that way.

    The Groups component can be extended infinitely, much like the gorgeous Mr. Boone says up above. At the moment there isn’t a setting for “Turn group creation off but keep the existing groups available” however I see how that could be a commonly used feature, particularly with how forums are linked to them.

    The “Wire” and “Status Update” components have been removed from 1.2. They have been more tightly integrated into the activity stream component to produce a centralized area where user-centric activity and conversation can occur. The wire was a very linear top/down guestbook style format that really had reached it’s maximum potential. There is a backwards compatibility plugin available in the WordPress repository if you are interested in still having that functionality, or extending it further for your own needs.

    There is the ability to “friend” someone, but that also comes with it’s limitations. It’s a very 1 to 1 relationship of people, that doesn’t permit much control over what that relationship really is.

    There’s an easter egg tucked deep within the groups component in BuddyPress 1.2 that will allow a good developer to extend groups into something that works a lot like “friends” does now, but no one has yet to work with it that I’ve seen.

    Because BuddyPress is simply just a WordPress plugin, anything that anyone has been able to do with WordPress, you will be able to do with BuddyPress. Disallow guests? Sure! Private profiles only? No problem. Facebook connect, open auth, oembed, etc…

    We’re going to start roadmapping out what’s coming in 1.3, so if there are things you feel are missing from 1.2, you can be part of helping shape the next version by jumping into the Ideas forum on BuddyPress.org and talking directly to the community about the direction you’d like to see BuddyPress go. 😀

    Drop me a line if you need any specific help with anything.

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