We explored a few different optiions for the platform to use for the site. The basic requirements included:
- the platform needs to be Open Source;
- the site needs to have strong content manegement capabilities that include the ability to Blog, create static pages and the ability to be able to create subscriber only content;
- there needs to be different subscription levels so that specific content can be delivered to and/or hidden from each;
- the site needs to allow for individual Users and/or groups of Users to have their own Blogs with the ability to customize those Blogs within certain predefined parameters;
- the site needs to have basic social media functions such as Groups (public, private and hidden), and basic features associated with those groups such as Message Boards and News/Activity Streams.
The platforms we looked at included WordPress MU, Drupal and Elgg and while each can conceivably pull off what’s outlined above, we hoped to used something that satisfies most of what we need out of the box.
We started off playing with Elgg and if “all” that was needed was a social networking site a la Facebook we would have stopped right there. As a “social engine”, Elgg accomplishes social networking very well. However, with Elgg, Blogging is but an equal among many many other social functions.
TubesCodeContent uses/will use Blogging as a dominant forum, both for individual site members as well as for groups of site members that come together to create their own publications. The practical idea here — ie, the User Story — is that students should be able to create independent Blogs on the site, choose a design Theme and specific extensions or plugins for that Theme if desired, and generally have a customized experience at a TubesCodeContent subdomain. In addition, the class as a whole should have its own Blog/Publication that all students can contribute research and articles to and that we can modify and design as we see fit. On a practical level any User needs to be able to belong to one or more Blogs.
So, despite the excellent work Elgg’s developers have done (hat tip: Curverider), and despite the fact that we’re using Elgg on other projects, we passed here and focused on Drupal and WordPress MU.
Drupal’s an interesting case. It’s a beast of Content Management System in the best sense of the word, and it can accomplish most of the requirements discussed thus far save for automatically creating independent subdomained Blogs and letting the User modify their personal Blog to taste. Its other features and general extensibility let us overlook that though, especially since you can run a number of subdomained Drupal sites off the same code base (it’s just not automated).
What gave us pause though is that while Drupal can accomplish most everything we’re looking for, it doesn’t do it natively. Basically, where Elgg falls short as a blogging engine and CMS out of the box, Drupal falls short as a social network. To make Drupal work as a social network there are a host of modules one needs to wade through and install. Typical modules would include Organic Groups, Private Message, Content Profile, Content Construction Kit, etc., etc., etc., Certainly doable. Just a lot of work getting there.
Which brought us to WordPress MU. WPMU is a WordPress spinoff. It basically allows you to create single instance blogging farms like what you would find at WordPress.com. That is, a User can come to your WPMU site, sign up and create a Blog. More importantly, as the MU developers note, there’s ambiguity about how to pronounce its name. We like to think of it as halfway between a cow’s “Moo” and a cat’s “Meow.” That, though, is probably neither here nor there.
What is here and there is that WPMU solves half the problem out of the box: giving all new Users access to not just a blogging engine, but arguably one of the most powerful out there and used by the likes of CNN, Fortune, Le Monde and, significantly, the Beastie Boys. Unfortunately half-way isn’t close enough to all the way. We still needed our social features.
That’s when we decided to take BuddyPress out for a spin. If you’ve read this far you’re probably aware of the BuddyPress project. It’s essentially a WPMU plugin created by Andy Peatling of WordPress creators Automattic. It aims to provide basic social networking features like Friends, Private Messaging, Groups, Status Updates and Blog Tracking out of the box.
Are the features currently as smooth as Elgg’s? Not quite yet but they’re close, or close enough as the case may be. And since TubesCodeContent relies more on the blogging aspects we gave extra weight to that core feature when making our decision to having WordPress as the essential engine for the site.
And so we’ve launched. The site is definitely in its Alpha stage but it’s a public Alpha and we’re letting those who want to come in and talk Internet communications come in and kick the tires. You can learn what the site aims to accomplish here. To truly see BuddyPress in action, visit and register with the BuddyPress project site.