As the days of web 1.0 are coming to an end we’ll start seeing a slew of niche-based social networks taking over static web 1.0 space. Personally I’m not a big fan of the typical web forum as a very small percentage of visitors actually contribute to the forum discussions. Fortunately there are several good tools out there for creating small niche social networks such as BuddyPress for WordPress. I decided to give it a whirl so I recently launched a BuddyPress site for my aquaponics hobby at AquaponicPeoople.com. Below are my thoughts, challenges and plugins I used for the site…
First, I started with a fresh install of WordPress using nginx on Amazon AWS. My other sites (this one, for example) use a multi-site version of wordpress and I didn’t want to add that complexity to the new buddypress site. Seems as though some plugins don’t support multi-site so I thought it best to start from scratch. Once that was working I installed the BuddyPress plugin.
After toying with a few themes I decided to use the free Frisco Theme as it seemed to do what I needed without spending any cash up front. At a minimum it’ll get me started to see if I want to continue investing into the site. One issue I found with the Frisco theme is that it doesn’t allow me to use an image for the title without changing code. So the WordPress title of the site must be the same as the title on the page. I was also disappointed to find out there was no mobile support on this theme so I may need to purchase a responsive theme like BuddyBoss.
One shortcoming of buddypress is that it only allows text-based activity posts. The aquaponic community likes to post pictures and videos of their systems so I installed Buddypress Activity Plus plugin. It seems to do the trick although the activity page seems to have a few issues with the left/right section on the theme.
I installed the BuddyPress Auto Group Join plugin so I can set all the users to auto join an “AquaponicPeople.com News” group. This allows me to easily contact everyone on the site with updates.
I decided to deactivate the “friending” portion of buddypress and installed the BuddyPress Follow plugin. I don’t believe privacy will be an issue on the site so I want all users to be able to see and follow all the other users as they post information about their aquaponic systems.
One of the goals of the site was to provide a business directory for aquaponic businesses. It is a relatively small and unconnected community so few people know about the local aquaponic supply businesses. So, I did a bit of research and eventually installed the Business Directory plugin. It seems to be robust with tons of functionality but I was disappointed that it doesn’t have great SEO options. I’d really like to have the option to optimize around searches such as “Dallas Aquaponic Businesses” but it doesn’t seem to handle that, even with the premium options.
I added the Configure Login Timeout as I’d like users to stay logged in longer than the wordpress default. Users routinely forget their usernames and passwords so keeping them logged in for 30 days will be a big help in encouraging more community engagement.
I used the standard Facebook plugin to add the “like” box with all the profile pics at the bottom of the screen. I believe it is important to give the appearance of a thriving community so other users will join in. Displaying the profile pics from your facebook community is a great way to accomplish this. I also installed the WP-FB-AutoConnect plugin to allow users to easily login with facebook. It works great with the button next to the login section at the right of the page but I haven’t spent time to figure out how to get it on the registration page. Ideally I’d like to have a popover using something like WordPress Pop Up Plugin to ask users to connect via facebook when they arrive. The popup worked great but I wasn’t able to get it to connect with the facebook button. I’ll continue to play with that.
A few other odds and ends include the Buddypress Welcome Pack plugin to send a custom welcome message to every user who joins the site, Google Analyticator to easily add google analytics and Custom STMP to send emails through Amazon SES.
I spent quite a bit of time figuring out the best route for SEO on the site. I was disappointed in the lack of buddypress support from WordPress SEO from Yoast. It simply didnt work for groups, members, etc.. and seemed to cause more issues than it solved because due to the lack of support. I also played with SEOpress which seemed to cause an issue with the site title getting whacked off the site altogether. In the end, I went without any SEO plugin but changed code in wordpress to show the page title then site description. By default it shows the page title then site title but I don’t really need “AquaponicPeople.com” in the title of every page.
The biggest issue I found with BuddyPress is the user spam. Holy smokes. As soon as I launched the site I received hundreds of fake users posting spammy data every hour. After quite a bit of research I ended up installing both the Stop Spammer Registrations Plugin and SI CAPTCHA Anti-Spam to reduce the spam by about 95%. I still get about 10-20 spammy users and posts per day so it is a manual process to delete those and add their IP/email to the Stop Spammer Registrations plugin. Feels like I’m playing a game of whack-a-mole, however.
Take a look at the site at AquaponicPeople.com and let me know if you have any questions or suggestions for improvement.