Open Source Social Networking Matchup: BuddyPress vs. Drupal Commons

When choosing an open source CMS for the backbone of a new social network, WordPress and Drupal offer two solid options. While both platforms offer numerous options for adding social networking aspects to your website, the packages available in BuddyPress and Drupal Commons are some of the most polished. We’re going to take a look at both and offer a heads up comparison based on four major factors:

  • Ease of Installation and Setup
  • Built-in Features
  • Interface and Design
  • Community / Support

Your experience will largely depend on which platform you are most comfortable building and working with on a day-to-day basis. However, if you’re open to either, here are a few things to consider.

Ease of Installation and Setup

I’d have to rank both BuddyPress and Drupal Commons equally on ease of installation.

The process for BuddyPress involves setting up an installation of WordPress, which can be done in 5 minutes or less and then installing the BuddyPress plugin. All in all, you can be up and going in under ten minutes.

Drupal Commons comes as a complete package, ready to install. It bypasses the process of downloading and configuring all of the modules needed for building a social network with Drupal. During the installation process, simply select the Drupal Commons installation profile. You’ll be up and going in under ten minutes with this platform as well.

Built-in Features

If you’re looking for the most features in one package, then Drupal Commons is hands down the winner. Not only does it have more features but each feature has a greater level of built-in functionality and control than the basic BuddyPress components.

BuddyPress Built-in Features Include:


  • Activity Streams
  • Extended Profiles
  • Friend Connections
  • Private Messaging
  • Extensible Groups
  • WordPress Blogging
  • Discussion Forums

Drupal Commons Built-in Features Include:


  • Rich user profiles
  • Self-forming groups
  • Discussions
  • Blogs
  • Documents
  • Wiki
  • Polls
  • Events
  • RSS Feeds – either direction
  • Notices
  • WYSIWYG, style-compliant editing
  • Points rewards system
  • Privacy controls
  • Community analytics

BuddyPress assumes that site administrators will add functionality through plugins as needed. Drupal Commons builds in features that can be turned on or off.

The ‘groups’ functionality is a perfect example. BuddyPress includes a Group Extension API so that you can extend groups with your own custom features. Drupal Commons groups include built-in events management, blogging, polls, discussions, documents, a wiki, invite a friend, and powerful management controls. Not all sites require this level of functionality. However, if you want this with BuddyPress, you will need to install many different plugins, each of which may or may not be maintained and/or updated.

Drupal Commons Groups

After close inspection and several hours of testing, I’d summarize BuddyPress as a social networking framework where you get only the basics. Additional features and controls are available through plugins. I believe this is intentional so that the core of BuddyPress stays lean for those who don’t require much more than friending, messaging, wall posts, and groups. Drupal Commons would be the option you’d want to select for a full-featured social network with many more forms of interaction already built into the platform.

Interface and Design

The default design that each social networking platform ships with is very important because it contains the basic framework that you’ll be customizing. It determines how much work will be involved in shifting the templates around to match what you envision for your community, if you’re theming your site from scratch.

The default BuddyPress theme is somewhat more rounded, has a tab style navigation, and makes use of AJAX. Customization is done through the creation of child themes as well as adding and manipulating widgets.

BuddyPress Default Theme

The default Drupal Commons theme is a bit more bare-boned than the BuddyPress theme. It’s mostly lines and squares and lends itself well to customizing and rearranging. For example, as the site administrator, you can easily move blocks of site content around, similar to the way WordPress widgets work. However, the Drupal blocks are also visually customizable – you can set the alignment, height, text style, menu and image styles, all without having to edit any CSS.

Drupal Commons Default Theme

When it comes to interface and design, I’d say that Drupal Commons is the clear winner for ease of customization through the backend dashboard as well as handling the basic default theme.

Community / Support

Drupal Commons is an open source project, maintained and supported by Acquia. They also provide Commons as a fully managed and/or hosted service and offer several commercial roll-out packages. If you choose to host and manage a Drupal Commons site yourself, you will probably have the Drupal forums as your main place for support. Because Acquia provides commercial products and services related to Drupal Commons, you’re going to find that it’s a fairly polished product right out of the box. If you need to extend Drupal Commons to do something more than what it does, there are over 7,000 Drupal modules available to you, as well as a highly flexible API if you want to write your own customizations.

The BuddyPress project is still a somewhat uncharted frontier. Its code base and documentation are continually improving, although it’s at a somewhat slower pace. The BuddyPress community is comprised of a large number of volunteers and dedicated plugin developers. A great deal of support happens in the buddypress.org forums, but it’s not guaranteed. BuddyPress has nearly 300 BuddyPress-specific plugins currently available for quickly extending the platform, and you can also take advantage of over 13,000 plugins in the WordPress repository.

The support and community environment that you prefer depends on what type of user you are. If you enjoy creating your own extensions and don’t need a lot of help or documentation, then BuddyPress may be suitable for you. If you prefer having a large commercial venture create and maintain the code and want the option of getting support directly from them, then Drupal Commons may be a good choice for you. Both projects are open source and you will be limited only by your own abilities and resources.

If you have experience with either or both of these platforms, we welcome your personal review in the comments.

Comments (29)

  1. I’m 2 weeks into development of my site with buddypress and now i read this…
    I feel like migrating to drupal already.

    Should i finish with my current plan and change later?

    Is Drupal more powerful?

  2. Just a note that Acquia (my employer) is not the commercial arm of Drupal. The Drupal project operates independently of any single company (though many companies, include Acquia, invest heavily in the success of Drupal).

    Great article! Thanks!

    -Robert

  3. Drupal Commons seems to focus on the business or enterprise market, its creators describe it as social business software, while BuddyPress shares the more casual image of WordPress (without being “casual” in its possibilities).

    In my opinion, the “usual” implementation of Commons will be something like the VMWare community, where the company leverages the knowledge of its customers for customer support, while something like h-mag.com is a good example of how BuddyPress is and will be used for in the market.

    Sure, both projects are Open Source, and therefore each of them can be adapted to almost any needs, but even with Open Source projects, it takes money, time and expertise to strain too far from the main path the project takes in terms of intended use and functionality.

    Drupal Commons is available for half a year now, but it’s still quite invisible in the wild – even in the official community, you hardly find a showcase of a finalized project (though I concede that I’m not too versed in all things Drupal and might have missed out on recent stuff). This leads to my conclusion that drastically altering the standard theme takes more manpower than with BuddyPress and reserves it for projects with higher budgets (and technical expertise) than the average BuddyPress project.

    BuddyPress’ development is indeed slow paced and like you said somewhat uncharted frontier, which is a pity. By adding core staff, they bettered the situation a lot, but there is surely room for enhancements. Privacy in the core comes to mind.

  4. I would have to say that I second much of what Chris has said. Upon reading this write-up, I spent the next 24 hours working with Drupal Commons, and frankly, I was underwhelmed. Certainly DC comes with more out of the box, but I find Buddypress (with all the various plugins installed that match the functionality of DC) to have a tighter visitor experience. The BP community is more active, more creative – and WordPress is, in my opinion, just easier to work with.

  5. Great article! I only wish Commons was supported in Drupal 7 so I could try it out. I’m just not willing to go back to the Drupal 6 interface as I’ve been spoiled by version 7’s.

    I’d also be interested in seeing how well Commons integrates with Drupal’s multisite capabilities. WordPress multisite blog feeds are integrated in Buddypress’ activity feed and this is an elegant feature. But I can’t find anything on a similar integration of Drupal’s multisite. Would anyone here know about this?

    Cheers,
    David

  6. @Robert

    Thank you for the hint. I read the blog entry yesterday and was of course thinking about my comment here.

    Notwithstanding the latest news, I think that my points are still valid.

    Both tools cater to a different audience and market and both tools have their own “atmosphere”, which will be found in most communities that are based on them. We can’t see WEF community, since it’s not open to the public, but he mentioned Symantec http://www.symantec.com/connect/

    Like I said in my last comment, Drupal Commons communities will be most likely more like the VMWare community or in this case the Symantec ones, while Buddypress communities are often more like h-mag or CUNY commons.

    And I still think, that it takes way more resources and expertise to implement and adapt Drupal Commons than BuddyPress, which also leads to a different target group and usage.

    Both tools are sufficiently different in their focus and their ecosystem to have their own place on the market. It will be interesting to see, whether they will eventually converge or differentiate even more.

  7. Sarah, Many Thanks, This article just came in time. However, My list of options had also included Joomla besides Drupal and BuddyPress. Would you recommend Joomla? Also, the SEO subject is a real concern to me, which platform is the best in that regard?

    Thanks again and Have a Wonderful Day,

  8. Very nice comparison.
    Unfortunately I am still not decided on which one to choose :(
    The article kind of makes Drupal a winner, but comments, and some other articles say that BuddyPress is much easier to use and customize…

    Well, we’ll see.

    By the way, Sarah, thanks for your input – if I search for some info for BuddyPress or WordPress, there is always one of your articles popping..

  9. My intension is to install one of them, and modify the source code. Is there a difference in that respect? I’m familiar with MySQL & PHP, and plan to modify the way the activity streams are aggregated, and displayed to the user. I’ve installed a BP site before, but never used Drupal.

  10. Thanks for this great article.

    I’m considering using BuddyPress for a project I’m currently working on but your comments regarding the second point (built in features) make we wonder whether that´s the best option. Is there a big risk that the plugins you install won’t be maintained/updated? Do you think BuddyPress is stable enough for a commercial project or is it more designed for small (non commercial) communities that can afford being down every now and then?

    Thanks,

    Jordi

  11. The current year I’ve been managing a project in which we are developing social networking site by using WP and BuddyPress. I have to say, so far I haven’t come convinced. There is a lot of good on WP/BP, the basic setup is simple etc., but I doubt the solution where BP is a plugin to WP. From my experience they haven’t been integrated together good enough. BP itself looks pretty good although I have seen the lack of basic plugins necessary for us. WP blog itself is also pretty good, but don’t suit to BP site the best way. Still BP seems to develop pretty fast and maybe these problems are soon solved.

    I’m not any tech guy and don’t understand much about the core, these are my just my notices from concept point of view. Am I seeing right things…?

  12. Thanks for the great article.

    Buddypress is good out of the box. But once you decide to customize its capabilities or looks, you have a tough time ahead.

    After days of working on it, I decided to say goodby to it forever. My experience with Drupal has been very good so far. Will be testing the commons now.

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