The Ultimate Beginners Guide To BuddyPress

Are you thinking about setting up a social network for your university’s onesie appreciation society? Are you suffering analysis paralysis after installing BuddyPress because you don’t know which boxes you should tick? Or maybe you’ve set up version 1.7 and have a truck load of questions?

Children sharing a milkshake
BuddyPress gives your site’s users a place to meetup and make buddies.

Well, you’ve come to the right place.

In this guide I’ll go through the ins and outs of BuddyPress, or as everyone and their dog likes to call it, social networking in a box.

I’ll cover:

  • What is BuddyPress?
  • Features
  • Why you should use it
  • Installation
  • bbPress forums
  • Plugins
  • Themes
  • Who uses it
  • Support
  • The future of BuddyPress

Okay, So What Is BuddyPress?

Chances are you’ve stumbled across a website using BuddyPress without even knowing it. Ever visited Kobe Bryant’s official website? It uses BuddyPress. What about the Daily Telegraph’s community website? It also uses BuddyPress.

The University of British Colombia uses BuddyPress to power its teaching and learning site. If you’ve ever felt the urge to pick up a pair of knitting needles and yarn then you might want to check out Feel The Yarn - it, too, is powered by BuddyPress.

BuddyPress is really just a plugin for WordPress sites but, as they say, good things come in small packages, or in this case, boxes.

Good things come in small packages
Good things like BuddyPress comes in small packages.

When installed on your site, BuddyPress turns it into a social media wonderland where members can make new friends and socialise – kind of like Facebook, but for niche communities.

BuddyPress allows users to create profiles, post messages, make connections with other people and create and interact in groups and forums.

If you’re interested in its history, Automattic bought out BuddyPress and hired its developer Andy Pealting in March 2008 to add social networking features to WordPress multisites. The first stable release hit the shelves in May 2009 and since then a small core team led by John James Jacoby has continued what Pealting started. The latest version, BuddyPress 1.7.1, was released in April.

In early 2010, Lisa Sabin-Wilson released the first edition of BuddyPress for Dummies.

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Let’s Break It Down

BuddyPress is made up of a series of features, which you can pick and choose for your site, simply by ticking boxes:

  • Extended Profiles: Your site’s members can use fully editable profile fields to describe themselves.
  • Account Settings: Allow your users to modify their account and notification settings directly from within their profiles.
  • Friends Connection: Members can use this to create a friends list like they do on sites like Facebook and Ning.
  • Private Messaging: Allows members to contact each other directly.
  • Activity Streams: Global, personal, and group activity streams with threaded commenting, direct posting, favoriting and @mentions
  • User Groups: Allows members to create groups where they can share info on topic areas that interest them.
  • Site Tracking: Record activity for new posts and comments from your site.

For a peek at the City University of New York’s Academic Common’s brilliant integration of BuddyPress into its site, check out this fantastic video tour:

Why Should I Use BuddyPress?

1. BuddyPress has been designed to bring people together and is just the thing for:

  • Universities looking to create a social network for students.
  • Companies that want to provide their employees as internal communication tool.
  • Sports teams that want to create a place where players can catch up online after a game.
  • Niche clubs seeking a place where like-minded people can chat about a brand or hobby.

2. It is only going to get bigger and better. There have been vast improvements since version 1.0 and the core team along with hundreds of developers, designers and community volunteers put thousands of hours into the latest version of BuddyPress. Now that’s dedication.

Imagine what the next version of BuddyPress is going to be like? And the version after that? For a round-up of version 1.7’s features, check out Sarah’s Goodings’ write-up on the latest release.

BuddyPress is customizable. All you've got to do is tick, tick, tick.
BuddyPress is customizable. All you’ve got to do is tick, tick, tick.

3. It is customizable. The latest version is fully compatible with any WordPress theme so you can easily throw it on your site straight out of the proverbial box. It also makes it easier to pick and choose what social features you want on your site.

The new automated setup makes everything super easy and once you activate it you can start small and grow your community features a little bit at a time or, if you’re the adventurous type, turn on all the features and start out big and fancy. It’s up to you how you want to cater to the members of your site.

If you want to wander beyond the packaged features, you can add plugins to further tweak your social network. I’ll go into this a bit more later in this post.

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Setting Up BuddyPress

Setting up BuddyPress is as simple as installing and activating a plugin. Before you get started, it’s a good idea to ensure you meet the minimum requirements. You will need:

  • A working installation of WordPress
  • PHP version 5.2.4 or greater.
  • MySQL 5.0 or greater.
  • The mod_rewrite Apache module enabled
  • WordPress should be installed manually i.e. via s/FTP, file manager, etc and not via webhost scripts (fantastico, softalicious, etc.), which have caused issues when BuddyPress is activated.
  • BuddyPress does not work on installations where you give WordPress its own directory.

Installation has changed with version 1.7. After installing the previous version of BuddyPress you had to walk through an installation wizard and tick this and that. Now it’s all done for you.

  1. Login to your WordPress site and go to Plugins > Add New. Search the plugins library for BuddyPress. Find the BuddyPress plugin that has been developed by The BuddyPress Community and click Install Now.
  2. It will take a minute to install. When it’s done click Activate Plugin.

And that’s it. You’re done!

Getting started with BuddyPress
The latest version of BuddyPress is fully automated and there’s no need anymore to walk through installation.

Okay, you’re not really done. Once activated, you will have the default setup, which comes activated with two of the most commonly used features: Extended Profiles and Activity Streams.

Scroll down to the bottom of the Getting Started page and click Go to the BuddyPress Settings page to start customising your social network.

Go to Settings > BuddyPress > Pages to create pages where new users to your site can register and activate their accounts.

Don’t forget to go to Settings > General and click Anyone can register to allow people to register on your site.

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Users will need to login to your site using the WordPress login screen by adding wp-login.php to the end of the website’s address, i.e. www.yourwebsite.com/wp-login.php

It’s easy to turn on the options you want and the best thing is that they just work. It’s magic!

Once logged in, and if all the features are turned on, members can customize their profiles with avatars and information about themselves, modify their account, check out other people’s profiles, send private messages to other members of your site and create groups that others can join.

If you really want to get stuck into the nitty gritty of BuddyPress, then you might want to head over to the BuddyPress Codex. The codex is the online manual for BuddyPress and contains up-to-date information and documentation going back to version 1.0.

When you’ve wrapped your head around what it can do and if feel like you’ve got something to add, you might want to roll up your sleeves and have a go yourself at contributing to the codex.

bbPress
bbPress gives your site forum functionality.

Forums

BuddyPress uses a separate plugin called bbPress for forums.

Just like when you installed BuddyPress:

1. Search the plugins library for bbPress.
2. Find the bbPress plugin that has been developed by The BuddyPress Community and click Install Now.
3. It will take a minute to install. When it’s done click Activate Plugin.

The welcome screen will pop up. Scroll down to the bottom and click Go to Forum Settings. There are all kinds of settings you can tick or untick for your forums.

And you’re done!

Plugins

There are hundreds of plugins available to help you make the most of your BuddyPress installation – and make your site a cool place for your members to hang out. There are plugins for all kinds of things, like creating wikis, managing group events, organising your members, group email, live chats, even teleport your members to a wild party in Ibiza! Okay, maybe not that last one.

Power socket
Once you’ve got BuddyPress up and running, there are all kinds of cool plugins to make your site a fun place to hang out.

A good place to get started is the plugins directory at buddypress.org and don’t forget to check out WMPU DEV’s BuddyPress plugins.

Unfortunately, spam is a huge problem for BuddyPress sites. It’s a good idea to install a spam plugin before you do anything else. Lucky for you, Sarah Gooding recently put together a brilliant post on 10 Proven Ways to Stop BuddyPress Spam.

Themes for BuddyPress

Theming was a massive problem for BuddyPress until 1.7 came along. In the past, you had to install a BuddyPress-specific theme and then fork out cash to get WordPress theme compatibility.

Those days are long gone because BuddyPress now works with any WordPress theme. Hooray!

It’s good to keep in mind that the latest version of BuddyPress doesn’t totally invalidate BuddyPress themes, which have BuddyPress-specific functionality and styles for its features.

For a hand finding your perfect theme, check out 10 Places to Find BuddyPress Themes and 10 Free BuddyPress Themes Compatible with BuddyPress 1.5. And of course, have a look at WPMU DEV’s BuddyPress themes.

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Who Uses BuddyPress?

Kobe Bryant official website
The NBA basketball player’s site allows users to login to his Kobe Academy so they too can achieve success at success at success.

Basketball player Kobe Bryant's website

Hello Eco Living
Green thumbs can share information on healthy living and swap ideas about the environment, wellbeing, gardening and cooking.

Hello Eco Living website

Michigan State University School of Journalism
Budding reporters can get the latest scoop and catch up with fellow students in the website’s J-School Community Directory.

Michigan State University

Ride Oregon
Cyclists can find out more about trails, road routes and events at Ride Oregon, an official site of Oregon’s Tourism Commission.

Ride Oregan

hMAG
There are almost 5500 members on the high-end luxury lifestyle magazine’s website servicing the Hoboken market in New Jersey in the US.

hMag website

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Support

If you get stuck at all using BuddyPress, the forums at buddypress.org are a fantastic resource for all your niggling questions.

As I’ve already mentioned, the BuddyPress Codex is a brilliant resource for finding answers to your questions, as is the WPMU BuddyPress Manual.

Since the latest version’s release, the core developer team and volunteers are still catching up on documentation so if you have any issues with your installation it’s best to hit up the buddypress.org forums, or ask in the comments below.

If you prefer something a little more face-to-face, the very first BuddyCamp was held in Vancouver, Canada, last October, with more BuddyCamps planned for this year.

What’s In Store For BuddyPress?

BuddyPress developer Boone Gorges at WordCamp Vancouver 2013
BuddyPress developer Boone Gorges at WordCamp Vancouver 2012.

At last count there were 1,476,531 installations of BuddyPress in the world and no doubt that figure is going to rise quickly thanks to the changes – read, theming – introduced in version 1.7.

During an online BuddyPress Q&A for WordSesh last month, the core developer team was asked what we could expect to see in versions 1.8 and 1.9. While  Paul Gibbs said he would love people to tell the team what they wanted, Boone Gorges said he was interested in developing an API so BuddyPress content could be used on different platforms, like cell phones and tablets.

In his end of year post for 2012, lead developer John James Jacoby said he hoped to see more BuddyCamps as well as another prolific core committer after welcoming Raymond Hoh to the team last year.

What do you want to see in the next version of BuddyPress? Tell us below.

Image credits:
cogdogblogWikimedia Commonskalyan02mom2sofiafunctoruserFillmore Photography.

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Comments (12)

  1. I was considering using BuddyPress for a dating site I’m creating, but saw it would be a lot easier when I found a plugin that would make the job 100% easier.

    Still haven’t found a good use for it yet.

  2. The article is really helpful, and outstandingly organized… you make it look easy Rae. Ohh I can see that BP is going to be a contender. If you’re wondering what the application of niche communities can be, think in terms of your dominant interest, or better, of society’s greatest need…. what can you do with a basic buddypress implementation to further your interest or requite that need?
    Just a hint: if you have read this far you are now responsible, in that you have the knowledge of the means, to apply a lever that could move the world.

    Maybe you’re stuck and think you can’t, but you must, all you need is an inspired message, and that is freely available from your better angels.

    French fries with that?? http://www.virtualproexchange.com/blog

  3. Hi, Great insight on Buddypress. One more point in my consideration to switch over.

    Quick Question: Will buddypress work normally if the wp-content/ directory has been renamed to say assets/

    This plugin is kinda robust, wanna know if it will fit into such customization.

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