Not all social networks are created the same. If you’ve settled on WordPress as your CMS and want to build a social network or add community features to an existing site, you actually have a decent selection of options for making your site more interactive. Over the past couple of years, several plugins have emerged as strong contenders for transforming your WordPress site into a full-featured social network. In this post we’ll examine the strengths and features of each of the top three plugins available for building a social network with WordPress.
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BuddyPress, dubbed “social networking in a box”, is perhaps the most well-known option for turning your WordPress site into a social network. The plugin delivers a well-rounded list of core features, including:
- Private Messaging
- Extended Profiles
- Activity Streams
- User Groups
- Friend Connections
- Discussion Forums
The various components can be turned on off at will, so you are flexible to restrict your site’s features to only those that your members will use. BuddyPress has an active, thriving community with new open source plugins being contributed by members every week to extend the platform. If you like the security of a large community with lots of options to extend your site with social plugins, then BuddyPress might be the ticket for you.
WP Symposium is a very strong alternative to BuddyPress. Many BuddyPress users have a difficult time getting their WordPress themes to be compatible with the plugin. One of the biggest advantages of WP Symposium is that it fits into your WordPress site like a natural part of your theme. One of the ongoing development goals is to make the plugin extremely user-friendly so that users won’t ever have to do anything at folder/file level.
WP Symposium features:
- Activity wall
- Member directory
- Private mail
- Notification bar
- Chat windows and chat room
- RSS activity feeds and support for other plugins such as Groups, Events, Gallery, Facebook Connect and Mobile support
WP Symposium also has a strong support community, a helpful wiki, and a help desk for members who require professional assistance. If you like quick releases with quick bug fixes, instead of long waits between major releases, then WP Symposium might be a great option for you.
WP Mingle is a free plugin that will instantly add social features to your WordPress site. The plugin aims to provide a social experience where users never need to see the WordPress login or admin. The look and layout is a little different from the other plugins, similar to the old Facebook or LinkedIn.
WP Mingle features:
- User Profile Pages and Custom Profile Fields (configurable by the admin)
- Pretty Profile Urls (to help with memorability and Google Indexing)
- Ability to Upload custom avatars (with Gravatar fallback)
- User Friending and Friend Activity pages
- User Profile Posting and Commenting (for friends)
- Login, Navigation, Random and Recent Users Widgets
- Email Notifications and User Email Notification Opt-Outs
- Front end login, logout, lost password and registration system
- Twitter-Like user tagging (using the @ symbol followed by the user’s name)
- Private Messaging
The needs and interests of online communities vary wildly. When selecting the platform for your social network, you’ll want to consider each of these plugins’ strengths, features, interfaces, available extensions and surrounding communities. If you’ve used any of these three plugins, please feel free to leave your personal review in the comments below.