“WordPress for Dummies” Author Lisa Sabin Wilson Chats With WPMU.org About Her Upcoming Book and the Future of BuddyPress
Our featured WordPress Innovator this week is Lisa Sabin Wilson, designer, developer and author of WordPress For Dummies. An active member of the BuddyPress community, Lisa offers us a peek into what it takes to create a successful social networking site. Her latest project, BuddyPress for Dummies, is due on shelves early next year. This week she took time out of her busy schedule to answer some of our questions.
Q: What first got you interested in WPMU and BuddyPress?
A: I started working with the WordPress platform in 2003, first for myself – then for friend and, gradually, paying clients. Digging into WordPress MU was a natural step in my quest to explore, learn and create with everything WordPress related. Although, I think it was actually a client who made a request for a WPMU powered site that really gave me the kick I needed to start working with it more directly, and more in-depth.
My work with BuddyPress also came about as a client request. The first web site I helped launch with the WPMU/BuddyPress combination was a site called WeHeartThis.com and it was launched in November 2008. Anyone who knows the short history of BuddyPress knows that a launch at that time meant working with pre-beta versions of the BuddyPress platform, so it was a challenge to be sure! After working with it that first time, I was hooked, and have been digging it ever since!
Q: When will your book BuddyPress for Dummies be available and what are your plans for promoting the book?
A: The BuddyPress For Dummies book is due out in early 2010, so look for it late Jan/early Feb. My plans for promotion will follow the same lines of how I promote my WordPress For Dummies book; through my web site, social media and personal/speaking appearances at various conferences such as WordCamps and South by Southwest.
Quite honestly, the topic of both books pretty much do the job of selling themselves. WordPress is insanely popular, as you know – so a book about its use that is geared toward beginners is going to be selling itself just by the nature of the content. A book on BuddyPress will appeal to a different audience, still within the WordPress community – but a more targeted demographic of uses. The marketing of that book will also not be so much of a challenge, thanks in no small part to the emerging popularity of the BuddyPress platform; but it will be slightly more challenging than the WordPress book because BuddyPress is so very new, people are just now learning about it, what it does and how they can use it to add that layer of social goodness to their own web site.
Q: Were you first a designer/developer and then a writer or was it the other way around? How did you find your niche?
A: I was a designer/developer first and the author part came later, as a result of my design/development work and background.
I really started out in design by chance – it was not something I really set out to do. If we go way back to 1994 when I graduated from college with a degree as a Registered Nurse – that was my first calling. I worked as a Registered Nurse for 12 years before I was able to quit and pursue a career in design, development..and eventually, writing. Designing web sites is something I did in my spare time, it served as more of a creative outlet and stress reliever during my off hours away from health care. I started dabbling in design in 1998 for myself – then for friends and family. Back then, I was working in a static HTML/CSS environment until Movable Type came along; that is when I started to dabble in blog design and CMS solutions. It was in 2003 that I made the switch from Movable Type to WordPress, and have been working with it, almost exclusively, ever since.
I found my niche by simply doing something that I love to do, constantly learning about new and emerging technologies and sharing my experiences with other people, whether it’s through my own blog, the books I write or the design services that I offer.
Q: How do you think this book will help to make BuddyPress more accessible to more people?
A: I’ve mentioned that BuddyPress is very new, as you, and probably many of your readers, are aware. It’s hard for me, sometimes, to understand just how new of a concept it is to the general population on the internet, because I’ve been so eyebrow deep in BuddyPress since July 2008 – but I run into people all day long who have never heard of it, don’t know what it does and become curious about it once they start hearing about what you can use it for. Undoubtedly, the ‘Dummies’ line of books is huge – there is a Dummies book for just about everything, you know? Most people I talk to tell me that they buy a Dummies book on any topic that is new to them because that line of books has a really nice method of breaking down even the most technical of tasks. Having a publishing powerhouse like Wiley Publishing recognize the potential of BuddyPress is pretty large – so I think the book will ‘mainstream’ BuddyPress a bit more to the general public and potentially increase its reach once the book is available. I fully believe that 2010 will be a break out year for BuddyPress, with or without the book – – but having the book out there to help people understand it is not going to hurt at all.
Q: Where do you look for inspiration and who do you read regularly?
A: I wish I had more time to read anything regularly, but I don’t. My time spent surfing the web is spent doing research for the stuff I’m writing, finding solutions to the stuff I’m developing and working on my own, and client site design and development. After all of that, there is very little time left over to really get into reading any one person, or web site, in particular. I really depend a lot on my Twitter streams and follow several different developers, designers and geeks — and when I get those little popup notifications from TweetDeck alerting me to a shared link or resource, I’ll click through and read, if the title of the item interests me. It’s how I found your BuddyPress Eye Candy post here on WPMU.Org — which, by the way, thank you kindly for featuring three sites that I developed for three of my clients: WeHeartThis.com, WeEarth.com and NourishNetwork.com.
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A great deal of my inspiration comes directly from my clients. So often they come to me with ideas and thoughts on how they’d like to put their sites together. I get inspired a lot through the time I spend working with them and researching solutions and ideas.
Q: The theming structure for BuddyPress changed recently. What kind of challenges, if any, did this pose in completing your book?
A: Well, it posed some pretty huge challenges, as you can imagine. I started writing BuddyPress For Dummies in July 2009. It was right in the middle of writing that book that they changed the theme structure, and I had already written those chapters! Luckily, my publisher is pretty used to me by now through the writing of WordPress For Dummies. With that book, I always started out writing it on one version and ended up having to do edits at the last minute to ensure that it was relevant to the latest version out at the time of print. With BuddyPress For Dummies, it was no different – the editors give me the time I need to make sure I can update the book to include the latest features, functions and enhancements so the readers don’t miss out on any of the good stuff. Needless to say, I had to completely rewrite the chapters pertaining to BuddyPress themes. Andy Peatling was my Technical Editor for BuddyPress For Dummies — he’s the guy who goes through every one of my written words and edits it for technical accuracy – – he was a huge part in helping me stay on top of the faced paced development that has come out of BuddyPress over the last several months; and kudos to him for a really fantastic set of features!
Q: WPMU and BuddyPress are in a time of transition with the upcoming merger of WPMU into the WordPress core. What do you think about this and how might this affect your business
A: I think this move is a natural move to make. Really, why have 2 separate code bases that so closely mirror one another? From my own business standpoint, it may or may not affect it at all – right now, each of the platforms (.Org and MU) provide a different set of features to a specific type of user, that much won’t change. What will probably change is the education and consultation required to help people fully realize why they may, or may not, wish to utilize the available MU features. Also, if they do choose to use the MU features in the WordPress core – what this means for them in terms of how they need to start thinking about things like hosting, bandwidth, server resources, community support, and so on. Having the code base merge will open up the MU features to a user base who may never have considered its use before.
Q: What is on your BuddyPress features wishlist for 2010?
A: Better integration with other social media. Let’s face it – how many communities do we really need to belong to anyways? With BuddyPress community sites popping up all over the place, it’s easy to get a little saturated and overdone on the whole ‘community’ involvement on the web aspect. With BuddyPress, I want to share with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr and the like — and I want that sharing to be seamless. I don’t want to have to update my Twitter status with something charming and witty – only to have to go into however many BuddyPress communities I have joined, and update my status there with something equally charming. I know there is lots of movement towards this direction – as well as a couple of solutions that have come and gone and emerge, which is great – I’m looking forward to full, easy and intuitive sharing with other social media involvement.
I think with the emergence of BuddyPress and it’s rising popularity, we will start seeing some really cool development coming out of the core developers, plugin devs, as well as designers surrounding the extension of BuddyPress features and possibilities. Your recent post on BuddyPress Eye Candy is a great example of that – – that post really served as great inspiration on what other people are doing with BuddyPress, which will cause a ripple effect where we’ll start seeing other designers/developers take those ideas and build upon them and put out something even more spectacular, and so on and so forth.
Q: What advice can you give to entrepreneurs looking to use BuddyPress as a platform for social networking?
A: My biggest advice would be to know what you are getting into. I could sit here all day and tell you how great and dynamic and wonderful BuddyPress is – – and it IS, don’t get me wrong! But, as a site owner who is considering it as a solution for their own site – – research it and know what you are getting into. There is a distinct line that you cross when you make the decision to open up your web site to an entire community of users. Suddenly, as the site owner, you’ve now become the community support leader as your community members start to use the available features – – they will look to you for assistance in using the features you’ve made available to them – and will come to you when those features do not work. You will also become their sounding board for things like… “I really like Feature A, but wouldn’t it be cool if it did THIS?”. Your site becomes less of a thing that your visitors are consuming, and more of a thing where your visitors are interacting and taking part in – and as a site owner, there is a certain amount of responsibility you have to make sure the site and features are available to your user base. This includes considerations like support, but also hosting and server resources that will go up – in cost and in use – when you are allowing an entire community use your site to blog, interact, discuss and share. Your bandwidth and CPU usage goes up when they are uploading files (photos, videos, etc), when they are private messaging with other members and when they are interacting in forums and inviting their friends to join. Your disk storage space fills up while your database size expands to accommodate all of the data and the directories fill up with files from photos to videos to avatars.
Not too mention that you’re using a platform that is under fast and emerging development – – both WordPress and BuddyPress are living, breathing platforms that change on a regular basis. Don’t think for a minute that you can launch your site this month and then it will run itself. Upgrades are a very common occurrence, so if you’re the type of person who resists change and you don’t want to work within that kind of changing, growing environment – the combination of WordPress and BuddyPress may not be for you.
So, running a community is great fun, and all – but its a smart thing to research the environment, talk with other users about their experience and be sure that your current hosting environment is set up to handle the possible explosion of your new community site! Other than that, my remaining advice is to have fun with it, and make it the best it can be.