WordPress Social Network Showdown : BuddyPress V WP-Symposium Pro

BuddyPress is undoubtedly a WordPress plugin heavyweight and dominates the Social Network Plugin division.

WP-Symposium, the only really valid challenger to BuddyPress has, like BuddyPress itself, gone through a major overhaul and has now turned Pro. But with the champion having shed a few pounds and gained some speed, can the challenger take the champion the distance?

Ladies and gentlemen, are you ready to rumble?

Composite image of Rock'em robots and WP Symposium Pro and BuddyPress logos
Going up against the undisputed Social Network plugin champion is a massive challenge

The Champion

BuddyPress - Social Networking In A Box
The undisputed Social Network plugin champion of the WordPress World

In the blue corner, undisputed king of the WordPress Social Network plugin division, weighing in at a staggering 2,099,450 downloads, 330+ plugins and available in 7 languages (including Australian English). The Automattic favorite, Buddy “Social Networking In A Box” Press!

The Challenger

WP-Symposium Pro Social network plugin
The challenger has been working on a title tilt for over 4 years

In the red corner, with a career spanning 4 years, weighing in at 134,022 downloads, 26 plugins and available in 3 languages. WP-Symposium ‘Social Network For WordPress’ Pro!

The Champion, then, with a considerable reach advantage and a much bigger team in its corner.

Round 1Round 1 – Installation

BuddyPress and WP-Symposium Pro are both available as free downloads from the WordPress plugin repository.

But the challenger lands the first crunching blow with its menu option immediately obvious in the WordPress admin menu, whilst the Champion’s is buried down in Settings with a distracting and initially useless Activity option the only obvious addition to the WordPress menu.

Round 1 to WP-Symposium Pro.

Round TwoRound 2 – Set-up

The challenger leaps from its stool and immediately has the champion in trouble. BuddyPress requires BBPress to provide forum functionality – why isn’t this part of the BuddyPress distribution, or perhaps part of the set-up process?

WP-Symposium Pro tries to end it quickly with the champion on the ropes but BuddyPress forces the challenger back with some solid blows: once installed the integration between BuddyPress and BBPress is near seamless.

BuddyPress automatically creates pages your site needs, whereas WP-Symposium creates only a minimal set and requires a page for each forum now its the challenger in trouble.

And suddenly WP-Symposium Pro finds itself on the seat of its pants courtesy of features being able to be switched-off in BuddyPress, and although it easily beats the count is relieved to hear the bell sound for the end of the round.

Round 2 to BuddyPress.

ROund 3Round 3 – Feature Set

This time it’s the champion who comes out of the corner with purpose and immediately lands some heavy blows. Groups, a really important feature of a social network, are built into BuddyPress but are a paid extra for WP-Symposium Pro (at a minimum cost of $100).

The challenger has to soak up more punishment as BuddyPress lands a series of telling jabs via an extensive list of BBPress features that are either not available or are paid extras in WP-Symposium Pro.

And BuddyPress finishes off the round with a couple of booming right-handers as WP-Symposium Pro has no out-of-the-box answers to Extended Profiles and editing of account settings from the profile.

Round 3 to BuddyPress.

Round 4Round 4 – Extensions

The champion is getting on top now as the challenger is forced to soak up more pressure, unable to put up much defence against the more than 330 BuddyPress plugins, including a number from WPMU DEV.

BuddyPress senses that it might be able to finish the fight now but the challenger manages to hang in on there.

Round 4 to BuddyPress.

Round 5Round 5 – Integration Into Existing Sites

The pre-fight claims of both the challenger and champion were that they are theme independent and can integrate with any modern theme.

WP-Symposium Pro is using shortcodes for all its functionality, whilst BuddyPress is countering by mixing up shortcodes with endpoint-driven template selection.

The challenger certainly has to work harder, requiring a page for each forum, for example, but it does seem more flexible especially when combined with a page layout tool.

In the end though, honors even, with BuddyPress matching output even if not matching WP-Symposium Pro’s workrate.

Round 5 is shared.

Round 6 Round 6 – Documentation

Perhaps the champion was just taking a breather in Round 5 because in this round those booming punches and short sharp body blows come thick and fast as the BuddyPress Codex easily outmuscles the lighter documentation of WP-Symposium Pro.

Round 6 to BuddyPress.

Round 7 Round 7 – Support

A change of tactics for WP-Symposium and its not without some success. With BuddyPress relying on its community for support, especially its forums, WP-Symposium Pro counters with its own forums and paid support.

Response times look good – as you would expect if you’re paying – although to get ‘dedicated support’ you will need an Enterprise licence. Even so, and despite a late rally from BuddyPress courtesy of third-party support providers, such as WPMU DEV, WP-Symposium Pro edges the round.

Round 7 to WP-Symposium Pro

Round 8Round 8 – Price

Price shouldn’t be an absolute consideration but free is compelling and it quickly as BuddyPress in command of the road.

Despite WP-Symposium Pro’s effective jabbing about sustainability and support, the minimum cost of $100 in the face of such fierce competition allows BuddyPress to counter-punch with more core features and a swag of plugins that anyone can download and try.

It seems a bit of a mismatch given the number of personnel in BuddyPress’ corner but this is why the champion has been undisputed for so long.

Round 8 to BuddyPress.

Round 9 Round 9 – The Test Site

The final round and it is the champion who is definitely finishing the stronger.

My test site was based on an actual recent implementation (in BuddyPress) that made use of groups, group forums, centralized forums, group pages and group events.

BuddyPress does all this out-of-the-box or via free extensions and lands some telling blows, forcing WP-Symposium onto the ropes and to cover up. The champion lands a huge group events blow that rocks the challenger who looks decidedly unsteady.

As BuddyPress steps up the work-rate there’s another devastating group wiki pages uppercut that jolts the challenger’s head backwards but just as all seems lost, the bell goes, the fight is over and the challenger trudges back to its corner whilst the champion celebrates in the middle of the ring.

Round 9 to BuddyPress

The Verdict

Buddypress has considerable advantages over any challenger, not just WP-Symposium Pro: it has a huge install-base, an incredible community behind it, extensive 3rd party plugins and it integrates fully with the equally well-supported, incredibly popular BBPress.

And it’s free, of course.

To be fair to WP-Symposium, it doesn’t try and compete with BuddyPress, in fact it almost feels as though it is trying to ignore the heavyweight’s existence, but seeks to provide a decent, well supported product.

And support is where WP-Symposium has the edge. Whilst you are going to have to pay for it, you can get help when you need it rather than relying on community-driven forums.

All-in-all the card does read in BuddyPress’ favor. It’s now much easier to integrate with an existing site (although by no means perfect) and the sheer volume of existing extensions means that the majority of additional requirements can be met.

WP-Symposium Pro will no doubt have its niche – and the shortcode approach is certainly interesting and offers plenty of flexible – but the BuddyPress’ price is always going to prove to be a hurdle for challengers.

Ultimately the winner, and still the undisputed Social Network plugin champion of the WordPress World, is BuddyPress.

Have you used either of these two products? What were your experiences?