Creating an interactive blog is more exciting than a blog where only the author speaks. A conversation among two or more people can interest readers by providing varied viewpoints, introducing them to others who share the same interests, and allowing them to learn from discussions. WordPress makes it easy for blogs to receive feedback, start discussions, and conversations. Two plugins, BuddyPress and bbPress, can help WordPress blogs and websites achieve this goal. Both plugins are built by the WordPress team and are tightly integrated with WordPress.
BuddyPress is a plugin that allows users to build their own social networking community. It currently enjoys over 200,000 active installs and is an ideal tool to help build small local online communities such as a sports team, a church group, a drama club, or a fan club for a music band. It works for bigger communities too.
Installing the plugin directly from the WordPress dashboard is easy. Once installed, users will need to configure components, pages, and settings to suit the special requirements of their own community.
A social network has many components, and most of these components (10 in number) are present in BuddyPress. These components can be used to enable any user to sign up, create an account, modify it or delete it – all from within their profile. Detailed profiles for users to describe themselves, users to connect with others within the community and follow them, users to make new friends on the community, any number of users to continue a conversation privately, create groups that users can join in and participate, display latest exchanges in an activity stream with RSS feed and email notification support, and send notifications about any activity, allowing users to customize the notification settings.
Many of the components are enabled by default. However, components for friend connections, private messaging, site tracking, and User Groups will have to be enabled if needed.
Once users have selected the components they need for their community, they can move on to the Pages tab to configure the pages that BuddyPress will use. Three are already done for them – Members Page, Activity Page, and User Groups Page. Users will need to create two more – for Registration and Activity. They can use the Page settings in their WordPress dashboard and select pages for each function. Save when done.
The third and final tab is for Options, and users can enable/disable the options as they wish. Thereafter, BuddyPress will use the assigned pages to display the relevant content for their site.
If users are on a multi-site, they can choose to activate the plugin across the entire network or only on selected sites. By enabling the multi-blog feature, the same central data is used to display BuddyPress content on all the sites.
BuddyPress works with most WordPress themes. However, if networking among users is significant to their blog, they may prefer themes that come with templates for each BuddyPress component built-in.
One theme recommended is Buddy – the multipurpose BuddyPress theme for WordPress. This theme features a clean and customizable design with full BuddyPress integration so users can easily create their own social network. Other awesome theme features include easy-to-use shortcodes, retina support, individual or global post options, unlimited sidebars, child theme included, and translation files.
Moreover, there are hundreds of third-party extensions and add-ons that extend the features of BuddyPress. The network components can be enhanced with these add-ons. Some add-ons that may help include iFlyChat, WangGuard, and rtMedia for WordPress, BuddyPress, and bbPress.
It is important to choose a hosting service provider carefully while installing BuddyPress. Often, community software is big on database resource, and BuddyPress is no exception.
bbPress adds a discussion forum to a blog. This plugin is also a product from Automatic and is easy to install and use.
Users can install bbPress from their WordPress dashboard. After they have installed and activated bbPress, they can visit ‘Forums’ on their dashboard and create a new forum.
By default, all the forums will be active site-wide. This means that any member of any group will have access to the forum. (Read further to see how access can be restricted).
Once users have created new forums, they can proceed to Settings > Forums. They can select options to configure the forums, allow or disallow privileges to users, allow or disallow anonymous posting, and assign various forum roles like participant, moderator, keymaster, or block any user. They can also allow users to mark topics as favorites, to subscribe to forums & topics, to embed media into topics and replies, revise replies and tag topics or conduct a forum-wide search.
A number of shortcodes are also available to help arrange the forum in the way that users like.
Much like BuddyPress, there are a number of awesome themes that work well with bbPress, but the recommended one is the Total WordPress theme. Users can sample the forms on the Total bbPress demo site.
bbPress also comes with hundreds of add-ons that can extend features. A random few are listed here: bbPress Moderation, GD bbPress Attachments, and bbPress Votes.
The communities that users add to their blog with BuddyPress can allow members to discuss on a forum created within the community. Users can have many forums within a single community network. To have forums functioning within community networks, they need to use BuddyPress and bbPress together.
Forums can be accessed by any member from any group. To restrict access and to organize the forums and communities in their blog, users need to assign the forums to a parent group and enable bbPress to have groups.
After users have installed, activated, and configured both plugins, they can visit the bbPress settings and create a group or parent forum for all the forums used by BuddyPress. Set the attribute to Category field and publish it.
Staying within bbPress settings, users can proceed to BuddyPress integration and type in the name of the BuddyPress forum they just created. Save the settings. When creating new groups, allow each group to set up its forum.
If users do not have any existing Groups, they can look for the Groups > Add New option and follow the steps to set up a new Group. They should take care to tick the box allowing the Group to have a forum. For existing Groups, they can look up the settings under Group forums and tick the option to allow each group to have forums. Save all changes.
The Group Menu will now display a Forum option which admin or permitted forum members can use to create new forums for different topics.
Each group on a site can choose to have its own forum. Each user’s topics, replies, favorites, and subscriptions will appear in their profiles. It integrates with BuddyPress Groups, Profiles, and Notifications.
BuddyPress and bbPress work well together and can be used independently of each other as well. They can be installed in any order. And if any one plugin is deactivated, it will not affect the other.
In conclusion, both BuddyPress and bbPress serve as effective communication tools for user groups. The two plugins are aimed at increasing interaction and exchange of ideas among members. A number of add-ons that extend features are available for both plugins, BuddyPress more so than bbPress. But BuddyPress is more about forming communities and networking, and bbPress is more about discussion boards and forums. bbPress is fairly simple, while BuddyPress is more feature-rich. Users can use them independently of each other – choose to have just a forum for discussion with bbPress or a community that networks with BuddyPress. Or install both – forums and communities – and make their blog truly participatory.