BuddyPress looking for release leads

The BuddyPress project is making a public call for volunteers to become the release leads for 2.9 and 3.0.

Release Leads: Call for Volunteers

The role blends aspects of being a product manager, project manager, engineering manager, release manager, and community manager. Release leads do not need to be developers, but having experience contributing to open source projects is required.

I encourage non-developers to go for the position if they can, because it will make the project stronger while also providing a great opportunity to manage an interesting project. I have high hopes for the next couple of versions of BuddyPress, combined with other parts of WordPress moving around; we might have a decent social-network-in-a-box, actually out-of-the-box.

Inspired to build something else

For the longest time I’ve tried to fit every WordPress site into my tiered network instance. I don’t want to keep multiple repositories for different configurations, so I’ve endeavoured to pile them all up here (where this blog lives).

Recently I stumbled upon Commons In A Box, and it changed my mind. I really like the plugins it installs, I had no idea that BuddyPress had gotten some of those features in additional plugins, in part because not all of them are in the official repo. CBox itself doesn’t really appeal to me, though I am glad it exists. While I can’t get it installed properly, that it is based in an academic org means that they will support their common use case, and that appeals to me. It is the closest thing I’ve seen to a WordPress “distro”, and I’d like to see more.

I am going to do some more testing, to make sure all my expectations are met, but if it works the way I think it does, I will be rolling out a few new sites in the coming months, based on ideas I’ve had for years now. This is exciting stuff, and I will documenting it heavily (one of my ideas is to finally get a site up for socially documenting the webcraft I do). Fun! ^_^

Ask maiki: Tech for a local digital community

Someone asks:

Hi just curious if you were to choose a CMS and technologies for launching a local community digital only community news site, which is mobile and tablet friendly, and easy for community editors to use to publish articles, what platforms, CMS and tech would you recommend?

If you are asking me, you probably already know a little bit about my work. What you are describing is similar to what we have at Oakland Local, as well as the recently launched Young Oakland.

I personally work primarily with WordPress, but I didn’t start there, nor did I stay once I found it. I compulsively use new self-hosted software, and have used just about every FOSS CMS/blog/forum/gallery/status/repo/IM project out there. The first version of Oakland Local was in Drupal. But eventually we migrated even that site to WordPress.

The theming layer, user system, custom post-types and plugins make it a very versatile platform. I build sites for a variety of companies and individuals, and most of them I also host on a single multi-network WordPress instance, which shares users, plugins and themes, so the overhead for keeping it updated isn’t affected very much by each new site I add. This configuration is possible because the core of WordPress allows for thousands of developers to build on it, so you have 10 years of development and millions of human hours working on the design patterns to use for your site.

Okay, so of course I suggest WordPress. But there are 29,000 plugins, probably more themes, and building any site is difficult. Where does one start? Well, here are some specific suggestions on starting a local community-driven news site, at various levels of abstraction.

Plugins

Edit Flow makes it easy to manage a lot of folks working on different content at the same time. I think one should probably be familiar with the WordPress post edit screen first, but even with the slight learning curve, a small team of editors can handle a lot of content easily, once they grok this plugin. A couple training sessions for editorial workflows will go far for a community site.

Pods allows drag-and-drop creation of custom post types and taxonomies. I prefer this plugin to other methods because the interface is easy to use, and allows for easy export/import, so creations can be shared without having to code. There is a learning curve to do things beyond the basics, but it is a good starting place to customizing WordPress post types. An example of using Pods is on Moon Handbooks; we use it to create the book pages, which have structured data.

Gravity Forms is a premium plugin that creates forms. It doesn’t sound too exciting, but it is amazing what you can do with it. At Young Oakland, students can submit their art work, and contributors to the RailsBridge Blog can create posts without having an account on the site (which means the bottleneck isn’t administering users on a blog). There are a lot of contact forms, but GF has a drag-and-drop interface, and other plugins that greatly increase what the forms can do, like passing data to a CRM or a custom post type.

WP-Piwik is the plugin that makes it easy for WordPress to use Piwik, a free and open source analytics project. Knowing how folks use your site can be useful, and on a community site it is one tool in creating value for its members. Piwik can be configured to respect folks’ privacy as well, and I run an open, public instance at AnalyticsX. If you would like to track your site there, get in touch.

While I don’t use them personally, BuddyPress (social networking) and bbPress (forums) are worth mentioning. I don’t use them for various reasons, the primary being I don’t have a need for those particular setups. But I keep an eye on them, because they are definitely useful to the right group.

Social Documentation

A long a convoluted series of thought-trains crashed together to give me this idea for a series of sites that I am now working on. It is mostly written in a notebook, but the gist of it is something I call “social documentation”.

It derives from me taking a step back and thinking about what I actually use non-Wikipedia wikae for, and how it is used by others. There are patterns in most wikae software that I like, but as implemented I can’t fit on other patterns that I would like. While I was thinking about this I was also considering how I would write documentation for my increasingly large and diverse client base.

I have a recipe in mind: WordPress + BuddyPress + bbPress + a custom theme + some plugins.

In the past I’ve been dismissive of BuddyPress because I didn’t use those patterns, and critical of bbPress because that software didn’t work the way I expected. Both projects have matured, and my understand of custom post types and the things that can be done with themes and plugins has grown. Now I think I can work with those frameworks.

And of course I am going to make it really complicated, by running my network of networks with multiple instances of social doc sites, which will share logins but have distinct communities (if I may presume that at least one other person will join me…). So there is that. ^_^

The first site that I will (well, should) focus on will be my work support documentation. That is straightforward in that it is easy to imagine what it looks like. If you’ve ever used a site that was titled a “knowledge base”, there you have it, though I endeavor to make it less boring and more helpful than most kb sites I’ve used.

After that, though, documentation changes into something for which I use wikae: aggregate logs of role-playing game sessions, notes and tutorials for video games, deconstructions and commentary on cultural artifacts (me talking about a show I just watched), comprehensive reviews on computing devices, and food recipes. Those are all real examples of what I plan to build, each a different site using a similar format, but distinct enough to power its own groups of users.

Most ideas I have don’t have as much visual/typographical design involved, so I am not practiced in explaining it. But in time it will become clear, because I practice radical transparency, and I will also be looking for suggestions and design patterns to take.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned. ^_^

People to meet, among others

Well, enough ranting for me.

Do you like Twitter (or Lite Facebook), but without technical interruptions (or, you know, having to be on Facebook)? Try Identica, an open-source micro-blogging network that serves as a great conversation space for a lot of the ideas I have expressed in this post. Or better yet, roll your own micro-blog site with Laconica, the software that powers Identica. If full on “stalk my friends, stalk my enemies more closely” is your bent, check out BuddyPress, which includes a lot of the same features as other social networking sites. It runs on WordPressMU, which means you can get your own community up and running in no time.

Those are two efforts by a couple of outfits called Control Yourself and Automattic, respectively. Remember those names, and find out who they are, and see what you think. Do you know anyone who makes a decision at Facebook? Matt Mullenweg travels around the world to celebrate social investors, and I happen to know that Evan Prodromou is going to be in my neck of the woods for the next couple of days.

I am biased. I also get to hang out with the people who make the software that I use to enrich my life. Join me!