Wait, Ning is going to start charging?
So by now, you probably know the news about social networking website Ning transitioning into a paid service
, which has caused a lot of -- hmm, let's use the word "friction" -- to the Network Creators that have created Ning Networks. One search term that's been thrown around on blogs and Twitter has been Buddypress, the social network plug-in
for the popular blogging platform Wordpress
. You, as a Network Creator, may have done a little web surfing of your own about Buddypress. Should you stick with Ning? Should you look into Buddypress? Take what's under the box, or choose Curtain #1?
Before you go on, a little bit about me, because I do think this information is relevant to the rest of this article: I previously worked as Ning as a Developer Advocate -- later, a Developer Evangelist, but that's a completely different article altogether -- for two and a half years until Ning laid off 40% of its staff the same day they announced the pricing changes. Before that, I've been a blogger for ten years: first as one of those funny but melodramatic personal bloggers that broadcast their life to the entire Internet, and then moved away from personal blogging to topical blogging when people started to "Google" everything. But it means that Wordpress has been on my radar for a very long time, and now that I'm laid off, no better time to look into Buddypress than now, right? Right.
So what is this Buddypress, anyway?
Simple -- Buddypress is a plug-in for Wordpress, a popular blogging platform also used frequently as a CMS tool
. Whereas with Wordpress, you could create simple blogs or websites with ease, with Buddypress you could add community based features to your website such as profile pages, a forum, groups and an activity feed. The most important part -- if you believe all the pundits on Twitter, anyway -- is that because Wordpress and Buddypress is all stored on a server that you have access to, then you have complete control over your member's information. Did we mention that Wordpress and Buddypress are run on a GPL license as well? That's a fancy way of saying "it's free."
THIS IS AWESOME AND I'M DELETING MY NING NETWORKS NOW
Hold on -- before you go over to ning.com and start deleting all of your Ning Networks, know this: there are other parts of Ning that Buddypress doesn't have right out of the box, namely events, photo and video sharing. That said, there is a Buddypress developer community, and there have been plug-ins that have been developed to address the functionality. There is a Buddypress Gallery
that handles audio, photo and video sharing. A Buddypress Events calendar exists
but hasn't been updated in a while; a Buddypress Group calendar exists
but they ask for $80/month for maintenance.
And therein lies the rub: Buddypress is relatively new to the Wordpress world -- previously only available as a spin-off multi-user version of Wordpress called Wordpress Mu, Buddypress has only been available for regular versions of Wordpress since this past February. As a result, you'll find a smaller development, theme development and support community for Buddypress, and you'll be disheartened when you find a community where you think you can really pick things up and learn about Buddypress, only to learn that they charge $80 a month to join. Or you can hire a consultant to do it for you, which costs more money. I'm all for making a buck -- hey, I know that, and so does my former employer -- but for a crapton of people wanting to create communities, doing serious deep-dives into the world of Buddypress, it can all be scary and intimidating.
One more thing about free: there are two different Wordpress services
: Wordpress.org, the blogging application that people can install on their web servers, and Wordpress.com, a hosting service that people can join that already has Wordpress installed. Because Buddypress only works on websites that run Wordpress.org, not Wordpress.com hosted sites, and as a result you're in charge of handling hosting. And unless you have a cousin who works at a hosting website that'll hook you up, well, that's going to cost some money too.
That said, my ninth grade economics class taught me about supply and demand, which means as there are more potential people wanting to create communities using Buddypress, there will be more plug-in authors and theme developers willing to build around them. And when there is more Buddypress themes and plug-ins available for people wanting to start their online communities, Buddypress to Ning will go the way of Moveable Type blogs to Wordpress blogs. (That is to say: both are good, but people are going to flock to the free stuff. Especially if they don't have the money to spend on it.)
So, those are my thoughts about Buddypress versus Ning, for now. As far as when someone should go to Buddypress as opposed to someone staying on Ning (and yes, there are pros to staying on Ning, even if you have a paid service) -- well, that may or may not be for another blog post.