For someone who has never put any genuine effort into building a social network with WordPress, I certainly seem to be enamored with this WP Symposium plugin. I have it installed on four separate site installations, and until my most previous  “best idea ever”, I’ve done nothing but play around with it. I think I like the idea of growing a social network, but I really have no idea how to do so. However, I don’t let that keep me from tinkering. 🙂

WPSymposium is a free social network plugin for WordPress. The plugin is actually a suite of seven separate plugins that include the core and six secondary plugins. (mail, profile, forum, panel, members, and widgets) There’s also a couple of premium membership options, Bronze and Silver, that give you access to additional plugins for Bronze and a help desk for Silver.

I’ve toyed with the idea of starting a social network site of some kind, but if I wanted to use my preferred open source framework choice of WordPress, the choices seemed very slim. There’s BuddyPress which is a plugin, although I thought I remember it being a theme when I tried it.

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Turns out it is a plugin, but to make it work with your existing theme better, you can download a BuddyPress template pack. It’s been so long since I tested it that I honestly don’t remember how my install went, but I remember not being impressed with both the default view and navigating around the options. I’m sure a lot has change in the last year or two, and I do use the Thesis Theme which often makes such things harder, so perhaps BP was just not in the cards for me.

The other option was Mingle. I actually used Mingle for awhile on a family photo site to give all family members a log in without having them deal with the WordPress back end. While it was functional, there was very little developer support, which made the forums at the site a virtual ghost town. I once asked about an issue I was having and was told the developer was aware of it, but it was never addressed in the few months that followed. At the time I gave up on Mingle, the plugin had not been updated in nearly a year, so it was apparent it was not a high priority to anyone to keep it going.

Then I found WP Symposium, and while it’s certainly not without inconvenience to a hack like me, it’s a solid plugin that works and has a community worth hanging around in to look for answers. I also must say that the guy taking care of business over there must work tirelessly on this plugin. It seems like every other day I have seven new plugin updates (all for WPS), so this software is continuously being improved and polished.

So here I go again with a new idea, this time giving it an honest shot at building a small social network around a niche idea. I’ve got WP Symposium pretty much set up the way I want working in conjunction with the Theme My Login plugin for redirects to keep users out of the back end area. Now if  only I knew CSS better to be able to fix how Thesis strips form elements to look like crap, I’d be close to ready for launch. Luckily for me, that Thesis forum is priceless for all they do for members.

This is the one, right? This is the idea. The one that changes everything for me. Stay tuned for that. 😉