About

About WP Symposium

WP Symposium is a plugin for WordPress, that will turn a WordPress site into a Social Network. And you can choose which features you want to activate, and customise them to achieve your social network features.

Uses of WP Symposium are limited only by your imagination, but some examples of how people are already using it include:

  • Social networks for those who live or work together (colleges, clubs, etc…).
  • Internal “intranet”s for a business or company.
  • Dating sites, including those for niche groups of people.
  • A social network supporting products and services.
  • A social network for particular hobbies/interests (music, films, etc…).

What do you get?

Features include member profiles, and activity streams to see what they are up to (with likes and dislikes). And of course no social network is going to work without friends, so you get those, and a “follow” feature if you are a little shy. Private mail can be sent between members.

And no problem keeping on top of what’s going on with real-time notification alerts in the menu, and “panel” that shows who is online, provides live chat and a site wide chat room.

Want to see who else is in the social network? A member directory will list members by last activity, name or distance from where you are.

Should a group of members have a common interest, they can set up groups (private or public) with it’s own activity stream and forum.

The forum gives your members somewhere to post topics and organise them into categories. The forum comes with a host of features like sticky posts, uploading images, showing videos, privacy settings, and so on. It even allows voting, and likes, so you can use your forum as a question/answer style forum.

Organising events? No problem, the events feature lets you set up events, with a booking facility. Optionally, you can ask members to pay for the event.

The gallery lets your members create photo albums, all lovingly displayed, ready to be viewed and commented on.

Compatibility with other plugins? Sure thing. WP Symposium works nicely with CubePoints and for those who want enhanced chat, checkout Cometchat, integrates lovely (see the WP Symposium Wiki).

Working with WordPress, there are plenty of widgets to show latest members, new forum activity, friends online, a login form and so on.

Want to extend WP Symposium? A growing collection of hooks, filters and development classes exists for that purpose. As an example, here’s a WP Symposium extension developed by a WPS user to tie in blog posts with the profile page.

The best way to try out WP Symposium is… try it out! The plugin is free to download from wordpress.org. A few of the plugins require Bronze membership to www.wpsymposium.com but, but they are all fully function for you to try out. So give it a go, why not?

The history bit…

When I started developing WP Symposium, back in December 2010, it was snowing. That wasn’t the drive behind the first line of code, but I remember it well – it was an unexpected but very extremely pleasant surprise (a bit like the snow). Looking back over 2011 and now 2012, I get the same feeling when I think of how an initial line of code would become what WP Symposium is today.

In reality, I opened up EditRocket (my preferred development editor) because I needed a forum for a WordPress website that didn’t look like it had been designed by, well, someone who considered functionality more important than design. There wasn’t a plugin available that would keep me happy – that didn’t just balance features and design, but would strive to excel in both.

So, with a full pot of tea beside me, I set about creating a forum that would be simple to use, clean to display, but packed with features (or at least those features I wanted at the time, oh how it’s grown!!).

I released it to WordPress.org not with a grand plan in mind, and certainly not expecting to tread the path that I can now look back on. I put it into the repository more because I wanted to see how to do it. To be honest, it was a humble beginning, I expected few – if any – downloads. The set of features matched my own requirements and the design was good enough. However, good enough is not good enough….

Because then a truly unexpected thing happened. People started to download it. And use it. And like it. Gosh! (Approaching 100,000 as I update this article). So then suggested enhancements started coming in. I reacted to them as I saw fit (and I admit to getting a kick out of others wanting to use my code). Namely, if one person wanted it, somebody else probably wanted it too. And the change log was born. I look back on the change log now, to version 0.1, and smile in an overtly hearty paternal way.

Before long I had promised to add a member profile page, as it seemed like a natural progression, to support the users of the forum. Site admin’s didn’t want their members using the WordPress dashboard. And like falling dominoes, it was followed by the member directory, private mail, chat windows (etc!) because it made sense to have them join the WPS family.

Support

This was all rather exciting, and a tad scary. Reality started to bite. Users needed supporting and I had to find a way to prioritise the requests I was getting somehow.

I extended the WPS website at www.wpsymposium.com and started a support forum. To this day I cannot thank enough those people who contribute and help those who request it.

But I still needed to prioritise.

Hello Bronze (and Silver) (and Gold) Members!

Against my wishes, but forced to do so, I put a small commercial model around WPS. It was partly a way to give users a way of ensuring they get a response to support requests, but being honest, it was also a way to try and address the growing hosting costs. My development and support time was my personal choice, but WPS had to be demonstrated for real. And hosting costs is part and parcel in running a website. It also covers the salary of support staff, and to a lesser degree it also covers the running of the helpdesk.

So, by joining www.wpsymposium.com as a subscribing member you get lots of lovely extras:

  1. An activation code to remove the polite notice if you want to use Bronze+ WPS features such as Groups, Alerts, Events, Facebook, Gallery, Mobile version, etc. Remember you can use them without the activation code, but a polite notice is shown at the top of your website.
  2. Access to a helpdesk for guaranteed response
  3. A warm fuzzy feeling in your tummy by helping to keep WPS going :)
  4. A licence to use it on multiple sites/servers (Gold members)

So if you’re looking for personal support and guaranteed response, set yourself up as a bronze member. If you want priority support on the helpdesk, and the offer to set up WP Symposium from scratch on your servers if need be, consider silver membership.

I was pleased with a decision I took mid-2012 to include all plugins in the download from wordpress.org – for two reasons. One so that everyone could try them out on their site before having to subscribe as a bronze member. Secondly, to remove the need for Bronze members to FTP the extra plugins every release, which can be a pain if that’s every week.

Hosting

So for those that are interested… I started with a £2.99/$5 (yes, I’m British) hosting packing. But with the number of users it soon hit limitations on emails being sent, and performance was beginning to struggle. The site ran fine, but I seemed to be attracting a reasonable number of users that kept the site busy (technically speaking).

I was also getting nervous about the impact of having to share a server with lots of other people (I’m sure they’re lovely, but I didn’t want to rely on them not killing the same server I was on). Backing up was also a consideration.

So I moved to Amazon’s EC2 Cloud offering. I was using Amazon with a client and although not as straight forward as their initial user dashboard might suggest, it felt a good technical offering. But wow, the costs rocketed (about £250/$400 a month). True, if you pay, you get what you expect – a truly wizzy site. But my wallet was getting lighter, very quickly.

To cut a fairly expensive story short, I’ve recently moved to 1and1 (US). I’m now paying $99 a month for a Server L 4i dedicated server.

Managing Releases

Managing user requests had to improve from a nice collection of post-its on my kitchen wall. Welcome to the development voting page (once you’re logged in). This allows bronze members to vote on the priority of development, making sure I don’t get stuck in my own ideas. It also makes sure that my kitchen to-do list does not blow off in the wind occasionally… ahem.

After running with a weekly release schedule, it was too much for me and users, seleases are now on a 6-8 weekly schedule, with bug fixes (hopefully not too many) and new features (as many as I can squeeze in). During the test phase Release Candidates are available to everyone on the WPS Download page that reflects that latest available version of the code since the last official release, and that will be running on the WPS website.

Staff

In November 2012 I made one of my best decisions – to get some help. Robert now heads up the support on the helpdesk and the forum, along with other ad hoc duties. He’s been great and I am so glad he joined the team.

What next?

Once you’re logged in, take a look at the voting page. The development of WP Symposium is driven not by me, but by the users.

I do my best to put quick features in as soon as possible, and work on others over a slightly longer period.

I’ll end, if I may, with a copy of the guiding principles by which I govern WP Symposium:

  1. Follow the users
    The needs of WP Symposium will be driven by those who use it, and in turn by users of those web sites. Users needs, requests, bug reports and feedback are paramount to the success of WP Symposium. Listen to the users, they are king.
  2. Good enough is not good enough
    Doing the minimum is not acceptable, if it can be improved, improve it. Can it be done better? Don’t be afraid to change something if it improves it.
  3. Release quick, fix quick
    No big releases, no long launch delays. If a bug has to be addressed, make a download available immediately.
  4. Have fun!
    Running a website is a serious business, there are users to keep happy, technology to manage, problems to solve and issues to deal with it. But if, on the whole, you’re not having fun — do you really need to be doing it? Developing WP Symposium is fun, running your social network with WP Symposium should be fun too.
  5. Drink tea
    Tea is good, drink tea.

So give WP Symposium a go if you haven’t already – it’s a free plugin at http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-symposium. If you already have then thank you, and chocolate cream-topped thank you if you’ve subscribed as a Bronze or Silver member!!