ChickSpeak.com: A WordPress MU Based Social Network

WordPress MU (WPMU) is basically the multi-user version of WordPress, the popular blog/cms tool. The aim of WPMU is to allow for one installation to spawn multiple WordPress blog instances. Basically, you can install WPMU on your server and run as many individual WordPress instances as your box can handle.

WordPress MU has the basics of a social network right out of the box – individual member blogs, member profiles and the ability to scale well.

Don’t Hack – Just Plug

WordPress also has an excellent plugin API, as well as a whole host of quality pre-built plugins ready to download and activate. The key here is that I didn’t have to hack the core – I could just achieve the additional functionality needed by building dedicated plugins.

Plugins were built and used for private messaging, advanced profile management, online polls, photo management, multi-blog search and user credential management.

Not Blogs, But Member Home Pages

Member Home Page on ChickSpeak

The crucial part to the whole project was morphing WordPress MU to stop it from generating new blog instances and instead generating new member home pages.

A member home page includes a users own personal profile front and center, their own personal “journal” as a feature of their home page, as well as private messaging functionality.

To achieve the desired change it was down to making a new WordPress theme. The theme would have exactly the same look and feel as the core site – making it look like the new member home page was still part of the core site itself.

Within the theme, I removed the code that usually makes the blog posts front and center, and changed it to the code that outputs the users profile. The blog code was moved to the sidebar so it could still be accessed as the members “journal” feature.

Finally, the code to output the users new private messages was added to the sidebar, as well as some code to output polls, photos and other smaller bits and bobs.

A nice feature of WordPress MU is it places member pages on a subdomain, so any members home page can be found at http://membername.chickspeak.com. A nice touch, as it’s then easy to remember the to link to your profile.

Adding Some BBPress Magic

BBPress Forums on ChickSpeak

The project also called for a fully featured discussion forum. The forum needed to work seamlessly with the site, using the same login credentials and the same look and feel. Another project called BBPress fit the bill perfectly. BBPress is a no-frills forum/bulletin board application built by the same guys (Automattic) as WordPress. It has the same style, plugin architecture and most importantly can share the credentials data and cookie information. Perfect.

Limiting Credentials

The final step was to limit the administration functionality that a member has on their own blog. This stops them from signing up new users, deleting content they shouldn’t be, or changing the theme of their member page. I created a simple plugin that disabled the menus for these settings in the WordPress admin interface. The pages could only be accessed by site-wide administrators if needed.

I’ve only really glazed on what I did with WordPress MU to turn it into a fully fledged social network engine – but you get the overall idea. I’d be happy to answer anyones specific questions if you have them.

ChickSpeak is up and running over at ChickSpeak.com. Feel free to take a look when you get a chance, I’d welcome any feedback. You can also click the image thumbnails in the article to get full screenshots.

78 thoughts on “ChickSpeak.com: A WordPress MU Based Social Network

  1. Hey Andy,

    I’m a long-time lurker, first-time commenter.

    What you did sounds more or less what I’m about to do in several months for a project. I was planning on hacking away at WPMU’s core code; but plugins sound like a much better way.

    I remember hacking the admin code for a regular WordPress install to limit access for users when I ran my University department’s website. There was no updating WP after doing that!

    I have a couple questions since you’re soliciting ;)

    1. Did you previously know how to write plugins or did you learn for that project in particular?

    2. How hard (re: timewise) was it to integrate bbPress with WPMU?

    Thanks!
    -David

  2. Hi David, thanks for the questions!

    The plugins for WordPress are basically the same as plugins for WordPress MU. You have to be careful with database table names as they differ in WPMU, but essentially the format and layout is the same.

    I’d built a couple of big plugins for WordPress before, so I knew how they worked and what I needed to do.

    Your best bet is to check out a few plugins already built, as well as take a look at the WordPress Plugin Generator which you can use to create a good starting point.

    With BBPress, timewise it was fairly short. There is a good tutorial here.

    Hope this helps!

  3. What a great idea. I have been looking at Elgg and Drupal for solutions but I am more familiar with WordPress. ChickSpeak is a triumph in design and innovation. Congratulations on your creation.

    Am I to understand that you created your own plugins to make this work? Are you going to make them publicly available?

    Would you please list the plugins you did use?

    Thanks and continued success.

  4. Wow, this is really amazing. My self and a few college buddies are planning to try and setup a similar network for gamers in our university.

    Since most of us are not web programmers, just do-it-yourself enthusiasts, perhaps WP MU could do just the trick for our little idea.

    Great work!

  5. The site looks great. It’s along the same reasons that I wanted to use MU to begin to develop my hyperlocal news site here in Birmingham.

    Seeing your site in action lets me know that I still have a lot to do but that the end result is possible.

    Great job!

  6. Any chance you’re going to release some kinda “turn-key” solution so that others can launch similar sites? I’d love to launch a photography community, for photographers, not for photos.

  7. I took would like to know if you’re going to make this available, as it would be ideal for a site I
    have been attempting to create.

  8. Great work. You did a wonderful job designing that site. I LOVE the look and sound of the way it functions. I currently have a wpmu site, and a phpbb board and have been wanting to integrate the two. I have a couple of other sites integrated with phpbb and wordpress using wp-united (wp-united.com) but the creator does not yet have a version for MU. I am not very familiar with bbpress, but I will have to give it a good look.

    Keep up the great work.

  9. Thanks for all the kind comments!

    No plans to offer an off-the-shelf solution at the moment – busy busy, but if time allows I may work on something on the side. I’d really like to start again and create a completely generic version for re-use.

  10. Outstanding work. Beautiful design.

    I’ve been kicking around some ideas for sites that would function in a similar way and never thought of using WPMU. It would be great if you decide to release something.

    Thanks for a great post!

  11. Nice! I have also tried this with Elgg in the attempt to make a social networking site for the autistic community. Back then, I could never even get wpmu to work on my server. wpmu has come a LONG way since then and it never even occurred to me to try again, although I did use it for an autistic blogging network.

    If I ever have time again, that will be my first “free-time” project. Thanks for the inspiration :) It is a beautiful site.

  12. I’d like to echo the questions asked by “skarld” above: “Am I to understand that you created your own plugins to make this work? Are you going to make them publicly available? Would you please list the plugins you did use?”

    I am planning a huge revamp of my grief support community, LostAParent.com, and would love to consider this solution further.

    Thanks in advance!

  13. Hi Andy,

    I notice that chickspeak has a shop functionality that directs users straight to cafepress when they click ‘order now’.
    I’d like to create a simple store like this using WordPress (not MU), and which sends people straight to my client’s paypal page. I want to avoid using the e-commerce lite plugin…

    I was wondering, did you use a method that would be easily transferable to a WordPress/Paypal solution?

    Thanks.

  14. I’ve been planning on doing the same type of thing, fusing MU blogs into one cohesive whole, and then I saw Matt’s post about your site. Literally days after having installed MU on a test-bed site, how ironic. I really like what you’ve done with it, there’s a lot to be admired and emulated.

  15. Nice work Andy. Are you going to make those custom plugins for MU available, either for a fee or as shareware? It seems you did a great job and it would save a few of us some time!

  16. I’m not going to be releasing the plugins that I created for this project, as they were created under contract.

    Some plugins that I can personally recommend are:

    Private Notes:
    http://www.vituperation.com/pnotes

    Author Profile Picture:
    http://geekgrl.net/2007/01/02/profile-pics-plugin-release/

    Remove Dash:
    http://www.ilfilosofo.com/blog/

    I’m working on generic versions of all the plugins I wrote (things like extra profile fields, admin area mods, post levels etc) so I’m hoping to get a site up where these can be downloaded. Not sure of the details just yet, but I’m working on it!

    Cheers, Andy

  17. Great job on the ChickSpeak site, Andy! I’d also be very interested in some generic versions of the plugins you used.

  18. besides what you listed what exacly didnt you want users switching. Can they add own adsense or js to ‘homepages?’ If you can provide a list that would be interesting.

  19. This is amazing to actually see that someone made it work. I’ve been speculating that WPMU could be used in this way, but couldn’t figure out some of the details.

    I checked out the site – amazing job! Thanks for the hope.

  20. I’m glad you did this, it gives us hope and inspiration. I’m plugging along with my own community, and doing really well, but I have a couple of questions.

    Strike that, I figured one out. Just the one now.

    What plugin do you use for the profile extra fields? I tried cimy, but it didn’t work for the users, just the admin. Also userextra I passed over to try cimy, because it adds an extra profile page instead of the one, but I’ll go see about that again.

    What you have for collecting extra profile information looks really good, but what’s odd is, I joined ChickSpeak and didn’t see where the info is displayed. As a user, that’d be interesting, too. I must be lost?

    Thanks so much!

  21. Great site, and thanks for the info… I have used WP before, but have been looking at solutions for a social network, and you answered my questions there.. thanks again.

  22. Andy,

    What would you charge for an install? I am looking to do a network with the option for people to create their own blogs. Email me and I can give you more specifics.

    Thanks,

    Joe

  23. Photo Matt » Backing BuddyPress

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  53. Hi all,

    I am creating an application in which i want to create a blog through my registration form in php so as a user will be registered through my php form then he will also have a blog in wpmu. I am new in wordpress mu.

    can anybody help me? Thanks.

  54. >Wordpress MU Social Network

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  59. Mamamia, This is great!
    I was been trying to do something like this for months. I would ask you to build one for my project, but I am sure I could not afford to pay you. However, could you please guide me on how to mostly turn [http://www.ckryka.com] in something like your chickspeak?
    And could you please send me a number (cost) by email if you have to guide me on the project. Meaning to tell me in plain english what to do (like a tutorial) and plugins that go with.
    Thanks, I can wait to get something like chickspeak.com

  60. Hi Andy,

    I’ve been doing research and run into BuddyPress, this article and ChickSpeak.

    Since I am more familiar with WP than Drupal, I decided to create a new social network using MU and BP. Let’s hope things go as good as they did for you.

    Thanks for this great piece of software.

    Augusto

  61. Thats cool… i intend to use this wpmu and buddypress to make a social location based site in kenya called spots kenya… is there available support for this on the wp community..

  62. hey, i am new to wordpress mu and i have just installed buddypress theme.. but i cannot make the theme as my homepage theme for the site on http://www.desifuzz.com it still shows the default one.. how do i change it…

    thanks

  63. Wordpress Mu Custom Site : Designers community

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