One of my side projects has been working with the creators of Buddypress ( a side project itself of the ├╝ber-popular WordPress platform) to create a niche social community for Graduates and Cadets of West Point. As an ’87 Grad, a few of my classmates and I were discussing that, whereas we were all fans of Facebook (you can see my profile here), it was hard to have a sense of community there given its size and diversity. Most of the discussions relevant to us as West Pointers were lost on our greater friend-base.

Enter Buddypress. Yes, there’s Ning and a newcomer – the platform, and I evaluated them all. I found them all too constricting. I’m such a huge fan of WordPress’s ease of use and flexibility that when I heard the folks up in Vancouver were working on a framework for building your own community on top of WordPress, I dove in. Buddypress came out of alpha a few months ago and will leave beta in a matter of days. If you have know anything about WordPress and have a desire to organize a community – you owe it to yourself to kick the Buddypress tires.

I will be writing a series of posts discussing lessons learned from a usability and engagement stand point with our site Bugle Notes

Are we engaging members? – the Bugle Notes layout

Click image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

In the space of 2 months and about 275 beta testers, we have already tweaked the Home page layout 3 times. Every modification stems from one focus: getting people to interact even more. Going with the premise that we all naturally tend to want to engage, then site layout ought to nudge and facilitate that engagement at every turn.

  • The Site Wide Activity section continues to be the one that draws eyes in. We moved that more toward the top and left – where eyes have been shown to fall first on most web sites.
  • Blog posts don’t change as often and any new comment will be seen in the SWA – posts are featured in the top middle column.
  • Groups are the central focal point for most engagement. They are a big hit as one oft cited issue with most social sites is that conversations and discussions tend to get blended together and threads become hard to follow. While many still love the familiarity of the old fashioned forum thread, they aren’t conducive to entering a discussion and following it along.

I am continually asking myself if the layout does all it can to promote involvement. In my next article, I will address the way Groups can gather interest and engagement around a particular subject.