(Disclaimer: I work for Automattic which contributes to the development of WordPress, WordPressMU, BuddyPress, and bbPress.)

At this month’s Bay Area WordPress Meetup, there were four interesting talks. One of which wised me up to the Zemanta WordPress plugin, which I’m using now, any content creator (or Another Search Startup) should check it out—it’s quite clever.

But the presentation I want to focus on in this article, was Annie Vranizan’s Vivanista demo.

The Vivanista homepage

Vivanista is a social network for women focusing on philanthropy. Even if you don’t have a passing interest in such things, the website deserves a look, it’s quite an attractive website and built in record time—a couple of months.

Being a vertical, this is mostly the territory of white-label social networks, and more recently, Facebook. In fact, if you look at their team, it reads more like a group blog than a company.

That’s because it is.

What makes Vivanista so interesting is that it is built on WordPress MU blog publishing platform in combination with Andy Peatling’s BuddyPress plugin.

BuddyPress, WordPress MU, and Automattic

Image representing as depicted i...
Image via CrunchBase

WordPressµ (or WordPress MU) is the site that powers Automattic’s flagship product:, as well as many blog networks out there. MU stands for “multi-user”, but perhaps it would have been better-named “multi-site”. It started as a plug-in on top of WordPress, but has evolved to a code base in its own right. Because of this, and the popularity of plugins dependent on it, it will be merged with WordPress in the near future.

Image representing BuddyPress as depicted in C...
Image via CrunchBase

One of those popular MU-dependent plugins is BuddyPress.

Although BuddyPress was only released in the spring this year and is still very rough around the edges, it has an interesting mission statement: to provide the ability to add a social networking layer on top of a WordPress MU install.

The most interesting trait of this approach is that, as the creator of a BuddyPress-based social network, you completely control the network. The brief time I’ve worked here, one thing impressed upon me is that ownership is an important concept in Automattic’s business philosophy: your content is owned by you; software for that expression is owned by the public. Let’s look at the company’s haiku on their homepage:

The asterisk points to a phrase: “including this.”

Notice the words: “you” and “good” (and “strive” and imperfection)?


While Vivanista is mostly WordPressMU and BuddyPress, that’s not all it is. It consists of 18 more freely-available plugins downloaded from the Plugin directory as well as 15 others custom-made by themselves, mostly to generate widgetized content.

For example, the bulletin-board software, bbPress, is used to create a nascent classifieds section and GigPress powers the events calendar (via submissions by TDO Mini Forms).

While Vivanista makes extensive use of the BuddyPress’s new parent-child theme frameworks, one customization was a custom category-based template so that as you browsed to different categories in the site, you would get different color schemes and headers. Which points to a novel use of the software simply started with creative name changing: BuddyPress Groups become “clubs,” pay-for blogs become “boutiques,” blog posts become “products” (via the eShop Plugin), even a special category called “showcase” is used to create a… showcase!


It’s not all a bed of roses. A few examples:

  1. The invitation process inside WordPress is very primitive, changes had to be made to allow some customization of this process, and there is still a lot of work to be done to make it more socially friendly.
  2. GigPress was not originally intended for a general event calendar. Better GigPress to event matching could be done to make this plugin more robust.
  3. Theme and CSS consolidation is not perfect. In particular, the load order of the homepage is such that if you visit the site now, you’ll see the load order freezes the content load until the SWF banner has loaded.

Still it’s because of creative uses like this that we can see further improvements for WordPress, WordPressMU, and BuddyPress, and other plugins to make them more integrated with existing social-based services out there (twitter, Facebook, EventBrite, etc.) as well as entities in their own right.

What this means for you

A number of friends manage communities based on verticals. These range from yoga to green technology to software development. I believe Vivanista has shown that the WordPressMU+BuddyPress one-two punch has reach maturity to handle these and many other applications.

Being built on free and open-source software, running on machines you manage, it ensures both ownership of the information you create as well as the ability to move forward to integrate it into Facebook, or Twitter, or Magento, or anything you need out there. Shouldn’t it be the case that these social networking services should serve you, instead of the reverse?

Being written in the PHP language on a mature content management framework such as WordPress, you know that there is already a wealth of freely available tools to make this site your own, on top a large community and knowledge-base on customizing it directly for your needs, to make your community stand out. What great way to immerse yourself into web programming! I’m sure there are many web-based consultants out there whose clients would like them adding social networking features to their product. What better way to do quickly while maintaining a distinction between content, style, and algorithmic production than start with WordPressMU/BuddyPress as the base install framework?

WordPressMU being the future of, you can even see features like this becoming useful even on your personal blog as it expands to manage more than your blog, to your entire homepage, to your brand. Perhaps you already have a WordPress blog that can do more?

I know, for my part, managing Lunch 2.0 would have been much more coherent if we had used WordPressMU. Think of all the free meals I missed simply because I didn’t have BuddyPress at the time? Just thinking about that makes me hungry.

Maybe it’ll make you hungry also.

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8 thoughts on “Vivanista

  1. I swear I'm not a grammar nazi – but I think you mean "disclosure" not "disclaimer." You're disclosing your relationship with Automattic not refusing responsibility for it. </pedantic>

    1. Ahh, good point! A disclaimer would be that Automattic doesn’t take any responsibility for what I’m posting. 🙂

      I’ll be certain to correct that error in future articles.


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