Making Friends with BuddyPress

This week I finally had the opportunity to use BuddyPress – a forum program who’s very name implies we’ll be fast friends – but the friendship has been higher maintenance than I expected.

According to Wikipedia, BuddyPress is open-source social networking software package owned by Automattic that can be installed on WordPress to transform it into a social network platform. Perfect, I thought, for a client who organizes educational fairs.

BuddyPress includes its own theme, which looks like your average bulletin board from the late 1990s. Functional, but not pretty. Having never used BuddyPress, I was surprised when it activated and replaced my premium theme and had no idea I would have to shake off that built-in theme. Turns out, what I needed was, you guessed it, another plugin.

Template Pack

BuddyPress is not compatible with all themes. In fact, there is a list of preferred themes that BuddyPress has a tight relationship with. Conversely, there are some it will simply not play with. I was lucky that I didn’t buy Next’s sister theme, Nexus, which according to the BP support forum is not a buddy theme.

Adapting BuddyPress to your theme of choice, I learned, is where the friendship stales.

After re-activating your theme, what you need to do is upload the BP Template Pack plugin, then go through the Appearance > BP Compatibility process to make it work. It’s all explained in the BuddyPress Codex.

Step One: Move template files automatically

At this point, BuddyPress says it needs to move extra template files into your theme folder in order to display the pages correctly. It even offers to move them and you think, hurray! Thanks, buddy.

On a good day BP would come back and say, “Templates moved successfully!” and I’d jump to Step Three. But, no. In my world, everything new is a struggle and it told me, in effect, you’ll have to do some lifting here.

Step Two: Move your own damn files

To help you move your files, BP kindly directs you to the directory on your server where you must collect 5 folders: Activity, Blogs, Forums, Groups, Members, and Registration and haul them into your theme folder. Which I did.

Are we ready to set up the groups yet? No. Step Two was the easy part.

Step Three: Tweaking your layout

With your template files placed where they belong, you can check out your site and return to to the Step Three page any time.

By visiting the links in the “My Account” menu you are able to see BuddyPress on your theme. If only it would end there, but no. It appears that BP rarely looks perfect right away because Step Three offers exhaustive advice on Tweaking the layout.

In my case, the white background did not display and the sidebar fell below the forum stuff. Here, I go a-tweaking.

What BP means by “tweaking the layout” is this: changing the HTML structure of 16 different BuddyPress template files to make them match the structure of your theme’s page.php (or index.php) file. This requires copying and pasting your theme’s Header code into the BP page, as well as the Footer code below it.

The other option is to rename copies of your theme’s header.php, sidebar.php and footer.php and alter the structure of these new template files (header-buddypress.php, sidebar-buddypress.php, and footer-buddypress.php) to resemble your theme’s page.php (or index.php).

Either way, it’s coding.

It would be great if all themes were the same, but they’re not. So Buddypress’s examples of what code to replace is not likely to apply to your theme. It didn’t mine. Finding the exact parts of the code is a matter of trial and error. I just had to play with code until I got what I want.

So far, I have worked to fine tune one page – activity.php – before changing all the required pages, but it’s still not there. I can’t get the sidebar to stop smushing into the page.

I have received some help from the BP support forum, but their suggestions have not worked – yet. If I had chosen one of the preferred Template-Packed themes mentioned on this help page, I would have specific help. But at this point, I’m stuck.

Any suggestions I can gather about adapting BuddyPress to Next are welcome, so lay ‘em on me.

Cuz’ you know, I’d really love to be pals with BuddyPress.

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