Hello! This post is the first in a series of five posts in which we’ll outline the new direction we plan to take regarding plugin maintenance and evolutions. After some introductory words, we‘ll focus on the new BuddyPress purpose that I believe we should adopt for years to come.

We haven‘t forgotten that, at the end of 2021, we had some conversations (here & here) about this « difficult to answer with a few words » question. These happened once the plugin’s active installs statistics went a bit under 200.000. Our WordPress plugin directory page’s “active installations” value suddenly changed from “200,000+” to “100,000+”—though the actual number only changed from just over 200.000 to about 190.000 active installation–making this decline seem pretty spectacular 📉. It was nevertheless a great opportunity to think together about how the plugin should evolve now that 15 years have passed since its birth.

First, let me offer some thanks on behalf of the BuddyPress development team:

  • Thanks a lot to the women & men who are trusting the plugin to power their community WordPress sites 😍
  • Thanks a million to the contributors who share some of their free time, energy or resources with us to maintain the plugin 🤝
  • Warm gratitude to Automattic for providing BuddyPress’s web site, our dev’updates blog as well as our Trac environment, these tools are essential to BuddyPress & its community 🫶
  • Finally huge thanks to everyone of us, members of the team; for 15 years we’ve been working together to maintain & improve this free and open-source plugin 💪

Your feedback: the main points

I believe we can organize your ideas in 5 categories:

  • What should be our main purpose(s)?
  • How should the plugin be organized?
  • What features should BuddyPress include?
  • What improvements does the plugin UI need?
  • How can we attract and keep new contributors?

As introduced earlier into this post, let‘s wrap up your feedback about the first topic and explain how they contributed to what I think should be our new main purpose.

Key feedback about BuddyPress’s purpose

  • « Communities organized around a product »
  • « It is the perfect choice for company intranets »
  • « Private, secure social network just for your friends/family »
  • « Sites for educational courses, coaching »
  •  « It would have been the collaboration platform of choice over the pandemic had the privacy and security been there »
  • « Needs a more specific mission and purpose: BuddyVerse »
  • « Too Developer-focused »

As a reminder, here’s our site’s tagline about BuddyPress’s purpose: « Fun & flexible software for online communities, teams, and groups. BuddyPress helps you build any kind of community website using WordPress, with member profiles, activity streams, user groups, messaging, and more. »

Let’s start with the last point as it contains negative implications: « too developer-focused » ⚙️.

Yes, we have third party plugins or themes in mind at some point during our coding process: our main concern about these is potential compatibility issues. That’s why when we have a doubt, we put backward compatibility code into the plugin. It’s also true we used to primarily think about BuddyPress as a plugin you can build great things on top of it; that’s reflected in the « helps you build » part of our tagline.

This model is interesting as long as third-party plugin authors are very involved with contributing to BuddyPress. However, they do not share their energy & time with us as often as was common in BuddyPress’s early years.

I believe we now need to satisfy end-users first 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦. A reproach I often read in reviews posted about the plugin on WordPress.org is: « BuddyPress is not including the basic features any end-user would expect so that it’s needed to install other third party plugins ». And a majority of reviewers are then regularly complaining: « a lot of these plugins have not been updated for a while or worse are no longer maintained ». ⚠️ The problem then is that using these plugins can increase WordPress sites security threats even if BuddyPress benefits from the WP hacker1 program. Being able to run a safe community is very important: we don’t settle in a neighborhood when our security is at risk.

Privacy is a basic need we absolutely have to satisfy 🔐. Yes, BuddyPress can be an interesting choice for company intranets, social stores, family circles or social learning platforms as soon as we can easily lock some areas of the community pages.

About federating WordPress site owners updates into a BuddyVerse 🌍, it’s an amazing idea I already heard of 5 years ago during the WordCamp Europe 2017. As WordPress is powering around 40% of Internet sites, I guess there’s an interesting potential, but I believe we need a lot more contributors to master the ActivityPub protocol (extending the ActivityPub WordPress plugin?) or the Matrix standard and required developments to allow 2 or more WordPress instances to follow each others or more globally to achieve a distributed BuddyPress network. To avoid missing the « we figured out being chained into social media owned by capricious billionaires was masochistic » opportunity, maybe we can make a first step into this direction and reach something approaching improving how we deal with RSS feeds & implementing Webmentions.

To conclude this part of your feedbacks review, I think we need to work in directions so that you can use BuddyPress to: 

« Get together safely, in your own way, in WordPress ».

I think the « own » word is fundamental: compared to social media 💸 where you lose ownership over your data, where this information is used to earn money off your content. With BuddyPress, you control every aspect of your community.

The first two concrete steps

BuddyPress 12.0, our next major version, will introduce a huge, necessary improvement to make many other improvements possible. We are replacing our Legacy URL parser with a new BP Rewrites API (which is based on the WordPress Rewrite API). We are completely restructuring the way BuddyPress analyzes URLs to decide whether to load community content and what is being requested. The benefits for you:

  • Every BuddyPress URL will be customizable into your language (I heard it was important for SEO).
  • BuddyPress will finally support plain permalinks.
  • BP URL parsing will be more reliable & fully compliant with WordPress best practices.

Because this change is potentially a breaking one for plugins that won‘t be updated, we‘ll also build a BP Classic plugin, so you‘ll be able to continue enjoying these slow-to-update plugins.

Secondly, 12.0 will also include a new community visibility feature giving you the ability to use BuddyPress to power your private communities.

We‘ll take more time than usual to reach this 12th milestone. We need to document the needed changes plugin authors will need to perform as well as inform our users what they should do if something goes wrong with the 12.0 upgrade process.

12.0 final release is slated for October 30, and we welcome everyone wishing to get involved.

How should we organize the plugin? That’s the second category of your feedback, and we’ll talk about it in the next post of this series.

Props: many thanks to @dcavins for his review 🥰.