The WordPress Projects You Haven’t Heard About: WPMU, BuddyPress, BBPress, BackPress

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Like there are many different versions of Wordpress, there are also a handful of related side projects WordPress users should be familiar with.  

All of these projects are open source and GPL licensed, which means there are few restrictions to using them.

These projects also use much of the same functionality and integrate well with one another, which is nice for those who are familiar with the WordPress code base and functionality. Some projects are even portable and have the ability to stand on their own if developed correctly.

A closer look at the entire WordPress family:

WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org

One of the most frequent questions I get from WordPress newbies is, "What’s the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?"

Well, it’s pretty simple really.

WordPress.com is like Blogger.com’s free blogging service, where users sign up, pick a blog name and the blog is hosted at yourname.wordpress.com.

WordPress.com actually uses WordPress MU, which I’ll explain later, and doesn’t allow for a great amount of customization or give users the ability to install WordPress on their own domain. It’s typically used by novice bloggers or those who don’t care about having their own domain and would rather have wordpress.com host the blog than pay a monthly fee for hosting.

While many bloggers begin their joyride through the blogosphere on WordPress.com or Blogger.com, many eventually graduate to WordPress.org’s complete version. Here's a review of Wordpress 2.9, the latest version of the .org release.

WordPress.org provides users with a downloadable version that can be installed on your own domain.

While WordPress.org’s downloadable version isn’t always as easy to install as WordPress’ "Five-minute install" tagline suggests, it isn’t all that difficult with a little guidance.

WordPress.org’s Read Me files, Codex and onsite installation instructions take a lot of the pain out of the customizable installation.

All you need is a capable web host, FTP access to that domain, and you can be blogging on your own site within the hour.

WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg probably summed it up best on the Baychi.org Podcast in Aug. 2006, when he described WordPress.org as a 5-minute install to your own domain, and WordPress.com as a site you sign up to and "a second later you have a blog." WordPress.com "auto enables the plug-ins and takes the guesswork out of it for the less experienced bloggers out there."

Now for the rest of the family.

WordPress MU: The multi-blog version of WordPress

WordPress MU stands for Multiple User, but as Automattic developer Beau Lebens pointed out at WordCamp L.A. in 2009, it’s probably better described as the "Multi-blog version of WordPress."

That said, you could also install multiple blogs via the WordPress.org install on your own domain, but you can’t typically accomplish this in older versions of WordPress unless you use a plug-in such as Blog in Blog -- one of 25 WordPress plugins worth considering for your site.

Up until the release of WordPress 3.0 later this year, the standard WordPress install and MU had separate code bases.

But with the release of 3.0, expected in the spring, those two code bases will merge and users will be able to use either the single blog or multiple blog set up depending on the number of bloggers their site publishes.

It is important to note, however, that WordPress users won’t have to load the code for MU in 3.0 and future versions of WordPress if they don’t want multiple blogs on your site. The option is expected to be as simple to turn on and off as a check box. If you want the typical WordPress install, don’t check the MU box.

So what are the pros and cons to using MU? Well, according to Lebens, MU can be:
• more complex to install and manage
• individual changes must be made globally to all MU blogs
• you can’t upload themes/plugins to individual MU blogs; and
• some plugins won’t work with MU.

On the flipside, MU scales massively, and is used to power mega content sites such as About.com, CNN and many major newspapers that have multiple blogs on their sites.

And like most all of the WP projects, it’s open source and GPL licensed.

BBPress: The WordPress bulletin board

BBPress is WordPress’ version of the bulletin board, and while it shares a lot of the same code and concepts of WordPress, it can either be integrated with WordPress or stand on its own.

Either way you decide to use it, BBPress creates a powerful, lightweight forum system, which you can see by the forums on WordPress.org.

BBPress is a great complement to WordPress because it shares the same user tables, profiles and can even use the same themes and other options with a little tweak here and there.

And like most all of the WP projects, it’s open source and GPL licensed.

BuddyPress: Adds social networking layer to WPMU

Not to be confused with BBPress, BuddyPress actually adds a more traditional social networking layer to an installation of WordPress MU.  

“It’s social networking in a box,” Automattic developer Beau Lebens described at WordCamp L.A. in 2009.

So if you like Facebook or MySpace, but aren’t a fan of the terms of service or other fallbacks of those sites, you can set up your own social network for your site with the features that work for you and your community.

BuddyPress is also used by many companies as an internal intranet and will eventually power the new profiles on WordPress, according to Lebens.

And yes, it’s open source and GPL licensed.

BackPress: Shared code between WP and BBPress to provide a portable bulletin board or forum

One of the newest projects put out by the folks at Automattic is BackPress, which shares the code between WP and BBPress but is designed to be portable, or used in your own project.

The benefits of BackPress, which hasn’t received a ton of press, include not only portability but common web app functionality and familiarity for developers who all ready know the WordPress code base.

BackPress is also open source and GPL licensed.

More WordPress Articles

This is part of a series of Articles on WordPress and its family of projects. You might also enjoy:
•  Upgrading to WordPress 2.9
•  Top 5 Reasons to Use WordPress for Your Blog
•  Top 25 Wordpress Plugins for Your Site
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