Commons 1.15.0

I’ve just released version 1.15.0 of the CUNY Academic Commons. Version 1.15 is one of our twice-yearly “feature releases”, which include major new functionality (in contrast with our twice-monthly “maintenance releases” that focus mainly on bugs).

The primary focus in 1.15 is on group and site creation: making the process simpler, more consistent, and better documented. Toward that end, we’ve made a couple key changes:

  • All Site and Group creation happens via our new Create portal, which outlines the differences between Groups, Sites, and Group+Site combinations.
  • We’ve reduced the number of steps in the group creation process by more than 50%.
  • The “Add Site” tab on the Group creation process has been overhauled, for better consistency with the standalone Site creation process.
  • When creating Groups and Sites, we ask for information about your project – affiliated campuses, primary purpose, etc – to help us with future features that will surface work on the Commons.

In addition to this overhaul, we’ve introduced some smaller features:

  • Site owners can now add their own Google Analytics ID, to track site usage on their personal GA account.
  • Remove the “last active” timestamps from the Members widget on the home page, for better readability and privacy.
  • Fix a bug that allowed Papers to be created without titles.
  • Added a “more actions” dropdown to group and site directories, as well as a “Leave Site” button, available for sites where you’re not the sole administrator.

For complete details on the release, visit the 1.15 milestone or read the announcement on the Commons News blog.

Major Commons plugins updates scheduled for 2013-09-21

(The following post is the first in the series of “major update release warning posts”, announced in and described in detail at

The following plugins will receive major updates during the maintenance release on September 21, 2013. The numbers in parentheses represent the major version series for each plugin; on the 21st, the plugin will be updated to the latest available version in that series, but no later.

  • ChartBoot (3.0)
  • Contact Form 7 (3.5)
  • Easy Admin Color Schemes (4.2)
  • Events Manager (5.5)
  • Genesis Simple Hooks (2.0)
  • Jetpack (2.4)
  • Leaflet Maps Marker (3.6)
  • NextGEN Gallery (2.0)
  • Really Simple CAPTCHA (1.7)
  • Redirection (2.3)
  • Rotating Tweets (1.5)
  • ShareThis (7.0)
  • Spam Free WordPress (2.2)
  • ThreeWP Broadcast (1.24)
  • TubePress (3.1)
  • User Role Editor (4.5)
  • WordPress Custom Sidebar (2.3)
  • WordPress Google Form (0.57)
  • WP-Markdown (1.4)
  • WP-PostRatings (1.74)
  • WP Retina 2x (1.6)
  • xili-language, xili-xl-bbp-addon (2.9)

The following themes will receive major updates during the maintenance release on September 21, 2013. The numbers in parentheses represent the major version series for each theme; on the 21st, the theme will be updated to the latest available version in that series, but no later.

  • Minimatica (1.1)

Question or concerns about these releases? Leave a comment below, or contact our team at

New Release Schedule and Procedures document available

Starting today, the Commons dev team is rolling out a new procedure to warn Commons members of certain sorts of WordPress plugin updates on the site. This policy is part of a response to some recent problems where one of our partner developers – members of the Commons who use our platform as a host for their organization’s website – found his site broken by a major (and buggy) upgrade to one of the plugins underpinning his site’s functionality. In response, we’ll now be announcing on the 5th of each month which Commons software (WordPress and BuddyPress, along with other plugins and themes) will be receiving major updates on the 21st of that month. For more details on this new policy, along with some other high-level discussion of the schedule and procedures we follow for releases here on the Commons, visit our new Release Schedule and Procedures page.

Summer release schedule for the CUNY Academic Commons

During the academic year, the Commons puts out maintenance releases on the 1st, 11th, and 21st of every month. This summer, when site use is decreased and when we have a number of major features in active development, we will be reducing our release rate to once per month. That means that the next release after today’s 1.4.30 will be 1.4.31, on July 11.

Commons In A Box – 1.0 beta 1

After nearly a year of development, the CUNY Academic Commons development team is proud to offer a first public beta of Commons In A Box.

Commons In A Box, funded by a generous grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, is a WordPress plugin that helps you to set up a powerful community site in no time flat. We’ve taken BuddyPress and packaged it with a number of the plugins that enhance the BuddyPress experience; bundled it with a brand-new theme based on the Infinity theme engine; and provided an installation experience that downloads, activates and configures these various pieces in just a few clicks. No more scouring Google and the plugin repository for BuddyPress plugins. No more wondering whether an upgrade to BuddyPress or one of your other plugins will break your site. Commons In A Box takes care of these aspects for you, so that you can spend your energy where it really counts: in fostering your community.

As you might gather from the name of the project, the impetus for Commons In A Box was the CUNY Academic Commons itself. Since launching in 2009, the Commons team has fielded countless inquiries about how we managed to pull together the site: what plugins are we using, what’s our theme called, where can I download the package. All sorts of organizations – and especially academic, educational, and non-profit institutions – have been realizing that a focused community space can enhance engagement both online and off, and the Commons has often served as a successful model. So, as we set out to put the Commons infrastructure into an easy-to-install-and-maintain package, we looked carefully at the technical aspects of the Commons that help to make the site a success. Commons In A Box represents what we think is an elegant set of tools that can help even those with modest technical skills go from zero to a functional site with as little hassle as possible, while also maintaining the flexibility and power of the free software platforms at the core of the package.

Our first task was to select a list of plugins that would replicate some of the best functionality of the CUNY Academic Commons. At the core of the package is BuddyPress, which provides extended profiles, groups, and the other social features that form the foundation of the Commons community. We also included a number of tools that have been custom-developed by the Commons development team over the last few years, ranging from collaborative document editing tools to widgets for featuring outstanding community content to the ability to respond to site content without leaving your email inbox. The package is rounded out with a number of third-party plugins that have proved crucial to the success of the Commons as a community platform, such as discussion boards and blogs linked to BuddyPress groups

Knowing which plugins to install is one barrier to entry that Commons In A Box aims to lower. The next is knowing which plugins are compatible with each other, and keeping them up to date. That’s why Commons In A Box features an installation and upgrade manager. For all plugins that are shipped with Commons In A Box, we remove the corresponding entries from the WordPress plugin screens, and centralize them on a single Commons In A Box admin panel. When you install Commons In A Box, we install recommended plugins on your behalf, making it that much quicker to get up and running. When upgrades are available for your CBOX-related plugins, we send you a single upgrade notice, and you can be totally up-to-date with a single click. We take care of making sure that the latest versions of each plugin work with each other. And we provide documentation that serves as a centralized resource for learning about BuddyPress components and add-ons.

Beyond the raw functionality of the Commons, we’ve worked tirelessly to make sure that our site’s design is professional and inviting, functional and fun. This work is reflected in Commons In A Box through the CBOX default theme, which echoes some of the more successful design considerations from the Commons. The theme includes a flexible, widgetized homepage template like you see on the Commons. We’ve packaged a large number of widget areas, making configuration a breeze. The Commons In A Box theme is powered by the Infinity Theming Engine, which strikes a perfect balance for the Commons In A Box project: it makes it easy for admins of any skill level to configure their site’s appearance, while also providing tools for designers and developers to create a truly unique community hub. Any BuddyPress-enabled WordPress theme will work well with Commons In A Box, but we think that our default theme will be a great starter for a large number of use cases.

The Commons In A Box team is hopeful that the Commons In A Box package will put BuddyPress-powered community sites within the reach of a far greater number of people than is currently the case. We’ve set up a community site where you can seek out help, talk with others who are using Commons In A Box, and share your own experiences setting up your own CBOX-powered community. And if you’re a developer and want to contribute to Commons In A Box itself, the project’s development home is

Download Commons In A Box today, in the Plugins > Add New interface of your WordPress Dashboard, or by downloading directly from the plugin repository.

Welcoming Ray and Dom to the dev team

The CUNY Academic Commons is delighted to welcome two new members to its development team: Raymond Hoh and Dominic Giglio.

Raymond Hoh is one of the most respected members of the WordPress and BuddyPress community. Known around the WordPress community as r-a-y, Ray is a frequent contributor to the BuddyPress project, the developer of a number of popular plugins for WP, BP, and bbPress, and a longtime forum moderator at Ray brings to our team a depth and breadth of BuddyPress experience that is practically unparalleled. Follow @ray_i_am on Twitter or r-a-y on Github.

In truth, Ray is not exactly a new member of our team – there was a period last year when Ray did a bit of BuddyPress-related work for the Commons. As we’ve begun to ramp up work on Commons In A Box, we’ve invited Ray back on board to play a major role in turning CBox into a powerful platform. Among other responsibilities, Ray will be playing a leading role in building: a reply-by-email feature for BuddyPress; a variety of improvements to BP forums and profiles as they appear in Commons In A Box; and an overhaul to upload handling in BuddyPress that will bring together into a simple API uploads associated with groups, forums, and BuddyPress Docs.

Dominic Giglio is the most recent addition to the Commons dev team. Dom is a student in Computer Science at BMCC. He’s known in the WordPress world for a popular blog post explaining the WP initialization process, as well as for his contributions to the WordPress section of Smashing Magazine. Dom’s experience doing development along the whole LAMP stack – from WP theme building to hardware work – promises to round out our team in an invaluable way. Dom is on Twitter on @human_shell and on Github as humanshell.

For the time being, Dom will be focusing on improving the CUNY Academic Commons experience, and he’ll be picking up more responsibility on Commons In A Box as development progresses.

Welcome to the team, guys!

The CUNY Academic Commons is hiring a developer

The CUNY Academic Commons is hiring!

We are looking for a part-time developer to join our growing development team (part-time = starting around 5hrs/wk, with the potential for growth). Developing for the Commons means fixing bugs, responding to feature requests, and building things from scratch. To get a sense of the sort of work we do, have a look at our public bug tracker and our page on the plugin repository.

Here’s a little bit about the kind of developer we are looking for.

You must have:

  • Extensive experience developing for WordPress (where ‘developing’ means coding from scratch)
  • Good communication and collaboration skills (the job involves working with end-users as well as fellow developers)
  • Experience using and developing for BuddyPress
  • A solid understanding of front-end best practices, including proper markup, JavaScript libraries like jQuery, cross-browser testing of CSS

The ideal candidate will also have:

  • A proven track record of participation in open-source communities, in the form of: patches submitted; plugins or themes available for public use; activity on blogs and forums related to open source projects (ideally in the WordPress world)
  • Knowledge of Git
  • Experience administering and developing for MediaWiki
  • Some knowledge of system administration – MySOL, Apache, Red Hat Linux

We’re a close-knit development team. Special consideration will be given to applicants who are local to the New York City area.

If you’re interested, send an email to containing a statement about why you’d be a good fit for the job, as well as links to one or more of the following:

  • Websites you have built or helped to build, with an explanation of the role you played in the construction of the site
  • Publicly available code (your Github account, your plugins page in the repo, your contributions to the source of a large project)
  • Your blog or website

We’re hoping to move quickly, so please don’t delay in sending your applications. We’d like to do a first round of interviews (probably via Skype for non-locals) around the beginning of April.


The CUNY Academic Commons is a website whose mission is to provide a platform for connection and collaboration between faculty members, administration, graduate students, and staff across the 23 campuses of the City University of New York. The Commons has been a leader in the development of open-source tools for social networking and academic work, contributing significant add-ons for software like BuddyPress and WordPress.

Sys Admin Appreciation Day

Yesterday I learned, via a tweet from Bethany Nowviskie, that Friday, July 30th is System Administrator Appreciation Day. While I hadn’t heard about this holiday before, it strikes me as one of the best holidays yet invented — because, really, we can’t thank our Sys Admins enough. And that is particularly true for the CUNY Academic Commons, where we are lucky enough to have the extremely bodacious André Pitanga, Lead Systems Administrator at the CUNY Graduate Center, running our show — or, rather, running the servers that run the software that runs our show.

Photo of André's keyboard by catcubed (

The Sys Admin Appreciation Day website details a number of reasons why all members of the Commons should be grateful to André for his work. And they are all true — André designed and set up our server racks, got the servers running, configured our networks, installed our software packages, performed needed system upgrades, troubleshooted thorny permissions issues, secured the site during malicious attacks, and made himself available for consultation on all sorts of issues. If you’re lucky enough to get a tour of the server room from him –I’ve done it five or six times now; it never gets old — you’ll see his eyes light up as he describes the racks he designed for this project. Sure, those eyes take on a slightly maniacal glimmer as he discusses server cooling systems, but it’s all good! Right?

There are a few things, though, that make André’s work truly special: his contagious enthusiasm for collaborative projects, his passion for open-source platforms and the communities that support them, and (most importantly), his humbleness, sincerity, and openness. The Commons is extremely lucky to have André behind it, not just because of his formidable technical expertise, but also because of the creative enthusiasm that he adds to Development Team.

And, so, on this day, I want to express my gratitude to André, my colleague and my friend, for everything he has done for the Commons. Thank you, André. You rule!