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Technical FAQ

The CUNY Academic Commons has garnered a lot of interest over the years from individuals interested in setting up similar communities using free software. This is, of course, the inspiration for the Commons In A Box project. For those who can’t wait for Commons In A Box to drop, we’ve assembled a list of commonly asked questions about the technical infrastructure here at the Commons.

Have other questions? Leave them in the comments below.

  1. What plugins do you use?
  2. What’s your server environment like?
  3. What kind of caching do you use?
  1. What plugins do you use?

    The Commons has over 100 plugins installed. Most of these are intended for optional activation on individual member sites. But there are a number of plugins that are crucial to the way the network operates as a whole. These can be summed up in three categories: BuddyPress plugins, networkwide plugins, and main-site plugins.

    1. BuddyPress plugins

      These plugins should be “Network Activated” (Dashboard > Network Admin > Plugins). Except where noted, all of these plugins are available through the WordPress plugin repository at http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins.

      • BP Groupblog This plugin allows you to form connections between BP Groups and WP blogs: blog and group membership is synced, a Blog nav item is added to the group, and blog activity items appear in the group’s activity stream.
      • BP Group Documents This plugin creates a shared dropbox for file uploads in a BuddyPress group. A few things to note about this plugin. It is no longer available in the WP repo (I’m not sure why). Here’s a direct download link: commons.gc.cuny.edu/wp-content/uploads/buddypress-group-documents.zip.
      • BP Include Non-Member Comments Allow blog comments left by non-members to appear in the BP activity stream.
      • BuddyPress Docs Collaborative document editing for groups. Note that this is the plugin that is being rewritten in order to decouple from groups, and to become a full-fledged wiki replacement. All existing content will be migrated automatically to the new version.
      • CUNY Academic Commons BuddyPress Admin Bar Mods We have made some modifications to the way the WordPress toolbar appears on our site, though a custom plugin. This is not released as a formal plugin, but you’re welcome to pick and choose from the modifications in the plugin (it’s fairly well documented internally); you can download it from https://commons.gc.cuny.edu/wp-content/uploads/cac-bp-admin-bar-mods.zip
      • BP Group Management Gives site admins the ability to manage group memberships from a single admin panel.
      • BP Lotsa Feeds Enables a number of different kinds of RSS feeds for BP content
      • BuddyPress Group Email Subscription Allow users to subscribe to group activity via email.
      • Custom Profile Filters for BuddyPress The main feature of this plugin is that it allows users to specify which words/phrases in their profiles will become links to searches on that term, by putting [square brackets] around the term.
      • BuddyPress External Group Blogs Allows group admins to enter arbitrary RSS feeds and have their items pulled into the group activity stream
      • Invite Anyone Gives users a way to invite new members to the site. Note that you may not need this, if membership is to be auto-determined based on the more general mla.org database.
      • BP Better Directories Powers the Members Directory at https://commons.gc.cuny.edu
    2. Networkwide WordPress plugins

      There are a number of WordPress plugins that form important parts of the way that Commons users interact with the site. They should be activated networkwide.

      • Akismet It’s important to have some kind of anti-spam for blog comments.
      • Unconfirmed This is another plugin related to registration. If users don’t respond to the activation email sent by WP/BP, they don’t show up anywhere in the admin UI; Unconfirmed adds a Dashboard panel where you can see these half-finish registrations, and either resend the emails or manually activate. You won’t need this if you don’t have open registration.
      • WordPress MU Domain Mapping Allows you to point arbitrary top-level domains at specific sites on your network. Eg, http://commonsinabox.org/ is a CUNY Academic Commons blog, despite its address.
      • WordPress MU Sitewide Tags Pages The database structure of WP Multisite makes it more or less impossible to do meaningful queries across the content of multiple sites – for instance, if you want to see tags or categories that are popular across the entire network, or if you want to search all networkwide posts. The Sitewide Tags plugin is a hack workaround. It creates a single, centralized site (which you can opt to make public, or not) that creates a copy of every post created on every site in your network. Thus, if you want to search across the network, or get a networkwide tag cloud, you use the data of the “tags blog” as a surrogate.
      • More Privacy Options By default, WP allows two privacy settings: totally public, or hidden from robots. This plugin adds three more: hidden from non-logged-in users, hidden from anyone who is not a member of the specific site, and hidden from everyone but admins. If you use this plugin, you may also consider BP MPO Activity Filter, which is a BuddyPress utility for ensuring that the BuddyPress activity stream respects the blog privacy settings.
    3. Main-site plugins

      We use a number of WordPress plugins to show special kinds of content on the main site (that is, blog #1, https://commons.gc.cuny.edu). These are all optional, but are nice.

      • AJAX Edit Comments We have installed this plugin specifically for the purpose of BuddyPress Docs. It allows users to edit the comments they’ve left on these Docs.
      • CAC Featured Content Creates a widget that allows admins to feature various kinds of content: blogs, posts, groups, users.
      • Rotating Post Gallery Creates a widget that shows “Gallery Post” content: splash images with nice overlays. It’s what powers the sliding gallery on the front page of https://commons.gc.cuny.edu
      • WP LaTeX Enables the use of LaTeX in BuddyPress areas of the site.
  2. What’s your server environment like?

    The Commons is lucky to be running on very high-level equipment. We’re in the unusual position of having far more server horsepower than our site will require, even in the medium term.

    We serve everything (assets, Apache, MySQL) from a single Red Hat Enterprise Server, located at the CUNY Graduate Center in Midtown Manhattan.

  3. What kind of caching do you use?

    Our relatively superpowered hardware means that we haven’t needed to explore any persistent caching solutions for the Commons.


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Continuing the Discussion

  1. Work in progress: Technical FAQ – CUNY Academic Commons Development Blog linked to this post on April 5, 2012

    […] Technical FAQ […]



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