What is this “Commons” you speak of?

Well, it’s WordPress; an open source blogging/website framework written in php, and used by some of the largest websites in the world. It’s also the engine that runs http://wordpress.com, the commercial arm of the company. The WordPress we use is a free download from WordPress.org.

It’s WordPress Multisite. By enabling multisite on a default wordpress install, you are able to create millions of “sub-blogs” on a domain eg: site1.commons.hwdsb.on.ca, site 2.commons.hwdsb.on.ca, etc. etc.

It’s Buddypress. Buddypress is a plugin. Think of plugins like “apps” for wordpress; they extend the functionality of the basic framework, taking it beyond, and adding additional functionality. You can learn more at buddypress.org.

It has a host of other plugins that add other functions that help the Commons engine run:

Buddypress Followers: We like friends, but we don’t like the reciprocal nature of “friending” on that “other social network”. We want to be open, and allow everyone to see what everyone else is doing, so that we can learn from them. Following indicates that you are interested in what an individual has to offer, and you can learn from them without first having to gain their permission to see what they have already decided to share with the community.

Akismet: This blocks spam, pram, ham, and other canned meats from infiltrating the site and all the sub-sites. A carefully placed wordpress API in the php files activates this shield network-wide.

BP Moderation gives the entire community the ability to “flag” inappropriate content. The user receives an automated warning, with the hopes we all learn to post appropriately. *I step in and try to help direct the users on how to post more appropriately, and depend on the rest of the adults within the site to help in the same manner: taking an active role in helping every student understand and manage their digital footprint (not just the ones who happen to be in their class.)

Doppelme Avatars: This one is huge, deserves it’s own post, and a rousing cheer from the hilltops for what Andrew in the Doppelme labs has built for us. That’s right: you may soon be able to benefit from it, but before the Commons came along, there was no such thing as Doppelme, Buddypress integration. Working alongside Doppelme (who are we kidding: he’s the genius, I just sought out bugs on the different versions of the plugin he would send my way), we are now able to effectively control the types of avatars used on the site: universalizing the look of the community, avoiding the hassles of inappropriate uploads, and engaging the students in an amazing interface that ensures everyone on the site has a “face”. I can’t wait to start integrating the coin engine, and to start ordering custom items for out doppelme library.

BP Groupblog allows groups to have their own blog. This makes creating a blog with numerous authors a snap: join a group where a groupblog has been enabled, and automatically you become a member of the blog. The settings for your permissions on the blog can be controlled by the group administrator.

There are other varied tweaks and code snippets that help to customize the experience. If you are traveling down this road, this is a good start.