Netropolitan, colloquially dubbed the “Facebook for rich people,” is a new private social network available to those who are willing to shell out $9,000 to join and $3,000/year to continue membership. The site advertises itself as “The online country club for people with more money than time,” and has been featured on CNN and other major news outlets across the globe.
The controversial social network was created by James Touchi-Peters, a former conductor of the Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra. “This whole thing started because when I was traveling in my work, I wanted to get in on a social event where basically I could meet people like myself,” Touchi-Peters told Vice in a recent interview. The membership fee is meant to vet the members as they join in order to maintain the exclusivity of the network.
One glance at the site and it’s obvious that it was built with WordPress, BuddyPress, and bbPress, using a $63 Themeforest theme. The theme packages with it a drag-and-drop page builder as well as extra functionality to extend BuddyPress, add integration with Paid Memberships Pro, and display sliders via Slider Revolution.
“It’s your standard, typical social network, except the one change we made is that instead of using the friend method that people are used to usually reciprocally confirming relationships, we’re using the follower method,” Touchi-Peters said. This functionality is readily available via the BuddyPress Follow plugin.
The intriguing aspect of the story is how long this site took to build. Touchi-Peter’s answer to Vice implies that the network required two years of development. “From when we decided to move forward, we’ve been working on it technically for two years. It’s been a four-year process.” Touring Netropolitan’s informational pages shows a screenshot of the founder’s BuddyPress profile page, which seems identical to the theme’s demo, with the exception of the logo.
Many media outlets seem to be incredulous that he would choose to build the social network on WordPress, betraying a popular notion that the software is somehow insecure because it’s free. What many onlookers do not understand is that WordPress itself is not inherently insecure. Rather, low quality themes and plugins can include vulnerabilities that provide entry points for exploitation, which is more likely when site owners fail to update old software.
The concern in this particular case with Netropolitan is that the site keep pace with updates, as it’s currently behind on core updates and its theme packages the Slider Revolution plugin that recently made headlines when the developer failed to publicly disclose the severity of a recently patched critical vulnerability. Like any tool, software takes a little bit of effort and education for people to use it and maintain it in a responsible way. If WordPress didn’t hold the power to build so many things, it wouldn’t be the constant target of hackers and spammers. This is the trade off.
Nearly every WordPress development agency has been approached multiple times to build similar sites – the “Ebay for Elites,” or “Match.com for Millionaires,” all promising exclusivity at a premium. It’s humorous but also a testament to how flexible people believe the WordPress platform is for building nearly any kind of website. Netropolitan may not be the finest implementation of WordPress/BuddyPress that the world has ever seen, but it is evidence that open source software makes it possible for people to run with their entrepreneurial ideas and take them all the way to the world stage.