BuddyPress themes are still few and far between, despite the popularity of the social networking plugin for WordPress. After theme compatibility was introduced, effectively making BuddyPress able to work with nearly any WordPress theme, the market slowed its production of new products tailored specifically for BuddyPress.
When you see a theme that highlights BuddyPress features in a big way, it’s worth taking note. (M) Social is one such theme from the folks at GavickPro. Although new to the WordPress theme space, the GavickPro team is well established in the Joomla community with more than seven years of design experience.
(M) Social puts the BuddyPress activity component in the spotlight with its grid style image header. It creates a seamless mix of content from both the blog and the community. Check out the live demo.
Because the grid widget makes up the majority of the homepage with its large, responsive, tile-based design, reading and navigating the site is easy for users on tablets and other mobile devices. A design that works well on mobile keeps the community connected on the go.
The Challenges of Supporting Third-Party Plugins in WordPress Themes
With the help of the rtMedia plugin, (M) Social incorporates BuddyPress gallery content into the design. I spoke to GavickPro’s consumer support specialist, Lee Batten, about the choice to support rtMedia. The Joomla version of the (M) Social theme is built for JomSocial which has support for images and photo uploads. Batten said they wanted to make sure that their BuddyPress version included this feature.
BuddyPress has no support for image galleries, yet galleries are an important part of social websites. We researched many similar plugins, and rtMedia seemed to be the simplest solution to achieve the effect required; it’s smoothly integrated with BuddyPress and allows users to upload media files from the front-end and sort them into albums, plus it has privacy controls and it’s responsive.
Including rtMedia support gave the team the freedom to design with gallery images in mind. It also provided the opportunity for them to create an additional BP Latest Photos widget to display community images posted to the activity stream.
GavickPro is a good example of the trend for companies building themes around third-party plugins. Batten said, “Our experience in theme development in general has taught us that support for popular third-party extensions is extremely important and can make a theme much more attractive to customers.”
However, this approach isn’t without its unique challenges. For example, as it relates to the (M) Social theme, the team behind rtMedia release updates often. “On the one hand this is great for users, as these updates fix issues or add new features,” Batten said. “But often we must make some CSS changes to the theme after any updates to maintain the overall ‘feel’.”
Keeping themes updated to support new versions of third-party extensions is a normal part of GavickPro’s maintenance process, but it’s also the most challenging, as their customers also have to update their themes more often to keep pace with the plugins.
“Unfortunately, small plugins don’t usually have public beta or RC versions so there’s no way to ensure the theme is compatible with the update in advance,” Batten said. “Instead we must wait til after the update is released.” This is undoubtedly a struggle shared by many other WordPress theme shops that support smaller plugins with no public betas.
Competing in Both the Joomla and WordPress Theme Markets
The GavickPro team specializes in creating social themes, which is what attracted them to BuddyPress in the first place. Batten says that demand for social themes continues to grow. “According to our stats, our social themes are on the upper end of the scale with regards to popularity, alongside our e-commerce templates.” He believes that this category is on the rise. “Social interaction is now a cornerstone of most users’ internet experience and the ability to share and discuss can really make the difference if you’re trying to build a community.”
Despite the fact that the company originally started out as a Joomla-exclusive theme shop and are more well-known in that space, their WordPress theme sales are growing at a faster rate than the Joomla themes. “Last year WordPress accounted for only one-tenth of our total sales, but currently they account for one-third, which is quite a major jump!”
GavickPro started developing WordPress themes a year ago, after recognizing the opportunity, but it’s more of an uphill climb to get noticed in this space. “The WordPress market dwarfs Joomla’s, so it has been challenging to achieve a degree of market penetration,” Batten said. “There’s so much information and competition out there that even great designs can sadly go unnoticed, especially from unfamiliar developers.”
Even so, the team at GavickPro is off to an excellent start with its unique BuddyPress themes. The theme framework and all of the widgets are open source and free to download from the GavickPro Github account. They’re working on adding the widgets to the WordPress Plugin Directory as well. Check out their growing collection of WordPress Themes, which integrate with BuddyPress, WooCommerce and WPML.