The advent of the content management system, or CMS, has allowed website owners of all skill levels to create dynamic websites without personal knowledge of coding. It’s no surprise that community and learning management systems followed suit, offering the average user the ability to create flourishing online communities with ease, but which of those platforms stand out from the rest?
BuddyPress is the go-to community plug-in for WordPress. You can expand your blog to a full-fledged community site, complete with user profiles, live chat, groups and forums. Because BuddyPress works with WordPress, you have access to almost all of the plug-ins for the base CMS as well as dozens of themes.
BuddyPress looks quite a bit like Ning, once it’s all set up, so your members won’t feel overwhelmed if you’re making the switch, but you have complete control over the community script. You’re already paying for hosting and a domain name for your self-hosted WordPress install, but BuddyPress is free to create your community.
If decide to go with BuddyPress, you’re in good company. CUNY Academic Commons and Volkswagon are among the names that use BuddyPress as a basis for their communities.
Moodle is a community CMS tool with a specific focus: learning and educating. Learning management systems like Moodle often power online education websites. Thousands of schools and other groups have adopted Moodle to power their learning communities. Moodle is a free, stand-alone LMS, and doesn’t require a base script.
Moodle requires at least 160 megabytes of space, however; so it might not be the most realistic option for small communities. Nevertheless, for education institutions with the resources, Moodle can be invaluable. The developers recommend installing via command line, which seem daunting to inexperienced users. Moodle does include a web-based installer, though.
Compared to other CMS options, Moodle has a sparse number of plugins, but site administrators can customize the appearance of Moodle so that users see a personalized dashboard upon logging in. Custom menus are also available with this content management system. While Moodle lacks the sheer number of themes, users can download color themes that use essentially the same layout as the base theme.
Drupal is one of WordPress’s most popular competitors, so it’s no surprise that the open-source CMS also has a tool for webmasters who want to create a community website. Drupal Commons is also a free platform. Unlike BuddyPress, websites do not already have to be built on Drupal. Commons works well to create a community on websites that don’t use Drupal as the CMS. Well-known companies such as Symantec, eBay and Mercedes use Drupal Commons to power their communities, so it stands to reason that the community platform has something good to offer.
Features of Drupal Commons include blogs, discussion forums, wikis and personalized dashboards for community members. Drupal Commons perhaps emphasizes the crowd-sourcing nature of the Internet better than any other community-based CMS on this list. With Commons, your community can easily add the content to your website for you. As a social network platform, Drupal Commons includes activity feeds, befriending and group creations.
As an established CMS, Drupal offers many plug-ins that are company with commons. Similarly, some Drupal themes are compatible with the community platform. While Commons gives brands greater control over the user experience than Moodle, fewer pre-made themes are available than with BuddyPress.
The question of which CMS/LMS is the best depends upon your needs. As an education institute, Moodle lets you power online learning, even if it’s less sleek. Individuals might have better luck with the user-friendly BuddyPress, while Drupal Commons looks slick, if you put in the effort to customize it. Any CMS that uses many plug-ins will load more slowly, so it’s important for you to pick a capable website host that offers enough space and bandwidth for your new community, regardless of the community platform that you choose.
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@JulianaPayson [google plus] is Community Manager for InMotion Hosting Company Blog, giving advice and getting feedback from website owners starting up on new Drupal Hosting packages. You can see more of her content here: http://www.inmotionhosting.com/blog/author/Juliana/ Where she develops content on socialization of websites, and will welcome any feedback!