Rennick Media Ltd.

In my year end review I mentioned in the closing paragraph that we would be incorporating a business. In 1995, I incorporated my consulting business first under a numbered company and then later as a named corporation. At the time you could realistically count on a minimum of 4 weeks to register a named corporation. At the time I needed one in 48 hours to meet a requirement for a contract. So, I did the numbered company first and the name registration after. Now the registration process here is all electronic and if you were in a rush, you could probably register a named company in less than a week.

Without further ado, we are pleased to announce that we have incorporated Rennick Media Ltd. and will be moving the ownership of all of our media services and our clients projects over to Rennick Media Ltd. The company name is in keeping with our business focus on media services. We are expecting to continue to do some development projects. Over the last 6-8 months we have pared down the number of active projects we are working on one time to a more manageable level. By doing that we have also been better able to focus on individual projects.

How we built WPeBooks.com

It’s been a few months since we started wpebooks.com and we both thought people would be interested in knowing how exactly we built the site, and the functionality in operating the site on a day to day basis. You know, with real users. 😉

The most shocking part of this is also the most basic: it is a single stand-alone WordPress install. We did not use multisite and domain map it, nor did we make it a third network on our exisiting installation. This is one of those times where we truly wanted it completely separate from all of our other websites. It even has its own cPanel account. 😛

For the support framework, we installed BuddyPress. Yep, we did.

The theme we started with was Enterprise from StudioPress, so we use our own GenesisConnect plugin to add the required BuddyPress support to the Genesis theme framework. We also added a couple extra plugins to help with day to day tasks: BuddyPress Group Email Subscription and BP Group Management, both by Boone Gorges. The Group Email subscription sends us an email anytime a user posts in any of our groups, so we can respond as soon as possible. Group Management has those missing pieces such as allowing me to add specific members to Groups without them requesting an invite. And finally, we developed Private Group Downloads (coming soon to wpebooks) to provide plugin and ebook updates to customers in the support areas.

Some extra plugins, just for special touches:
Genesis Simple Sidebars – we added support for this in GenesisConnect, so there are certain sidebars only visible to logged in users when visiting BuddyPress areas.
Download Manager – to keep track of free ebook downloads
Secure Contact form – I needed something simple & this fits the bill.

The biggest part of the functionality of the entire site is also the simplest: we sell the ebooks & bundled plugins via e-junkie. No ecommerce plugins to handle on our end, and at $10 a month for up to 20 products, it is money well spent. They track everything for us and there are no headaches.

The only manual work involved is when a user requests an invite for the support group they wish to join. Some request access to all groups, not just for the ebook they purchased. There could be a way to do this automatically, especially if the ecommerce part was handled within WordPress, but for now this is how we do it. Some users sign up with a different email address than the one they used for purchase, so I still have to hunt down them manually anyway. I realize this part is not scalable. 😉

Overall, I think the experience is a success on both sides of the screen. Some users have had issues with the BuddyPress UI, but I think this is only because of the non-forum-like presentation with BuddyPress itself. Others users have been pleasantly surprised to find out it is BuddyPress-driven.

If we had to build the site over again I’m not sure how much, if any, we would change. I might lean towards trying out something like eshop, just to see if I could keep the entire thing WordPress-based, and we also discussed having the products as custom post types instead of pages. But these are lesser issues than the main point – supporting the user in a private enviroment.

Secure Download for BuddyPress

Andrea & I are using BuddyPress and private groups for the support area of WP eBooks. All of our plugin eBooks include lifetime updates so in planning WP eBooks, we knew we needed a plugin/utility for providing our group members with updates. Until recently, we haven’t needed to provide updates on any of the plugins. A few weeks ago, I did a first pass on a secure download manager for BuddyPress that runs inside the BP Groups component.

From the user side the plugin is fully functional, but there are a few bugs in the group admin side that need to be fixed before I can label the plugin as a beta. The files uploaded through the plugin are stored outside the website and are only accessible through the download area of the group that it is associated with. This plugin will be our next release on WP eBooks. Here is a screenshot of the group member’s download area (click for full size):

A new ebook

Late last week I released another ebook called Aggregating Global content across a WordPress Network. Or something like that.

I’d actually started writing this one a long time ago – easily a year. It’s not that it was particularly difficult, just small things cropping up here and there which meant rewriting sections, taking new screenshots, finding alternate plugins, and of course changing everything that said WPMU into just WordPress.

So, everything in this ebook is about setting up a homepage for the entire network, with some extra section on crafting a new signup page, making a huge tags cloud like wordpress.com, getting post thumbnails to work in sitewide tags, and a few other small things, all tied up in one handy package.

Simple Menus

Andrea & I have been working with the Genesis Theme Framework since it was in alpha. In fact, the theme on this site is Genesis and a customized version of Delicious. To date, I have mostly been working on GenesisBuddy (BuddyPress support for Genesis & Genesis child themes).

Over the summer, the folks at StudioPress have been releasing plugins to extend the functionality of Genesis. A couple weeks ago we were having coffee with Rebecca and she mentioned that another handy plugin for Genesis would be a menu plugin like Genesis Simple Sidebars. Since I agreed that would be a handy plugin, I wrote one that would do just that.

Without further ado, we are please to announce the release of Genesis Simple Menus. Appropriately, Simple Menus’s home page will be at StudioPress among the other Genesis plugins.

WP eBooks launch

Well, it was time to pull the trigger – today we’re launching a new site of ours, WP eBooks. Right now, there’s two plugins with accompanying e-books for sale. Both are pretty awesome. Our aim is to provide high-quality specialized plugins with extensive documentation and intense support. We plan on adding more in the near future and hopefully highlighting e-books relating to WordPress from other vendors. Since the domain name is similar to an existing product, we also added a section on the home page linking back to wpebook.com from Kyle Eslick, which will hopefully eliminate any confusion between the two.

The site itself is a single WordPress installation running BuddyPress for the private support forums. I did use some custom slugs. We’re also using the Genesis Theme Framework and the upcoming version of Genesis Buddy.