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.