How to build a social networking site for free using Elgg


Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest have disrupted traditional channels of communication.   While these existing sites are useful, organizations often need to establish their own social networking platform.    Instructional designers often use services like to enable students to learn and collaborate.   Some corporations see potential in social  media collaboration, but do not want to encourage Facebook activity at work.   In my case, I am interested in building social networks that support alternate reality games.    The platform needs to support customization, gamification, branding, and analytics.

On a personal note, I have been moved by many of my friends who have been out of employment.    I believe it would be cool to design a social networking community that supported job seekers.    Great communities learn how to connect their strengths and gifts to opportunities.    I would like to connect job seekers to each other.   I would also aspire to connect job seekers to great education and mentors.   And the whole experience should be fun.

Over the weekend, I reviewed an open source and free platform for building a social network, Elgg.    On my existing PHP/MySql hosting site, it was simple to install.   Like WordPress, the platform features a number of themes and plugins.   Plugins and themes can be installed simply moving the content into a “mods” folder.

Here are my favorite features to Elgg so far .

  • Community support and documentation:  Community support and documentation for the open source project is active.   From searches on YouTube, you can find tutorials on setup and management of a Elgg website.
  • The Wire: How would you like to build your own Twitter?   Elgg has this as a feature.   140 characters. Hashtags.  It’s all there.  Enjoy!
  • Google analytics: For the data geeks out there, you can install a plugin to measure the behavior and health of the site using Google analytics.
  • User registration using Using a plugin, you can enable your users to sign into the social networking site using Twitter.   This process involved registering the site with as an application.
  • Themes:  Theme support looks pretty good.  It will be interesting to learn how to create themes.   The themes that look like Facebook look pretty amazing.   I found a few issues which prevent me from using it.  In general, the theme capability is pretty awesome.
  • Gamification:   I am using a plugin called “Userpoints” to add a basic points system to the site.   As a user of the site, you can obtain points for certain actions on the site.  (Posting to the wire, posting blog entries, commenting, etc.)    The points values awarded per site action can be configured.
  • Plugin authoring:  At some point, I will need to create my own plugins to establish a system of badges or other game elements.   From a quick review of the documentation, Elgg makes this possible.
Here’s another sample Elgg site —

If you could build your own online community, what would you build?





This entry was posted in game based learning, leadership, technology. Bookmark the permalink.