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Planning a Membership Site

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We discuss potential options for plugins and software to use to create membership sites along with a conceptual basis for creating this type of site. The discussion centers on the type of membership site that would allow members to have control over their own profiles and the ability to post some information as well as participating in classes and/or coaching sessions. Potential software and plugin options discussed are for Moodle, WordPress eMember, Wishlist Member, and BuddyPress.

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Video Transcript

Jason: Okay I am in the process of trying to figure out which membership site software I should use for a membership site that I’m creating.

Rick: Okay.

Jason : And you know, I already have…last year I purchased a copy of eMember so I have that, but I’ve also been considering, possibly using Moodle for my membership site.

Rick: You said Moodle?

Jason: Moodle, yes. I know of a few other coaches who use Moodle for their membership sites quite successfully. So I guess I’m just trying to get a sense of… I have a need to do something where there’s not a tremendous learning curve and also a need to do something that is not too expensive so I’m just curious… you know, one of the things that I think is going to be a big deal in the long run is that I would like for people to become members, to be able to have their own profiles at some point have that option and I don’t know if they have a blog, or a profile, or something public… people from the outside can see what they’re doing, right… so they can make blog posts or whatever, you know, something that they can use to promote themselves to the public.

Rick: Sure.

Jason: Okay, great.

Rick: Moodle is something I’m actually experimenting with as a method of delivering courses but it’s not, strictly speaking, a membership site or a membership software. It’s really a course delivery or classroom management or course management software. And so if you want to have a, you know, 4 week course where you have a set number of exercises and each day you get a new exercise and then you are going to test them on their ability to… test them on their knowledge on the exercise and maintain a forum where you chat and have a conversation about that lesson, then that is a great use for Moodle. I have installed Moodle on one of my domains and I plan on trying to use it, you know, at some point here for delivering say, the join the ecommerce website or perhaps customizing Thesis like a Pro as a method of having sort of more structured instructional system. But it’s not really a very good membership system. I’m going to bring you back online here and that’s…So did you understand what I was getting at there?

Jason: I do, I do. It sounds like Moodle is not… you think that Moodle is not the best membership site platform and it’s really for delivering course content and in chronological order but in terms of membership site functionality. So where do you think it would be lacking in membership site functionality where another software might make up for that?

Rick: Well, you know, I think probably, I think WordPress is a perfectly useful development sites, obviously, you know, I’m doing it and thousands of other people do it. The other thing you said about Moodle is if you’re looking for sort of a learning curve that’s not the place to look. I mean, I think it’s probably more difficult to learn than how to use WordPress. You know, not necessarily if you’re a teacher, you know, who already has the software administered for them but if it’s your own set up and you have to administer it as well as teach and everything else, I think that you’ll probably find that Moodle has a more significant learning curve than WordPress. So why don’t you describe for me, Jason, a little bit more in detail what it is you want your membership site to do?

Jason: Okay, so what I want the membership site to do… I want to have three levels, I want to have multiple levels of membership. The first level will be free and then there’ll be different levels of membership with different levels of content depending on which members have access to which levels.

Rick: And so, this is… let me interrupt you here for just a moment. And so, the membership levels are for content access control, that is if you’re a free member, you can access free content. But if you’re a Gold member, you can access free content plus Gold content. And if you’re a Platinum member, you can access Platinum content. Is that what you’re getting at?

Jason: Indeed, that’s what I’m getting at. And I also want within those levels, I want like sublevels whereas you know, if somebody signs up for a particular program… you have one area that’s set up, one level of membership… it’s set up for that one program, there might be 3 different levels to that program as well. Like it might be a Basic, a Plus, and a Platinum. And then there might be another course that other people are taking at the same time… did you follow me? So there needs to be levels but then also, levels of within the levels. So kinda like a file management system with different levels of membership.

Rick: Sure. So describe for me what the main organizational levels are. I understand the sublevels but what about main organizational levels?

Jason: So there will be a free level. You know, I haven’t exactly mapped it all out yet but you know, basically there will be a free level and a paid level. In the long run, that will probably be it. So if somebody enters on the paid level but then has access depending on what they’re paying for. That will determine what they have access to. Right, for example, I’ll give you an example. I’m using a coaching program that is a 3-month coaching program that begins in January and there’s 3 different levels to that program, okay. We have somebody who can enroll in the program at the basic level, a plus level, and a premier level, right. So if somebody enrolls at the basic level then they’re only going to get access to one level of content. If they enroll at the plus level, they get access to another level and so forth. So really, there’s only… I think there’s only going to be 2 levels of membership. There could be more in the future but I know just… basically I have tried to keep it as simple as possible… free and the paid.

Rick: So the solution to that really is not to have levels and sublevels. The solution to that really is just to have levels. The sublevel thing sort of complicates it, you know. I spend a lot of time reading about… looking at other people’s membership sites and thinking about membership sites but not only because I’m trying to make my membership site better but also because I’m really trying to find the right software myself. And I think, lots of people have heard me say that I’m currently using Wishlist Member and I’m not happy with it. I mean, it’s working just fine on my site at the moment but its support is not good and its development is flaky and even though it’s an expensive plugin, it doesn’t behave like you’d expect an expensive plugin to behave. So I’m constantly on the search for a way to jump ship from Wishlist Member and get to a plugin that I trust. And so anyway, I do a lot o reading on the subject and I haven’t seen anywhere where it’s… where people are describing a membership system whereby you have a membership system that has coaching level 1 and then 3 versions under that. And then coaching concept 2 and 3 levels under that and coaching area 3, you know, that sort of thing. I think that generally speaking, what makes the most sense for that is to have a level for each of those pieces, thinking of each of those segments as a specific membership level so that a member can be a member of several of those so you could be a Platinum member of coaching 2 and so on and so forth. And so what you really have then is not a main level and sublevels even though you can think about that way but what you really have is a membership system that manages sort of an unlimited number of levels whereby you can assign people level based on what they paid for and you can protect content based on what level people are at. In that case, the WPeMember will do just fine. The only reason I myself stopped using WPeMember was because I was looking for something that I can do some custom programming in and I’m going to put you back online here.

Jason: Okay, thanks. This is very helpful. So it sounds like eMember will probably work just fine for me.

Rick: Well, see what I would do is I would download the latest version of it, right… if you bought this last year, it’s changed a lot in this… since then. So I’d buy the latest version of it and then when you have the latest version… actually I lost my train of thought there. I got you back.

Jason: Yeah, no this is good. I think I already downloaded the latest version anyhow. So I’m just curious… with customized eMember so that it would have the forum and the membership site itself has the same look and feel as my website?

Rick: No, in fact the membership part of it… it doesn’t have any look and feel but the way eMember works is that you know, once it’s installed… you don’t really see it except that you can add a log in widget and you know, stuff like that but the pages are going to look like your pages and the fact that they are protect by eMember is not something that you can see visually unless you try to log on to it… you know, try to go to it… if you don’t have the adequate membership. In that case then you… you know, you’re told that it’s only available for a certain membership level. But in itself, there’s really very little in eMember that needs to be customized really. It would just be the log in forum perhaps and really that’s probably all there is to it in terms of customizing. Okay, you’re back on.

Jason: Okay, well great. Thank you, that’s really helpful. So in terms of getting to deal with it right away, Rick… and I’m trying to get a sense of how much my learning curve is going to be here but what I have a pretty immediate need for is a place to have members of my community just to be able to meet, to exchange information and I can post things you know, for them to be able to read and is this going to be something that I could kinda get online in going relatively quickly then learn as I go after that or is there going to be a set up process as well?

Rick: Well, I think there’s a mental set up process involved, right. You know, the actual process of protecting a page or protecting a segment of a page for a specific membership level, once you get the concept, it takes no time at all. And so the actual protection part of it is very simple because you can protect the entire page, you know, it’s just a simple click of a button or you can add some short codes in that don’t protect the entire page but protect you know, the rest of the content that you want to protect. And so, it’s not difficult to set up but you have this little mental process you have to start off at the very beginning where you say okay, how do I want to protect content? Because one of the things it would ask you is okay, well… which categories do you want to protect? Well, maybe you don’t want to protect anything by category, maybe that’s not even a useful determination. Maybe what you really want to do is protect stuff by page and or maybe you want all the pages to be you know, the same but you have different content displayed on the page depending upon what membership level the person has and see… there’s that mental process of figuring out what mechanism you want to use or how you want to use the protection. And that’s really, I think, the hardest part is really to kinda think through, you know, what specifically it is you want to protect and how you want to protect it. And then, but implementing that protection… there’s no learning… really, it’s a 15 minute learning curve in terms of implementing it. I wanted to ask you though about the profile information for a moment and how that… this profile question interacts with your… interacts with the subject. You’re back on.

Jason: What do you mean, my profile question?

Rick: Yeah you’d asked… you said you wanted people to be able to have a profile… a public profile that they could interact with each other and that sort of stuff?

Jason: Indeed, indeed. Thanks for bringing that back up. One of the things that I would like to have as a long term solution and it might not even be for this site. Ideally I’d be learning more in platform that would work for this site as well so one thing that I would like to be able to do is use something.. use a software where people would become members, can have a public profile or public blog through the site…

Rick: Yeah, you can take it all the way in that situation… you take it all the way into having a full-blown sort of Facebook like thing where you’ve got a Wall and everybody… I mean, essentially, people can put their own content in there. And really, the software for that is BuddyPress which is you know, an overlay or a plugin addition on to WordPress and people at DIY Themes are working to try a new Thesis workaround with BuddyPress on…I haven’t done any work on BuddyPress myself but it is essentially, you know, the ability to create a Facebook where everybody has their own page, and where they can post stuff to it and they can link friends and they can set up groups and they can handle hundreds of thousands of users and they can control what’s public and what’s private. All that kind of stuff… right at the moment, sort of state of the art plugin for that is BuddyPress. Does that make sense?

Jason: That definitely makes sense and in fact, I had researched BuddyPress pretty significantly last year and learned quite about it. Also realized that it wasn’t compatible with Thesis, that was one of my big concerns at the time. Do you have any sense of progress they’ve made at that area?

Rick: Well I don’t have a sense of progress but if you go to DIY Thesis forums and look under the PHP section, they’ve got a sticky on that subject at the top of the PHP now. So… I haven’t looked at it but it’s obviously something that’s important to them and important enough that they are… you know, they are tracking it like that and making it available to anybody who wants to look on. So it is… it’s certainly something that they… that seems to be getting some activity. Now I haven’t looked at that section so I don’t really know what they’re doing. But your alternative to that is to do essentially what I am doing which is to you know, cobble together some custom programming and some plugins to make a profile or a member profile page and you know, this member profile page when you’re logged in you go to My Profile, there’s all kinds of things you can set here. This is actually created by the forum software, simple forum and it’s part of that. You can… you usually create a public profile and have it so that people can look at your profile and then you can also add other stuff to that. So for example, you know, this is… oh isn’t that odd? I’m logged out of my account here, I’ll just log back in. And you can also add…all of these things are created either by plugins or by you know, pieces of custom code and you could easily add a section via a plugin of a wall for people to post their own stuff that wouldn’t require you to use BuddyPress.

Jason: Oh okay, awesome. I see. So on the flip side of that though, if I didn’t want to use BuddyPress right, or some different site for example, I was curious about that… can I use BuddyPress as a membership site simultaneously? If you have it this way because I have different levels of membership, is it possible to use these options, you know?

Rick: Well, you know, I just don’t know. I’m sorry, obviously there’s some kind of user level associated with BuddyPress and you know, there may be some add-ons. Well, actually BuddyPress probably doesn’t manage user levels. You can probably just add BuddyPress to a site and user levels to control access to it or to be ancillary to it, right, maybe the BuddyPress part of it is always public but the lessons part or the coaching part or whatever is not public. Still all inside the same site, still being managed by the same you know, user controls…because this is what some sort of membership plugin does, right? It just provides user level control to or to access certain parts of the site. And that certainly is a… I’m sure there’s someway to do that without having to work very hard at it. You’re back.

Jason: Okay, well that’s awesome. That’s really helpful, thank you. Lots of really helpful information, answered all my questions.

Rick: Well, great. You know, I don’t know if you’ve seen on the site but I have sort of laid out my next course that I’m going to be looking on this here and it’s you know, using WordPress as a CMS and because of the sort of the nature of the variety that you can get involved in in this question of CMS, I am splitting it up into sort of levels. Anyway, Level 4 is going to be creating a membership site and having membership control over the various kinds of content and that may not be online soon enough to help you but that is coming down the road here as I forget how to manage everything else I’ve promised.

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