Sunday, 7 October 2012

What is Oxwall? or, How to host your own Facebook?

I'm a member of a smallish social group in the area that I live in.  Our common interest is roleplaying games, boardgames, wargaming and other such activities that get people round a table, talking laughing and rolling dice.  We coordinate our activities via a website, and have done since the group formed.

We originally met when our founder member posted up an advert on Meetup.com to take part in a game of Dungeons and Dragons.  The group filled quickly (I think to his surprise) and it wasn't long before we had more members than games.

We slowly began to realise Meetup.com wasn't for us, apart from anything else it cost money.  So we moved to GroupSpaces which seemed to suit the needs of our slowly growing group much better.  Before long though, we were getting annoyed with GroupSpaces permanent "beta" mode ... constantly tweaking things and changing functionality and not always in the way we liked.

It was at this stage I considered writing my own social networking application for the group, but soon discovered that actually it's a lot of work and I just didn't have the time.

Then I discovered Oxwall.

Oxwall is a PHP based web application (a la Wordpress, et al) which you can use either via their hosted solution or by installing it on your own server.  I have a Bytemark VM for the various websites I run so decided to throw it up there and check it out.

It wasn't perfect, but straight away it felt to me like it had a lot of potential and it had the functionality we needed at that particular time: somewhere for the group to socialise online, event management and a forum.  It also has a few other things, but those were the main things we needed bust most importantly, we were in total control of the software.

The architecture is MVC based and modular.  For instance, event management is handled by a module. If you deactivate (or uninstall) the events module, the functionality disappears.  Not bad for a PHP app!  Diving in to the code, I found it to be pretty clean and well written (in most places).  However, I did need to make some changes, and even write an entire module, but I'm going to talk about them in upcoming posts.

Additionally, the community is fairly active and there's a market place where you can download plugins (some are free, others are not) and hire people to write code.

But for now, if you are looking for a Facebook style social networking application (incidentally, Oxwall integrates with Facebook for authentication if you want it), then this might be the app for you, if you have somewhere to install it.

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