Migrating my Ning site to BuddyPress

During the winter I had an informal discussion with a good friend who works at a large publishing company. That discussion centered on my legal community site Defero Law, a site I set up in 2010 on the Ning platform, and the possibility of his company acquiring the rights to the site. The New Defero Law As it turned out, those discussions remained informal, but there were some very important things that I learnt from them. I had no real ambitions to the sell the site at the time but the very fact that some interest was shown and that some key issues were flagged got me thinking. First, some history. It’s 2010 and I was entering my tenth year working at a large legal publishers. During what turned out to be my final year at the company, they embarked on a project to start a social network for laywers, a product that would be tacked on to the other legal directories they produced. Thousands of pounds were spent with no end product. The money spent seemed crazy to me. I looked for cheaper solutions, just to stick it to the CEO who seemed to fritter money away needlessly. Some research brought me to Ning, a do-it-yourself social network platform that enabled anyone to start their own social network for a few pounds a month. So that’s what I did: I started Defero Law, a social network for lawyers. Four years on, my life and work have changed drastically. Not only do I own and run my own social network but my work on that site has opened up a new career as someone who builds and designs Ning social networks for clients around the world. In short, Ning changed my life. The good folk at Ning helped me on this journey and I will forever be in their debt. Which is why it’s with regret that I made the decision to take my Defero Law site off the Ning platform and migrate it into WordPress/BuddyPress. It boiled down to ownership. Ning, being a hosted platform, is secure, slick, easy to use, but it’s also a closed shop in terms of the amount of control you have over your site. If Ning change something across the platform you’re stuck with it. For most Ning clients this works perfectly, and indeed it has done for me for many years (and still will on a new Ning site I have planned), but for Defero Law I needed total control. Like I say, I had no ambitions to sell, but i might one day, and the site is a far more tangible asset if hosted on my own servers, where I have access to the database and source files. I want to stress that this has nothing to do with the release of Ning 3.0 over a year ago. The new platform is fantastic and all the clients I have built Ning 3.0 sites for totally love it. No, this was simply down to the WordPress/BuddyPress tools being a better fit for me and my site. So, to the grizzly tale of migrating my site from Ning to BuddyPress. I owe much to the awesome Import Ning Tool plugin built by Boone, a tool that uses the Ning Archive data to recreate  users, posts, group forums and activity feeds for your BuddyPress install. For the most part it’s fairly reliable but there can be errors with both the plugin and the json files that Ning provides. Trial and error wins the day, multiple attempts at getting it to work, finding errors in the json files (usually they are missing a a closing ] or ) somewhere) ensued. Getting the data in is just the start, though. It’s what doesn’t come over that might be a barrier to migrating. BuddyPress doesn’t have a ready made solution for the Ning video module for example. My workaround for this was to reconfigure the Ning videos.json to read like the blog.json file, thus bringing in the video embeds as blog posts. You might not like the way it handles forums either because it imports them into BuddyPress groups defined by categories. My site’s forum had died so I decided to simply remove it but it’s probably fairly easy to use the import tool and then move forum topics around in the MySQL backend. Then there is the data itself: profile questions and answers came in looking and feeling a bit shonky. Some serious database find and replace work went into tidying it up. Some images in posts went missing (still are!) and links within posts needed to be tidied up as best as possible. There are other serious considerations: where to host the site – shared server, VPS or managed wordpress?; how will the site cope with email alerts and what provider will give you enough SMTP relays?; providing members with a great front-end adding content experience and hiding the WordPress admin areas from them; finding a plugin to handle member moderation; giving users the right permissions; SEO; what theme to use (I went with a heavily modified version of TwentyFourteen); how to get jQuery to run properly. This list is never ending. But I got there, and Defero Law is now up and running on a GoDaddy Managed WordPress server. I’ve had a soft launch, emailing a few users at a time to get them to change passwords and login. It seems to be working well enough at present. Moving was a tough decision, actually an emotional one as well as logical, and a very steep learning curve to get it all migrated. Time will tell if it was worth it. Related: You might also be interested in this post regarding SocialEngine’s new Ning Import tool. Rich    

Richard Pettet
Follow me

Richard Pettet

I'm a professional website designer who specialises in Social Network and community website build and design work. Expert with Ning and BuddyPress.
Richard Pettet
Follow me

You might also like

  • Pingback: Jamroom – Migrating from Ning to Jamroom? | SweetPotato()

  • Russell Snyder

    Aloha Mr. Potato! Thanks for posting. How do you feel about this transition now? I am thinking of doing the same myself.

    • RichardPettet

      Hi Russell,
      It’s been worth it as WordPress simply has more options for my business. I’ve custom coded BuddyPress so it’s a private community and added a listings section to monetise the site. It’s working great.

      I also do this migration for clients, although use a mixture of the plugin above and custom reworking of the data files for a cleaner import.

      Good luck with the move.

      SP

      • Billy Mocean

        Is this framework an option for people looking to create a network from scratch? I was a one time NING Creator but left after so much frustration with their system a few years back. I have a hankering to start afresh but on WordPress / Buddypress. Better to email?

        • RichardPettet

          Yeah, best to email.

  • Brandon MMT

    Can I ask a quick question? That image you have at the top … is it Ning or Buddypress? I really like how it came out and I’m trying to figure out in the long term what platform I should use for my site.

    • RichardPettet

      That’s WordPress/Buddypress but my homepage has since changed. http://www.deferolaw.com

      • Brandon MMT

        Mind if I just ask how you got that impressive activity feed? I mean I haven’t seen the ability to upload pictures, videos and files into status updates. It doesn’t look like any plugin I’ve seen, although I didn’t look too deeply into available Buddypress plugins.

        • RichardPettet

          That’s a plugin. Can’t remember the name to be honest, although I think it’s native to buddypress these days

  • Pingback: SocialEngine PHP Launches Ning Import tool - Migrate your social network. - SweetPotato()

  • Pingback: Create your own social network - 5 best community platforms()

  • Pingback: Migrating large Ning site to WordPress with BuddyPress()

  • http://stockbuz.net/ Kos

    SP May I ask just ‘who’ you used to clean up your json files? What site?

    • http://www.purplebride.com Travel Junkie

      I’m also interested because the import plugin is a total mess