Updated Notes from Cultivating Community

The following are some key links from my talk on Cultivating Community at WordUp Austin on January 21, 2012 (and now again at the WordPress Austin meetup on Feb 28, 2012). You can find the slides over on Google Docs, but the real magic came in person…

Follw on Twitter

@wpatx – I’m running the official WordPress Austin Twitter account now, you should follow it!


Jetpack – Has a new module that allows users to subscribe to comments.
Disqus – A managed plugin that adds new community features to comments.
Intense Debate – A plugin managed by Automattic that adds social features to comments.
Social Plugin for WordPress – A light(er)weight plugin by Crowd Favorite for allowing comments via Twitter and Facebook.
Livefyre – The new kid on the block, with added features like live comments.
Akismet – Quality spam protection for your growing comment section.

Ask questions

Topic Tueday – A new question once a week that is locked to comments from users only. A point multiplier is also in effect.

Poll Your Audience

PollDaddy – A powerful and easy to use poll plugin maintained by Automattic.
WP-Polls – A lightweight poll plugin written by Lester ‘Gamerz’ Chan.


Mailchimp – A paid (and thus pretty awesome) email newsletter solution.
Mailchimp Subscribe Plugin – A easy widget for newsletter subscriptions.
Jetpack – Has a new module that allows users to subscribe to your blog.
Feedburner – An old-school RSS tool that offers an email newsletter digest.

Get Social

Social Bartender – Easy, WP-menu-like drag and drop setup for all your social network links.
Sociable – Configurable sharing links and widgets for all your content.
Explore – There are more social plugins than hairs on my head. Check them out and find out that works for you!
Pin it! – A Pinterest plugin for adding a ‘Pin it’ button to your content.
Easy Pinterest – Display your latest pins and boards in your WordPress sidebar.

Identity / Influence

And Me Account – A sample account from my site, showing real name, user pic, user score, percentile rank, and links to various social accounts.
Gravatar – A widely used avatar service maintained by Automattic.
Cubepoints – A lightweight point tracking system with modules that make for easy customization.
Bunchball – Full-bore gamification with badges and achievements and all that stuff.


Pick Giveaway Winner – A super simple plugin for running bespoke contests with user comments.
25 Days of Tegra – My biggest promo to date, where we gave away a device per day only to users, generating tens of thousands of user interactions.
#HackTheNews – A sample contest I ran on Android and Me where users could tweet stories with tweaked headlines, generating over 1k tweets in barely a week.
Midweek Madness – A weekly contest with usually small prizes.

Do Things with your Users

get_users – A new (since 3.1) function for working with users. Makes things super simple (compared to the old ways, at least).
update_user_meta – A super-handy function for adding and updating extra information to any user account. Use with get_user_meta.
orderby=comment_count – A parameter you can use when querying posts to return the most commented posts.

Favorite community-focused WordPress plugins

I’m giving a talk tomorrow night called Cultivating Community where I’ll be sharing some insight into the process of running a blog with 10 authors and 45k registered users. I’ve given the talk once before and already my have own list of favorite plugins growing, but I was curious what you guys use.

Are there any community plugins you can’t live without? Or something new you’ve seen floating around that you’d like me to investigate and talk about during my session tomorrow? It doesn’t even have to be a plugin really, feel free to leave me some broad questions about practice or strategy, I’m really just looking for some extra angles to cover to make sure everyone finds use in tomorrow’s talk.

Change the default avatar in WordPress

If you’ve ever wanted to change the default avatar in WordPress, all you need is a quick filter in functions.php that inserts and names your new avatar. Once you add the markup below, you’ll see your new avatar type listed in wp-admin > Settings > Discussion along with the choices like Identicons and MonsterID. The code:

add_filter( 'avatar_defaults', 'newavatar' );  
function newavatar ($avatar_defaults) {  
$myavatar = get_bloginfo('template_directory') . '/images/avatar.png';  
$avatar_defaults[$myavatar] = "Pigs";  
return $avatar_defaults; }

This is a pretty simple one. Our function newavatar() is hooked to the avatar_defaults, and we simply add our new avatar choice, which includes a path to the image URL along with a title (pigs!). At the end, we return the defaults, which has been impregnated with our new custom avatar, and no one is ever the wiser!

WordPress comment hacks: User-only comments, restrict by user age and more

In a recent promo for Android and Me, we created a bunch of giveaways, each with a specific limitation on entry. We had 25 days worth of prizes, and each day held a different challenge. We used comments as the main way to enter, and on certain days we wanted to restrict entry to certain groups of users.

Some days we only wanted users who had added their Twitter account to the profile (a piece of user meta), some days we wanted only members of a certain age to be eligible (a piece of user meta compared to a set value), and overall, we wanted all comments to be from registered users only (private comments on certain WordPress posts).

To accomplish all these things, I came up with the simple hack of creating a slew of conditional checks that surround comment_form(). If you’re not familiar, it’s a function that outputs the comment form itself and is usually found near the bottom of comments.php. It’s a pretty easy way to control who is commenting, taking away the form. Take a peek a the heavily commented code below (no pun intended) and join me after for some play by play.

//start by checking for a couple of key pieces of info
$current_user = wp_get_current_user();
$private_comments = get_post_meta($post->ID, 'private_comments', true);
$meta_lock = get_post_meta($post->ID, 'meta_lock', true);
$time_lock = get_post_meta($post->ID, 'time_lock', true);

//if the post has the custom field 'meta_lock'
if ($meta_lock) {
  //check the current user for that meta field
  $user_meta_key =  get_user_meta($current_user->ID, $meta_lock, true);
    if ($current_user->ID AND $user_meta_key) {
      //display the comment form
      //give an error message (add some flare!)
    } else { echo 'Special users only!'; }

//if the post has the custom field 'time_lock'	
} elseif ($time_lock) {
  //get the age of the user and prepare the age limits
  $user_age=date("Y-m-d", strtotime($current_user->user_registered));
  $age_limit = strtotime($time_lock);
  $account_age = strtotime($user_age);
  //if the current user is OLDER than the set limit
  if ($current_user->ID AND $account_age <= $age_limit) {
    //display the comment form
  //give an error message (add some flare!)
  } else { echo 'Users older than '.$tegra_time.' only!'; }

//if the post has the field 'private_comments'	
} elseif ($private_comments) {
  //check if the user has an ID (aka is signed in)
  if ( $current_user->ID ) {
    //display the comment form
  //give an error message (add some flare!)
  } else { echo 'Users only!'; }

//no special conditions met, just display the comment form  
} else { comment_form(); }

Jeeeez that's a scary wall of text! Ok, not really, but compared to just the single line comment_form() we started with it looks pretty major. What we're doing is actually pretty simple. Anytime the template would normally call comment_form, we're getting in the way and checking some settings first.

What settings? Things we set on a post per post (or page) basis, using custom fields. If you'd like to turn on user-only comments, set a custom field 'private_comments' with any value (I usually just go with 'true'). If you'd like to restrict comments based on whether or not a user has a certain meta field, on your post set a custom field with the key 'meta_lock' and a value matching whatever user meta you'd like to filter by. This can be a user's real name, website link, bio, etc. It's a great way to push your users to fill out certain fields of their profile.

One of the funnest challenges we did was based on user age, something you'll see in the snippet above as age_lock. To use it, simply set a custom field on your post with a YYYY-MM-DD format (one year before today's date, for example). When comments.php is rendered, it'll compare the date the user registered with the date you've entered in the field 'age_lock'.

These few examples are really just to get the juices flowing, and to introduce you to the simple hack of conditionally displaying the comment form. There are an infinite number of things you could check or compare, so if you explore and find something killer make sure you come back and share it with us.

So far, I think my favorite use of this technique was tracking user tweets with the service Rowfeeder, which I then used to export a full list of Twitter usernames. Since our accounts let users link their Twitter handle, I was able to check which WordPress accounts had successfully Tweeted and then conditionally allow them to comment. Total score!

Sort WordPress users by custom meta value with get_users

I’ll be honest. This one took me a while. I spent a lot of time looking for a solution but there doesn’t seem to be a whole bunch of discussion around user queries in plain ol’ WordPress. I guess most of the big user action has moved on to bbPress and BuddyPress.

For those of us with a sizable user base contained only inside WordPress however, actually doing things with users takes a bit of elbow grease. I’m sure all the same possibilities exist, but people don’t seem to talk or write about them as often, which is where this guide comes in.

Today we’re going to look at getting WordPress to sort users by a custom meta value, something that would be useful if your users have any sort of scores, totals, or custom profile fields.

Over on Android and Me, all users have a point total. We then rank all users by that point total and assign everyone a percentile rank. To call up thousands of users based on a custom meta value seemed daunting, and it was, until I got a bit more familiar with WP_User_Query.

WP_User_Query was introduced in WordPress 3.1 and brings us an easy and flexible way to query our user database. We’ll be using the function get_users, which is basically a wrapper for WP_User_Query. You’ll notice the function includes an ‘orderby’ parameter, but the only options given are:

orderby – Sort by ‘nicename’, ‘email’, ‘url’, ‘registered’, ‘display_name’, or ‘post_count’.

Notice we’re missing ‘meta_key’ or ‘meta_value’, so we’re on our own when it comes to ordering these guys by a custom field. Also of note is ‘post_count’, which I could totally see coming in handy on certain community blogs (MAKE A NOTE!). Now that we know what we’re after and what tools we’ll need to make it happen, it’s time we get started.

The Code

//these are the arguments for the get_users function below
$args  = array(
  'fields' => 'all_with_meta',
  'meta_query' => array(
    'key' => 'points', // the meta field (or key) we want to target
    'value' => '2',    // the value we want to target (optional)
    'compare' => '>='  // comparison method (optional:  =, >, <, etc)

//get_users calls WP_User_Query and returns an array of matching users
$users = get_users($args);

//custom function for comparing the data we want to sort by
function cmp($a, $b){
  if ($a->points == $b->points) {
    return 0;
  return ($a->points > $b->points) ? -1 : 1;

//usort sorts our $users array with our function cmp()
usort($users, 'cmp');

//leaving an array of $users sorted by the value of meta 'points'
foreach ($users as $user) {  
  // do something rad!

I've commented the code above so hopefully you were able to follow along in the actual markup, but if you'd like a short summary: here we go!

I start off with a short list of arguments, or options, that get_users() needs to return the users I want. A full list of parameters can be found on the get_users page in the Codex. The key here is meta_query, which lets me specify the user meta field I'd like to target and compare. I so happen to be calling up users based on their point totals, so I call any user with points above or equal to 2 (any below that I can assume is a scrub and just rank at the bottom of the pile to save some query juice).

Once I've got my $args, I go ahead and run get_users($args). Doing so will return a full list of users that match the arguments, all handily stored in the array $users.

But what's that? They aren't sorted? While we were allowed to compare points while calling the users, no actual sorting took place. This is where we get a bit tricky. Instead of relying on WordPress to sort the users for us, something the Codex says isn't possible right now, we're going to bust out PHP's usort along with a simple custom function for comparing the points.

Our custom function, cmp(), is just a little check that runs that compares the point total of a user with the other point totals in the array. If the totals are the same, the function returns '0'. If they are different, the function returns a '1' or '-1'. That simple math is enough to let usort crunch through thousands of users in seconds, something I'd spent a couple weeks trying to figure out how to make WordPress do for me. Oh well, you know how that goes.

Now that we've got $users in order by the meta field 'points', all that's left is to do something rad. Simply use a foreach (PHP's version of The Loop) to run through the users in the array and accomplish something. In my case, it was doing even a bit more math to calculate each user's percentile in order to show what everyone's point totals really meant in relation to one another.

I know not everyone's blog has a point system, but if you've got any amount of users or even multiple authors this might come in handy. I used WP_User_Query all over the place on the WordUp Austin site. On Android and Me, I list the author pictures in the sidebar. Now, if I wanted to, I could order them by post count or point totals.

Slowly but surely I'm accumulating bits of community-focused solutions like this one and soon I'll be able to say with complete certainty that my WordPress install would slay any bbPress or BuddyPress install you can toss at it.