Its been done before.
January 26, 2010 9:01 PM   Subscribe

Since I'm not trying to do something that hasn't been done 1000 times before. Will I have to go with a PHP programmer to make for me what I've seen and want, or is there a place I can buy a pre-made *something* that does what I'm looking for?

I expect to spend money to get the ultimate product, so that isn't the question.

I want to provide a service to a particular niche market. To do this I need to implement an online program/site that is not unlike your garden variety social network site. User accounts and security, users able to customize their "pages", stuff like that. I know the ultimate solution will reside in PHP, but I'm unsure of the direction I need to go to attain it.

I'm not trying to re-invent anything here, I just want to implement it on a much , Much, MUCH smaller scale in terms of population, but still have some of the bells and whistles.

It just seems like the programmers I talk to are only interested in creating a system from scratch and then test, debug, test, debug, test, debug, and charge me for the time. Which would be fine with me If I wanted something new that had never been done before.

So ideally, I'd like to find a metaphorical "box" of a system that does what I'm looking for and if it's bundled with the hundred other things I'll never use that's cool too. There's got to be a place that sells "turn key" systems to choose from that others have bought/licensed and implemented. I'm pretty sure I can adapt my service around an available system.

THE QUESTION -> So, where do I go to find a showroom for PHP systems?

Metaphor to show you where my mind is at:
I need a delivery van. I go to the van dealer and look at various vans and buy the one that fits my needs. Maybe tell the dealer I want it in red instead of white, cloth instead of vinyl and a V6 rather than a V8.

I would not go to a machinist and have him custom fabricate for me every nut, bolt and spring, create a new never-before-seen engine and design an all new body style. Then have them assemble it, take it to a closed proving ground to road test, then back to the shop to tweak, then back to the testing, then find out the fuel injection that they designed needs to be redesigned, then build a new one... before I get my van.

Thanks in advance!

P.S. I realize I haven't been big on specifics here, but that's on purpose. :-)
posted by sandra_s to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Pretty generic request, but what you are looking for is an extensible/modular CMS. I would start looking at Drupal, Expression Engine and perhaps BuddyPress and WPMU. All four of these can likely do what you need, but because you don't list much functionality it is hard to match their features up.

You will need to find someone who knows how to customize the CMS you choose. Depending on who you choose and how much customization you need, this could be cheap or very very expensive.

Plug "{CMS name} gallery" into Google and see what comes up. There are dozens of sites like that have compiled well-designed and well-implemented sites on top of each of these CMS solutions.
posted by camworld at 9:12 PM on January 26, 2010

Even it is has been done before, you are still going to need to hire someone knowledgeable enough to take the packaged script, set it up and tweak it so it's "just so". That being said, I'm sure there a dozens of facebook/myspace clones out there. You will also need someone knowledable enough to find that script that will work for your particular set of requirements.

Using your example, you're going to need to get the dealer to actually paint the van red, install the cloth seats, and swap out the engine manually. Unless of course you've found that magical van that already has vinyl AND cloth seats installed, as well as both a V6 and V8, and it's only a matter of knowing how to tell the van which ones to use.

On preview, yup, what you are looking for is a CMS of some sort. There are literally hundreds of these available; google is your friend. And if you want a site up and running and done well, even with a "boxed" solution, it is still going to require time, money and expertise. There are just too many variables for each and every possibility to have a one-size fits all solution, unless you are willing to bend your requirements to fit into this one size.
posted by cgg at 9:17 PM on January 26, 2010

That's Content Management System. There's a bunch, go shopping. There's hosting services that'll take your money (some for not much with good quality.... research pays off) and fire up a template engine for you; which may be very close to what you need. Research. Second on Drupal, heard good things about it but haven't used it myself. I flippantly said 'shopping' but there are excellent free software.
posted by sammyo at 9:21 PM on January 26, 2010

It sounds like you're looking for is called "white label social networking software". Seems like there's a ton of companies that offer that, and some open source projects. I'd look at something like Elgg and try to find a programmer who has experience customizing it.

But maybe that is overkill for your needs? You could get away with a Facebook or OpenSocial app (you use Facebook or another social network and find someone to write an app for it), or Ning (you create a private social network on Ning, customize it and find someone who can write apps for it).
posted by AlsoMike at 9:26 PM on January 26, 2010

SocialEngine is exactly what you are looking for. A self-hosted white label social network...

After you set that up, they can refer you to people who can help you customize it to your needs.
posted by milqman at 11:16 PM on January 26, 2010

I've used Elgg that AlsoMike linked. It works, but we had some big growing pains. That may not be the case with the newest version.

If you want to "kick the tires" of an app like this, try
posted by advicepig at 6:58 AM on January 27, 2010

I know the ultimate solution will reside in PHP, but I'm unsure of the direction I need to go to attain it.

Why are you assuming PHP? Most of the more modern development is being done in Ruby, Python, etc.
posted by rokusan at 8:10 AM on January 27, 2010

Seconding Drupal. It has all the basic stuff (users, blogs, forums) out of the box, and is incredibly customizable. There's a demo. The Site Buildiing Guide discusses many of the feature sets, with a whole section devoted to Social Networking.

You specifically mentioned:

* User accounts and security - Drupal comes with excellent user management, including roles so you can give different permissions to different types of users

* users able to customize their "pages" - depending on what you want here, you can add fields to the user pages so people can enter their job or their location or whatever - or you can use the Advanced Profile Kit to do this sort of thing

It will indeed take some time and expertise to set up what you want with Drupal, but the developer won't have to start from scratch - Drupal gives you all kinds of well-tested functionality that you can then build on.
posted by kristi at 9:57 AM on January 28, 2010

I love HotScripts. Browse drop-in solutions in many different languages. Just keep an eye on what's freeware vs. commercial; obviously the commercial ones are of better quality, but there's a few freeware gems in there too.
posted by etoile at 7:36 PM on January 28, 2010

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