Behind the Site: Tripawds, a user-supported three legged dog community

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Ed: Tripawds is, in all honesty, a very touching site. It is a community of bloggers and users supporting canine amputees. The site is run by Jim and Rene Nelson, and just so happens to be running on WordPress. Jim offered to share some background information on Tripawds when he saw our ongoing Behind the Site series.

In this series, a WordPress site’s owner walks us through what makes their site unique and how it does what it does. At this point I’ll hand it off to Jim, who wrote about he and his wife’s site below.

About Tripawds

Never in our wildest dreams did my wife and I ever imagine that running the largest online community for canine amputees and their people would become our full-time labor of love. But that is exactly what the little blog we started when our dog Jerry got cancer back in 2006 has become.

Home to more than 750 sites now, with over 3,000 members and more joining everyday, the Tripawds Blogs Community offers helpful resources, information and support to anyone facing amputation for their dog. We maintain free three-legged dog blogs, discussion forums, a live chat room and much more. And we couldn’t do it without WordPress multisite.

We have had our share of growing pains with the site over the years, migrating from a simple WordPress install on shared hosting to WPMU and finally to WordPress multisite, now on our own server. But the gratitude of members who find the site helpful makes it all worthwhile. I suggest anyone interested in how to grow a niche website or hearing our tips for maintaining an online community read my guest posts on ProBlogger.

Favorite Plugins

Since I’ve written an overview of all the best WordPress multisite plugins we’re using to build the Tripawds community, I’ll just review a few of my favorites in more detail here.

The Tripawds discussion forums are powered by the massively configurable yet easy to use Simple:Press Forums plugin. Simple:Press can be deployed across a multisite network, but we run forums on the main site only to provide a central location for all discussions. We use various forum topics to keep the community updated about news in our featured blogs. And the built-in Private Messaging option allows members to easily communicate directly with each other using a searchable username directory or their own Buddy List.

Any registered member can have a free Tripawds blog. By upgrading with a Supporter Subscription, however, they will have ads immediately removed from their site, get their upload quota increased, and gain access to additional plugins and premium themes. We do this all automatically using the Pro Sites plugin which allows us to easily offer enhanced features for paid subscribers.

Since the WordPress Admin Bar is only visible to logged in members, and it’s search field will only return results of the site being viewed, we’ve created a Tripawds Search page using the Global Site Search plugin that will search all blogs across the network at once.

Speaking of the Admin Bar, we have facilitated network navigation for Tripawds members with the Custom Admin Bar plugin. This lets us easily create a custom menu with our most popular resources easily accessible from any page, of any site on the network, even within a user’s dashboard.

Another way we direct members to helpful content is with the Admin Ads plugin. Instead of using it to show advertisements in a user’s dashboard, however, we display a list of quick links. This also comes in handy for notifying members about special announcements or site maintenance.

To help all our new members get started blogging, we’ve embedded various Unbranded Help Videos on the Tripawds Help page. We use a Technical Support discussion forum to provide additional help as needed.

Speaking of new bloggers, we use the Default Blog Templates plugin to configure every new site with the specific theme, widgets, blogroll links, and other settings I want them to have. We use this to help novice bloggers with info about getting started in their sidebar and links to our featured blogs in their blogroll.

One more free plugin I like that helps us keep members informed about news from the Tripawds community is the WordPress Multisite Dashboard Feed Widget. This lets us display recent posts from our featured blogs in user dashboards. It works by pulling in posts from a specified RSS feed. Anyone interested in learning how I created a feed for specific blogs should read my post about how to create a recent featured posts feed.

I could go on and on but I’ll wrap this up with bit about our theme and the role it played in improving site performance.

Long Overdue Theme Overhaul

After more than four years, the original theme we chose for Tripawds had become bloated with hacks, scripts and hard-coded widgets. After troubleshooting site performance issues we identified the theme as a primary cause for slow load times. Users were complaining and posts were getting dropped when saved to the forums. A site overhaul was long overdue.

I chose WPMU-Nelo for its custom homepage, multiple widget areas, menu support, built-in social networking bar and profile panel option; but most importantly for its clean, slim code base. For most people, Nelo’s many configuration options will suffice for designing a professional site to meet the needs of any business or organization. But I like to be difficult.

I added dynamic community user and member stats to the header, implemented random header images, and edited the profile panel which shows a log-in area to visitors or helpful dashboard links to logged in members. Anyone interested can read about how I customized the Nelo theme in more detail.

What’s Next?

The Tripawds community is just one of the WordPress sites I maintain. In the future I’ll be applying the expertise I’ve gained from growing this community to other niche markets.

Many thanks to WPCandy for choosing to take a peek behind the site at Tripawds. We’re always happy to share with the world how it’s better to hop on three legs than to limp on four.

Be featured on “Behind the Site”

Ed: Thanks for telling us about the site Jim!

If you have a WordPress site with an interesting story, an interesting mix of plugins, or a clever use of a theme, let us know and it just might be the next site we take a peak at behind the scenes.

In the meantime, what do you think of what Jim and his wife are doing at Tripawds, and how it works? Did you see any plugins in his list that you are going to check out now?

3 thoughts on “Behind the Site: Tripawds, a user-supported three legged dog community

  1. Fantastic site, and thank you for sharing.

    I am curious, when looking into WP options for supporting your site’s community… did you consider BuddyPress, and if so, what were your reasons for deciding against it?

    My growing niche site is at a bit of a crossroads, and I am struggling with problems and decisions that seem similar to the ones you have encountered (and overcome). In addition to forums, and multisite… buddypress is the other option we are researching, so would value your opinion or experience.

    • Thanks for the comment Dave. I address the BuddyPress issue in my ProBlogger guest post about tactics. But in short, I was a huge Simple:Press fan long before I even discovered WPMU. And by the time we migrated to a multisite network we had more than 50,000 forum posts we didn’t care to abandon.

      Admittedly, I haven’t spent too much time with BuddyPress. But my first impression was that the BP forums might actually fragment a community since all discussion is group based. With Simple:Press running on our main Tripawds site, we offer a central location for discussion among all members. I might, however, look into BP further for any new communities I build from scratch in the future. Feedback from BuddyPress users is gladly welcome!

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