We’re featuring iPragmatech in this Developer Spotlight. Kapil Jain shares his thoughts on third-party development, SE4 and SE5. Also, there’s a special offer at the end for anyone interested in performance optimization!
SocialEngine: How long has iPragmatech developed for SocialEngine? What was your first impression of our platform?
Kapil Jain: iPragmatech has been providing various SocialEngine services for more than four years now. We offer end-to-end SocialEngine expertise, including consultancy and advice regarding ways to build and monetize communities, implementation and deployment on various hosting providers, theme and feature platform customization, plugin development, migration from older versions of SocialEngine, and performance optimization for SocialEngine v2.x, 3.x and 4.x. We first came across SocialEngine when a customer of ours wanted to build a social networking website, and as usual we searched for existing platforms to keep the cost optimum. We compared several platforms and found SocialEngine to be a stable and scalable platform with good documentation, a helpful community of developers and a flexible Zend Framework codebase. Although understanding the source code did require a significant ramp-up, the advantages derived by doing so were far more beneficial.
SE: What types of sites have you developed? What is your philosophy for developing communities for your clients?
Kapil: We have developed several different websites with SocialEngine and have found that SocialEngine is flexible enough to build almost any feature with a limited amount of effort. To give you some examples:
Kidspot Social is a parenting social networking site for an online mothers group and parenting community with pregnancy forums, birth groups and parenting advice. We helped them upgrade their SocialEngine platform from version 2.x to 4.x, scale to 40 thousand users through performance tuning, and customized their community per their requirements.
Lacubanada is the social network of Cubans and friends of Cuba’s most active online. You can find everything about Cuba and its people. We helped them scale to 15 thousand users through performance tuning.
Share My Guitar is the best social network for guitar enthusiasts. SMG is a place where all the some-time, full-time, part-time, and not-enough-time guitarists can share musical knowledge and their guitar collections with other members and fellow players.
SE: Cool communities. You’ve also developed some great add-ons, tell us about those!
Kapil: SocialEngine comes with a flexible architecture for developing plugins; you’re only limited by your creativity. In addition to proprietary plugins we’ve developed for websites but are not at liberty to disclose, we have developed three add-ons that have received great responses from the community:
a) SMS plugin allows your members to send SMS to their contacts directly from SocialEngine’s interface. It also maintains SMS history. Multiple SMS gateways – Clickatell, BulkSMS, SMSLive247, mVaayoo,sms.sluzba.cz, and Routesms are supported, and more are being added. Community owners can buy SMS packages from one of the above gateways and monetize it by creating and selling SMS packages to their members. The plugin supports SocialEngine standard payment gateways i.e. Paypal and 2Checkout.
b) The Events Calendar for SE enables community users to quickly view their events in a monthly grid view. It allows user to quickly view the details of the event. Multiple events on the same date can be displayed. Members can navigate events by month quickly because of AJAX functionality. For a better user experience, the plugin keeps the month’s events in cache so that it displays events extra fast.
c) Pinterest plugin allows your users to post easily from SocialEngine to their Pinterest board.
SE: What should SocialEngine users consider when customizing their communities?
Kapil: Our philosophy for developing the best communities is simple. Think hard on features that are most important for your users, and focus on those features when customizing instead of having too many features that are rarely used. Keep the theme simple and light weight. Optimize performance to have the best user experience. And finally, test your website on mobile devices and tablets. Members are most likely to use communities in their leisure time.
SE: We’ve announced our next software version. As a developer, what are your thoughts on SocialEngine 5?
Kapil: SocialEngine 5 addresses many of the issues we’ve experienced with SE4 development. First, it addresses the issue of multiple third-party plugins not playing well with each other. We’ve had a constant demand from our customers to help them resolve such issues, and sometimes the third party supplying the plugin is not easily available to sort out the issues. Secondly, SE5 has a data API that will enable other applications to push and pull data easily to your SE website. There are so many interesting applications that can be combined with community websites. Third, SE5 allows you to push and pull content from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Disqus which was a long felt need and is why we developed our Pinterest plugin for SE4. Last but not least, SE5 takes away your hosting and installation pain and helps you start a community real quick.
SocialEngine: How do you anticipate developing for SE5? Are you excited for the API?
Kapil: We feel that developing for SE5 is going to be even more fun as it will become easier to customize and maintain. SE5 themes will be easier to customize, and even better, SE5 upgrades will not break the customizations. So we can focus on building interesting features while not worrying about upgrades to the platform. One thing that we need to study is how to make existing plugins compatible with SE5. We are very excited about the API. While working with several customers, we have come across the need to integrate SocialEngine with other applications like WuFoo, Chargely, Hubspot and many more. The data API will allow us to push data easily from SE to third party applications. Today, this has to be done by writing a lot of custom code that becomes expensive for customers.
SocialEngine: In your experience with SocialEngine development, do you feel that SE5 and SE4 are both valuable solutions for community building?
Kapil: Absolutely! SocialEngine allows you to build a community with a fraction of the cost you would incur if you built it from scratch. SE4 has many built-in features like profiles, activity stream, photos music & videos sharing, content management features, advertising, blogs and discussions. It also supports advertising and paid subscriptions out of the box, which is a fantastic feature for monetizing your community. Add in the professional support, active community and the large number of third-party add-ons, themes and customization services, and you will see the power of this mature ecosystem. With SE5, this platform becomes even more valuable because of the data API that is being provided for integration with other applications. So just like you can integrate with Facebook and Twitter today, you will be able to integrate other applications with the data in your SE5 website. In addition, SE5 doesn’t need to be hosted yourself which makes it even easier to start a community.
SocialEngine: Any new developments underwraps? What can the community expect from iPragmatech during these next few months?
Kapil: Sure! We are almost done with a full blown Notification Add-On for SocialEngine, which will enable notifications for various community events using push notifications to your smartphone device (iOS, Android & Windows mobile), SMS or email. In the next few months, we will also be developing some tools that will make it easier to develop mobile clients for your existing SocialEngine community. We also have plans for a proof of concept that will demonstrate how to build internal-facing company intranets using the power of SocialEngine. We are also excited to be working on SE5, and figuring out the best migration paths for customers who want to upgrade from SE4 like we have been doing for earlier versions of SE.
SocialEngine: Any last words for SocialEngine community owners?
Kapil: We shall be offering free performance analysis reports for SocialEngine communities deployed on dedicated servers. Also, we’re offering a 20% discount on the total cost of performance optimization until September 15, 2012!
SocialEngine: Thanks, iPragmatech!