A current project that I am looking in to is an update for an existing community site that I run. The site is based on the Geeklog platform and is a typical community site with forums, photo galleries, blogs etc. The problem that I have found with Geeklog, is that the plugins are not really actively maintained. Geeklog used to have a very active community, but a period of stagnation saw many of the contributors leave for other platforms.
I have updated the site a few times in the past, and each time I have ended up having to re-write the integration scripts for things such as the gallery, to be able to update them to the latest versions.
So a recent discussion with the other guys involved in the site has spurned me to take a look into alternatives.
Joomla has always been a candidate for migration, it's perfectly suited to running a site migrated from Geeklog, and has enough pugins already available to the community to be able to replicate our existing featureset. The only real problem, is that there are no migration tools, so this will have to be a custom migration job. Not really an issue, just a little more work.
So with the migration to Joomla, I have also been taking a more in depth look at JomSocial, the social networking plugin for Joomla.
JomSocial is pretty easy to install. You basically need to have an already set up Joomla, and then JomSocial is installed the same way that you would install a normal Joomla module or plugin - via the admin panel. There are some compatibility checks and then the plugin automatically installs. It is exactly how you would expect an installer to work.
With the installation finished - you are basically up and running - there is no more to do other than add in some additional plugins or applications for your members.
JomSocial vs Boonex Dolphin - Out of the box
For me, the obvious comparisons have to be made. I am both a Joomla user and also a Dolphin user, I have live sites running on each platform, so to compare the two products is naturally an automatic thing.
First off the installation for Joomla / JomSocial is a two fold process, the core Joomla installation has to be up and running before JomSocial can be installed, so there is an extra process to take care of here, but the installation process is actually very very simple - there are no directory permissions to play about with, or cron jobs to set up. and no additional modules to set up afterwards. The installation is pretty much automatic.
Feature-wise, JomSocial has instant appeal. It has a well functioning 'wall' - something that the Boonex product lacks, photo and video support is integrated into the base version as 'applications' available to users, as are events and groups. Not only this - but it works out of the box without any issues.
To add additional functionality JomSocial requires additional modules the same as Dolphin does for all it's additional functionality, but this is where JomSocial starts to shine. Not only does JomSocial have it's own dedicated extensions, but it can also use existing Joomla plugins and modules, meaning that there is already a massive resource pool for extending the functionality of the product. Whats better is that most of the extensions available to Joomla / JomSocial are free.
The available Joomla and JomSocial extension library takes the Joomla / JomSocial platform way past Dolphin in terms of extendability, and whats more, being a stable and well supported product, many of these extensions have been proven and tested over a much longer period than the relatively younger (and arguably - still in beta stage) Dolphin product.
Stability is a massive issue for Dolphin, with many bug fixes causing other issues with subsequent releases, and as Dolphin has never reached a stable release, looks like it will always be an issue.
Joomla on the other hand, originally based on legacy code from it's Mambo days, has continued to enjoy a stable and well supported platform. The support community are exactly as you would expect from an open source product.
No Ajax Masturbation
The overall layout and appearance of the JomSocial package is excellent, and includes a 'fakebook' template, which will please many looking to emulate the popular website. The implementation of Ajax has been carried out in a very sympathetic nature, and has only been used to enhance the user experience, rather than beat the user into frustration by it's overuse, as appears to be the case with Dolphin. This is summed up perfectly in a quote from someone over at the Unity forums, where Dolphin was described as 'Ajax masturbation'.
No Smoke and mirrors
Boonex is also very good at selling Dolphin. It has various videos made about it, support is a purchased commodity, extending it's functionality will generally involve a financial investment, the whole package seems to be one that it professional and well put together, but underneath all of this is a product that still has a massive bug list, and is actually very poorly supported.
JomSocial on the other hand, is not promotod quite as fanatically, it's generally left to promote itself, which it does very well. This can be seen in the awards that it has won, and also in the clientele that it attracts. The support is excellent and there is none of the ego present within the Dolphin support community.
The coding standards followed and the coding structure adopted is much better presented within Joomla than within Dolphin, making it much easier to support and modify than it's counterpart. There is no code spaghetti and learning to maintain and modify your site is a much easier and less daunting experience.
Just a nice stable extensible product
In summary, I think that JomSocial is easily a match for Dolphin, and from a coders perspective is much better product.
It is better supported, and has many more extensions, most of which are freely available, not only this, but perhaps the most important factor is that it is a stable platform that also supports legacy versions - something that Boonex have never achieved with Dolphin.
Joomla / JomSocial also have a massive developer network, whereas Boonex only have three or four active developers - who share their time between coding for Dolphin and writing premium extensions to sell for the Dolphin platform. In this respect, the Joomla / JomSocial platform has much better vendor support.
The community support is also much better, for both Joomla and JomSocial.
At the end of the day the choice is yours. I have used Dolphin for two community sites now, and whilst it can be made to be a capable product, this is not without a lot of work. JomSocial / Joomla is pretty good out of the box, and is a much better supported product, with a wider variety of extensions. My investigation into using JomSocial for the site update I mentioned at the beginning of the post has been a very positive one, and one that will likely result in my adoption of it for the update.
Of course - YMMV