Connecting to Friends and Users
I hope you’re convinced how important friends are to a social network. Initially, you’ll have to manually invite your friends over to join. I say initially, because membership on a social network is viral. Once your friends are registered members of your network, they can also bring in their own friends.
This means that soon your friends would have invited their own friends as well. Chances are that you might not know these friends of your friends. So, Elgg not only allows you to invite friends from outside, but also connect with users already on the network.
Let’s understand these situations in real-life terms. You invite your friends over to a party with you at your new Star Trek themed club. That’s what you’ll do with Elgg, initially. So your friends like the place and next time around they bring in more friends from work. These friends of friends from work talk about your place with their friends and so on, until you’re hosting a bunch of people in the club that you haven’t ever met in your life. You overhear some people discussing Geordi La Forge, your favorite character from the show. You invite them over for drinks. That’s connecting with users already on the network. So let’s head on over to Elgg and invite some friends!
Inviting Friends to Join
There are two ways of inviting users to join your network. Either send them an email with a link to join the website, or let Elgg handle sending them emails.
If you send them emails, you can include a direct link to the registration page. This link is also on the front page of your network, which every visitor will see. It asks visitors to register an account if they like what’s on the network.
Let Elgg Handle Registration
This is the most popular method of inviting users to join the network. It’s accessible not only to you, but also to your friends once they’ve registered with the network. To allow Elgg to send emails on your behalf, you’ll have to be logged into Elgg.
Once you login, click on the Your Network button on the top navigation bar. This will take you to a page, which links to tools that’ll help you connect with others. The last link in this bar (Invite a Friend) does exactly what it says.
When you click on this link, it’ll explain to you some benefits of inviting friends over. The page has three fields;
- Their name: Enter the name of the friend you’re sending the invitation to.
- Their email address: Very important. This is the address to where the invitation is sent.
- An optional message: Elgg sends an email composed using a template. If you want to add a personal message to Elgg’s email, you can do so here.
In the email, which Elgg sends on behalf of the network’s administrator, that means you, it displays the optional message (if you’ve sent one), along with a link to the registration page. The invitation is valid for seven days, after which the registration link in the email isn’t valid. When your friends click on the registration form, it asks them to enter their:
- Name: This is your friend’s real name. When he arrives here by clicking the link in the email, this field already has the same name as the one in the email. Of course, your friend can choose to change it if he pleases.
- Username: The name your friend wants to use to log in to the network. Elgg automatically suggests one based on your friend’s real name.
- Password: The last two fields ask your friend to enter (and then re-enter to confirm) a password. This is used along with the username to authenticate him on the system.
Once your friends enter all the details and click on join, Elgg creates an account for them, logs them in, and dispatches a message to them containing the log in details for reference.
Build a Profile
The first thing a new user has to do on the network is to create his profile. If you haven’t yet built up a profile yourself, now is a good time. To recap, your profile is your digital self. By filling in a form, Elgg helps you define yourself in terms that’ll help other members find and connect to you. This is again where socializing using Elgg outscores socializing in real life. You can find people with similar tastes, likes, and dislikes, as soon as you enter the network. So let’s steam ahead and create a digital you.
The Various Profile Options
Once you are logged into your Elgg network, select the Your Profile option from the top navigation-bar. In the page that opens, click the first link, Edit this profile.
This opens up a form, divided into five tabs—Basic details, Location, Contact, Employment, and Education. Each tab helps you fill in details regarding that particular area. You don’t necessarily have to fill in each and every detail. And you definitely don’t have to fill them all in one go.
Each tab has a Save your profile button at the end. When you press this button, Elgg updates your profile instantaneously. You can fill in as much detail as you want, and keep coming back to edit your profile, and append new information.
Let’s look at the various tabs:
- Basic details: Although filling information in any tab is optional, I’d advise you to fill in all details in this tab. This will make it easy, for you to find others, and for others to find you. The tab basically asks you to introduce yourself, list your interests, your likes, your dislikes, your goals in life, and your main skills.
- Location: This tab requests information that’ll help members reach you physically. Fill in your street address, town, state, postal code, and country.
- Contact: Do you want members to contact you outside your Elgg network? This tab requests both physical as well as electronic means which members can use to get in touch with you. Physical details include your work, home, and mobile telephone number. Electronic details include your email address, your personal, and official websites. Elgg can also list information to help users connect to you on instant messenger. It supports ICQ, MSN, AIM, Skype, and Jabber.
- Employment: List your occupation, the industry, and company you work in, your job title, and description. Elgg also lets you list your career goals and suggests you do so to “let colleagues and potential employers know what you’d like to get out of your career.
- Education: Here you can specify your level of education, and which high school, university or college you attended, and the degree you hold.
As you can clearly see, Elgg’s profiling options are very diverse and detailed. Rather than serve the sole purpose of describing you to the visitors, the profile also helps you find new friends as well, as we’ll see later in this article.
What is FOAF?
While filling the profile, you must have noticed an Upload a FOAF file area down at the bottom of all tabs. FOAF or Friend of a Friend is a project (http://www.foaf-project.org/) to help create “machine-readable pages that describe people, the links between them, and the things they create, and do”.
The FOAF file includes lots of details about you, and if you have already created a FOAF profile, Elgg can use that to pick out information describing you from in there. You can modify the information once it’s imported into Elgg, if you feel the need to do so.
The FOAF-a-Matic tool (http://www.ldodds.com/foaf/foaf-a-matic.en.html) is a simple Web-based program you can use to create a FOAF profile.
A Face for Your Profile
Once you have created your digital self, why not give it a face as well. The default Elgg picture with a question mark doesn’t look like you! To upload your picture, head over to Your Profile and select the Change site picture link. From this page, click Browse to find and select the picture on your computer. Put in an optional description, and then choose to make it your default icon. When you click the Upload new icon button, Elgg will upload the picture. Once the upload completes, Elgg will display the picture. Click the Save button to replace Elgg’s default icon with this picture.
Elgg will automatically resize your picture to fit into its small area. You should use a close-up of yourself, otherwise the picture will lose clarity when resizing. If you don’t like the picture when it appears on the website, or you want to replace it with a new one, simply tick the Delete check-box associated with the picture you don’t like. When you click Save, Elgg will revert to the default question-mark guy.