I’ve been having a lot of fun for the last week setting up the website for Zen at Heart as part of the Virtual Zen Retreat:
A Virtual Zen Retreat runs for 7 days. During this time you continue within your ordinary, daily life. But you learn to experience life in a new way! As you explore aspects of spirituality, you find more peace and joy within your life.
You’ll receive a daily email with readings, guidance, exercises, and encouragement. In addition, you can opt for daily Twitter reminders.
You can share your experiences with others in a private retreat forum. …
The next Virtual Zen Retreat is from 27 September to 04 October 2009 Survive and Thrive: How to Turn Anxiety into Inspiration.
My partner Deb and her Zen teacher Mary run the retreats. This is the third I think — maybe the fourth. Each time we run one we learn more about creating an online community.
We start with a simple WordPress blog. It’s simple both in content and in design, as is appropriate with Zen.
We have a few content Pages with background information, and each day of the Retreat Mary adds a Post with teachings. Sometimes that includes video or audio files.
Apart from a couple of Pages of general information, all Pages and Posts are visible only to those registered and logged in. This helps preserve the privacy of those engaged in discussing sometimes personal matters, and fosters the sense of community.
Also, of course, it keeps the spammers and trolls away.
Comments, Pings and Trackbacks are closed.
We use very few plugins: a couple for anti-spam and contact forms, one to handle video and audio, and 2 others I mention below.
Users on the blog automatically have access to the Forum, and it all happens with a single login.
BBPress is slightly trickier to customise than WordPress and doesn’t have so many thousands of plugins or themes available. Still, it works well for our purposes and seems to be improving with every update.
We open the blog and the forum a couple of days before the Retreat starts so that participants can log on, get familiar with the Retreat, say Hello, and ask for any tech support they may need.
Helpdesk is my job, and we always have people who aren’t sure about their password, or their avatar, or how to change something they’re not happy with, such as posting under the ‘wrong’ forum topic.
I’ve written up some Help Pages on the blog that answer common questions, and am available by email for individual support. Of course, others jump in under the Helpdesk topic on the Forum to answer questions too.
Wishlist handles the membership flow
Sometimes we need to sign up participants manually, but unlike earlier Retreats this time we have a great way to automatically register people.
Those who wish to make a donation before the Retreat do that via a Paypal button on the site. We also have a simple Registration page for those who prefer not to donate beforehand.
We use the Wishlist Member plugin to add both kinds of registrants to the blog automatically:
WishList Member is a powerful membership script that can turn any WordPress blog into a full blown membership site.
The best part is, it’s easy to use. Just unzip, upload and within minutes you can have your own membership site up and running.
Popular features include Total Content Protection, Sequential Content Delivery, Easy Member Management and much more.
This has been my first time using Wishlist and I’ve had some newbie problems. Their Helpdesk has been superb and their instructional videos are excellent though.
When someone makes a Paypal donation, or registers through the customised form, Wishlist automatically sets them up as a registered user of the site. With a single checkbox I’ve been able to set all new users to a Pending status that limits their access, so that we can keep out any ‘undesirables’.
Once I’ve done any relevant checks I apply an ‘Active’ status to the participants and they can engage fully with the blog and forum.
We’ve had one user so far with a very dubious sounding email address who will probably not be granted entry. That dubious address is similar to
hotXXXXfun@aol.com — an unlikely address for any serious Retreat participant.
Wishlist has a lot of features and power. I’ll write more about it in another post, but want to say right now that I would definitely use it on any other site where I’m expecting lots of registered users.
This Zen Virtual Retreat starts in a day or so. If you’re reading this soon after it was written there’s still time to sign up. Otherwise join the mailing list at Mary’s Goodlife Zen blog to be kept informed about future Retreats.