WordPress Multisite: What to Consider when Getting Started

WordPress Multisite (WPMS) is well known for being a platform that creates both opportunity and complexity at the same time. While there is a lot that WPMS allows you to do in terms of site management, community, and collaboration, not all of these functionalities are built into the platform by default in the most intuitive ways. 

Before diving into ways that you can build out your WPMS, we recommend reading through the following guide: What is WordPress Multisite?

Depending on what you're hoping to accomplish with your multisite, we have some suggestions and considerations to get you started.

Defining your focus: WPMS "Flavors"

WPMS master admin, Tom Woodward, refers to the different base installations of WPMS as "flavors" to illustrate how each option can change and/or optimize your multisite in a specific way.

Before choosing your WPMS flavor, you'll want to decide what focus you'd like your network to have. Do you simply want to be able to provide members of your organization with WordPress sites that exist on their own islands? Or, would you like to see some interaction? Should these sites be academic/professional, or personal to the user? The answers to these questions should give you a sense of what you're looking for from your WPMS instance.

Focus: social networking

If you'd like to see some interaction between the users on your network as they work on and develop their individual sites, you'll probably want your installation to have specific features that support this focus.

BuddyPress

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Perhaps the most popular social network software available to WordPress users, BuddyPress allows your users to create profiles, direct message one another, create and interact with groups, all right in your WPMS.

Focus: teaching and learning

For those who want to support teaching and learning in public— i.e. not behind a formal LMS— you may be interested in a flavor of WPMS that encourages some social network functionality, but with a focus on academics.

Commons in a Box (OpenLab)

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Developed by the folks at CUNY, Commons in a Box (CBOX) is built on top of BuddyPress to create an academic-flavored social network within WPMS. The latest even more LMS-inspired version of CBOX, OpenLab, comes with groups like Courses, Clubs, Portfolios, and more.

 

Questions to ask: WPMS Logistics

Here are a few additional things to consider when setting up your WPMS:

Scale

How big do you expect your multisite to get? How will you manage growth? Scale is incredibly important to start thinking about from the get-go. While you may never have thousands of sites on your WPMS network, you won't regret implementing thoughtful growth management techniques.

  1. See our guide on Helpful plugins for WPMS Management for a list of plugins that can help you get a handle on what's happening within your network. This is especially important for large and/or growing networks.
  2. Determine the size of your team. You may be comfortable with a one-person operation while your WPMS has 10-15 sites, but what about when you get up to over 50? This could be a good opportunity to bring in student helpers to assist with some aspects of management. Consider how issues will be triaged to help you determine how much training is necessary. Does every team member need to understand all aspects of WPMS? Or, could you work out an escalated support structure?
  3. Consider how you will keep your network secure and updated as it grows. You'll want to monitor things like login attempts, plugin/theme installations, and your error logs to stay ahead of attacks.
  4. Make sure you've got the proper hosting home as your WPMS instance begins to scale. Keep in mind that a very small WPMS with little to no traffic will have different hosting needs compared to a WPMS with hundreds of sites, growing traffic, simultaneous active users, and larger storage quotas. You can always reach out to Reclaim Hosting Support and we can help diagnose your WPMS instance to make sure it is running in the proper environment.  

Subfolders vs Subdomains

Whether or not you choose to set your network up on subfolders or subdomains is something you'll want to decide up front, as it can be tricky to reverse.

You can learn more about what subfolders and subdomains are as well as the differences between them in the following guide: Subdomains and Subfolders

Note that if your WPMS is set up in a subfolder in your hosting account with Reclaim (e.g. myaccount.com/wordpressmultisite rather than wordpressmultisite.myaccount.com), you won't be able to choose subdomains at this stage, only subfolders (e.g. myaccount.com/wordpressmultisite/my-site).

While you are required to choose between subfolder and subdomains for your WPMS network, that's not to say that your users are then forced to use either as their actual domain. The subdomain/subfolder option is more for file management and organization within your WPMS network, so it is possible for users to register their own top level domain name and map it to their subsite within WPMS. You can read about how to do this in our guide, Mapping An External Domain to a WordPress Multisite Subsite.

Network Settings

There are a number of network settings you can adjust to accommodate your WPMS goals. Some of the most significant settings fall under the following three categories:

Managing registrations

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New Registrations: By default, you have four options for new registrations. You will need to think through how you’ll handle spam if you open up registration and don’t limit email registrations.

  1. Registration disabled
  2. User accounts may be registered
  3. Logged in users may register new sites
  4. Both sites and user accounts can be registered

Limited Email Registrations: Breathe a little easier about who can register on your site by requiring each new user to have an email address belonging to your institution. You can set this restriction easily, and you can choose however many email domains to allow as you'd like. This can also be defined if you choose to have Single Sign-On integrated as well. 

Managing new site creation

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By customizing New Site Settings you're able to make the new site creation process unique to your network. Here you can do things like customize the Welcome Email as well as any default content that a user sees. Think about what kind of impression you want your community to have on its contributors here.

Managing uploads

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Related to the issue of scale, properly managing uploads will be essential to making sure your network doesn't get bogged down by unnecessarily large files. You can manage things like the max size of files uploaded from your PHP settings as well as the file types. For example, if you have limited space, you can remove video file types from the whitelist so that no one can even upload that format.

These tips and tricks should help you set you and your WordPress Multisite up for success!

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