in Themes & Tools

Using WordPress P2 for group live chat (or even reader forums)

View the P2 theme demoIn my first new media internship—after three newspaper internships—it hit me that while sitting at my desk alone, there was still something different about the “newsroom” atmosphere. It was group chat.

Benefits of group live chat

Group chat has earned the appreciation of many businesses because it empowers instant collaboration, cuts down on internal e-mail traffic and fits with the company culture. Plus, it can make work a lot of fun. I think it’s safe to say newsrooms would benefit from a live forum on their intranet (“What’s AP style for ‘website’ again?”) and that group chat fits into the team efforts and culture of newsrooms especially (think Overheard in the Newsroom). Reporters could even use it to file stories from the field with editors providing live feedback.

But none of the newsrooms I’ve been in—save the one I ran—ever used group chat, let alone a one-on-one chat client like Google Talk or AIM.

It could be that cost is a prohibiting factor for group chat, given the shape of newsroom budgets these days. Group chat clients like Basecamp lack customization and could get pretty expensive for a large newsroom, especially if some archaic manager has to be convinced of its worth. That’s where Automattic’s WordPress-driven P2 theme comes in.

Setting up a WordPress install and then selecting the P2 theme could have group chat up and running with a number of users in less than 10 minutes (for accuracy’s sake, I tried and succeeded).

How to get started collaborating

  • Install WordPress on your hosting account at a subdomain of your intranet or even live website, so that your URL is something like http://your-domain.com/chat.
  • Upload P2 theme or install via WordPress’ “add new” theme feature.
  • Create registered user accounts (author-level permissions will do) for newsroom members.
  • If you want to hide the live conversations from the rest of the world, install a plugin like Private WP suite, which will only let registered users access P2. Alternatively, using cPanel’s Password Protect Directories feature, users could log in to the subdomain first (and then just have their browser save that password for the future) and then log in to their P2 account.
  • Other plugins or widgets could add additional functionality, like staff polls, Twitter account feeds and updating and so forth.
  • If you’re really feeling ambitious, customize P2’s simple stylesheet or add in additional functions.

It’s that simple, and as Matt Mullenweg says it did for Automattic, P2 could totally change your newsroom or office environment.

Creating a public forum

What’s more, with additional customization like skinning it with an existing news site’s stylesheet, it could be used as a live chat thread between readers and journalists or public figures. Such chats are being used effectively by publications like The Seattle Times as a public service, a reader loyalty builder and a neat opportunity for citizen journalism. A news organization main site powered by WordPress could closely integrate with a customized and styled version of P2, using the WordPress MU to control multiple subdomains and domains.

Get P2

You can download P2 here. Not convinced? You can demo P2 or watch this video: