Creating Custom WordPress Websites (and Site Networks) for Event Management

Over the past several years, I have used WordPress and my RSVPMaker plugin to create a series of membership-based websites that revolve around signing up to attend events or in some cases fill specific volunteer roles at events (range safety officer at a rifle range, speakers and evaluators for Toastmasters clubs).

This is a progress report on my most ambitious project to date in this category, shared partly so anyone trying to create something similar will consider hiring me as a consultant. But I’ll also share some tips I hope will be useful to other developers.

As part of my WordPress for Toastmasters project, I took advantage of the multisite support in the WordPress software to allow officers in these public speaking sites to create a free website as a subdomain of toastmost.org (mysite.toastmost.org, yoursite.toastmost.org, etc.). Although the software for managing meeting agendas is available as open source, many leaders in Toastmasters would like to take advantage of the software without being responsible for setting up an independent website and installing WordPress plugins.

Although WordPress was originally created for bloggers, it can be extended with plugins to add functionality such as event management. It also includes a fairly sophisticated user security system (occasionally hacked but quickly patched) including necessary functions like a process for users to reset their passwords when they forget them. I use this as the basis for a membership website in which you must be logged in to view members-only content and certain functions are reserved for site editors or administrators. Most of these functions are well documented on the WordPress developer reference site. For example, the function is_user_logged_in() tells me if a website visitor has authenticated as a user. For WordPress multisite, I need is_user_member_of_blog() to determine if the user is not only logged in but a member of the blog currently being displayed.

If the documentation doesn’t answer all your questions about how a function works, you can download the source code from wordpress.org and go spelunking through functions until you get a better idea of what exactly is going on. I’ve had to do that occasionally for functions in both WordPress and popular add-ons like BuddyPress (for example, to figure out why BuddyPress seemed to behave differently in a multisite environment). Meanwhile, I’m working on fleshing out RSVPMaker’s own developer documentation (see: Developer Functions for Extending RSVPMaker).

WordPress provides a default user interface for allowing members to register for an account and create a site on a multisite network. In my case, this was something else I needed to customize, so each new site would be initialized with a theme reflecting the branding and trademark disclaimers required by Toastmasters International, along with some starter text for a home page and starter templates for meeting events.

A network of WordPress multisite events websites.

In addition, before they can register as users and create a site, I require them to sign up for the MailChimp mailing list for the project. RSVPMaker includes an API integration with MailChimp, including the ability to verify that an email address is subscribed to a mailing list. So I have them sign up for the list used for project announcements and include instructions for creating a site as part of the confirmation message. The link they follow to the signup form includes their email address as a query parameter. Before displaying the signup form for creating an account, I use the API to verify their subscription.

Requiring that they sign up for the MailChimp mailing list also serves to filter out hackers and spammers, who typically won’t go to the trouble of signing up for the email list and verifying their subscription with MailChimp. Why bother, when there are so many easier targets on the web?

There are other, more general purpose membership management plugins available, but the great glory of creating something custom is it can be exactly what you want and need.

If you would like help creating custom events websites, I am available as a consultant. Drop me a note at david@rsvpmaker.com.