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The Social Networking Script of Choice Part 2

February 7, 2008

This is part two of a two part blog post detailing the platform we chose to use in our social networking site. Previously, I outlined the reasons why we chose the Boonex Dolphin script to be the foundation of our social network. Now we will look at some of the frustrations in using the Dolphin platform.
Any good social networking site must get a few things right to have any chance of succeeding in today’s competitive environment. It needs to be useful for members, it needs to be easy to use, it needs to have good performance, and it should look decent. Unfortunately, Dolphin isn’t a total success in any of these requirements as we will see as we go through the features. While I can’t say it’s a total failure, there’s a lot of room for improvement.
People join a social network to connect to other people on-line. A good social network fosters this by giving people the tools needed to make such connections. For instance, profile comments are a popular way people communicate with each other. Dolphin’s profile comments, while decent, has a few frustrating aspects to it. One, it orders it by latest comments at the end. That means if users want to see the newest comment, they must scroll all the way to the bottom. Myspace puts the newest comments at the top. Two, currently there is no notification available when a user comments on another user’s profile. Three, users are not allowed to restrict who can comment on their profile. There should be a feature to only allow comments by friends. There are more frustrations in this feature, but we get the idea.
Dolphin’s other big avenue of communication is the blog system. If anything could be said about this, it’s that it is a basic blog system. Users can create blog category, add blog entries, and other users can add comments. Compared to a system like WordPress, Dolphin’s blog system is lacking. Certainly, it’s not reasonable to ask for it to compete with the top stand-alone system available, but Boonex would better serve the community by adding just a few more features. Why not allow a blog post to be in multiple categories? A basic blog-roll or at least a link to the user’s friend’s blogs would be nice. The tags system doesn’t work right because the tags are separated by spaces. So the tag “New York” becomes “New” and “York” which doesn’t capture the right sentiment. The blogs do not use friendly urls. We could go on. The Dolphin blog does what it needs to do and not much more.
Most social networks include a forum or message board and Dolphin includes a forum system written by Boonex called Orca. Sadly, this is one of the least usable and poorly implemented forum systems around. It uses AJAX in a way that frustrates users. The back button, for instance, sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Often the layout of the forum is broken perhaps due to not making proper consideration of the different browsers. I’ve had situations in which I clicked on a forum folder or topic and it didn’t go anywhere. the forum itself is very basic, lacking many features found in even basic forums such as phpBB 2. Additionally, it uses a lot of resources for the basic things it does. In fact, the forum system is so poor, there are efforts by third parties to remove it entirely. Overall, the Orca forum is the poorest aspect of Dolphin.
Many social networks today allow users to upload photos, videos, and music. Dolphin allows all of these features using a suite of Flash applications called Ray. As is typical with other Boonex products, Ray has many of the features we want in a media manager application, but it falls short on execution. The stability of the applications are sporadic. Sometimes files would load and sometimes they would not load. On a server I tested, a music file was properly uploaded by it played back at twice as fast as it should have played making the singer sound like a chipmunk. The video files are often not compressed optimally. Unfortunately, there is no way to categorize music and videos and while the uploaded content can be rated, it can only be done anonymously and not by members. Again, many frustrating aspect to what could be a good media management system.
Dolphin uses a CSS based template system that allows modifications to the color scheme and some layout formatting. But one of the big problems with the system is that a lot of the templating or html code is mixed with the functional code. That means there are sections in which the html code cannot be modified unless the core php files are touched. Boonex did not do a very good job of separating the presentation from the core logic.
There are a couple of additional complaints about Dolphin. One is that it seems to use a lot of resources and users have complained of slow performance even when there are not many on-line at the same time. A second complaint is that the permissions system and visibility options are poorly planned or executed. There’s no way to for users to hide profiles from unwanted visitors. And when a profile is suspended, it still shows up in several places. Dolphin 6.0x is full of little bugs like this and it is therefore why we continue to put “BETA” on our site. Until Boonex fixes many of these issues, it will really limit the success of any website using the Dolphin platform. The script does have many features people want in a social network, but it’s only about 70-80% of where it needs to be to be a successful solution. Hopefully, Boonex continues to work at it and to focus on the right places for improvements. Hopefully, instead of trying to add more features in future releases, they will concentrate on making the features they currently have work well. If and when they do that, I would finally be able to give an unequivocal recommendation for the Dolphin product. Until then, I would say Dolphin is a decent social networking script, but be ready for some frustration if you choose to use it now.

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3 comments

  1. I agree to the most part, I would also add that the flash side of things, in particular Ray, means modification of the layout cannot be done without the flash source files, and this also means someone with flash skills themselves, where as a css based system would have been far better. I have been working on widening my site to 900 from the 770 it is and its a royal pain, there are so many css files, thank god for firefox, thats all I can say

    Otherwise, my users love the webcam chat room, thedownloadable gadget that lets you chat with members without having a browser open, the mail system needs work, blog, basic as you say, forum is really useless, but from what I have read integration of phpbb is difficult at best, and its also unfortunate that to remove the advertising on the ray itesm is$39 for each item, which makes it expensive for what I thought was open source.


  2. well i been planing to make a social network website on small budject and i found dolphin would do my job but
    closely studying it more i have found many problems and i am not a php expert but i can say a user should be abel to change the layout of his page with some html code somthing like myspace
    also i am not satisfied with forms and the player of videos i wish those two can be changed

    i dont know how much it would cost to integrate a phpbb form script on to dolphin form script it is cheap i would like to do that with help of people

    and please send me more advises i would come back here agian and sir please post more about dolphin and ur post is so much usefull to me

    hope to hear from you sir


  3. Dolphin has a very promising looking version 7 in the works that answers many of the issues above. You might want to take a look at it http://www.demozzz.com/dolphin7a/



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