Houston: Making P2 and WordPress an Even Better Internal Social Network

WordPress is being challenged on all sides in its dominance as the most popular blog engine, but that doesn’t mean it’s lost relevance in today’s web. On the contrary, it’s still one of the best ways to put together a full-featured blog with contributors and comments, post revisions and plugins, and more. Plus, it’s rather capable beyond just being a blog — you can use WordPress to power your next store, save your notes, support your customers and more.

Or, you could use it to give your team its own internal social network. That’s why the Automattic team made the P2 theme, which changed how their team communicated so much that they have over 150 internal P2 installs that contain over 80% of their company communications. The only problem is that P2 is starting to look rather dated.

Leave it to the WooThemes team to redesign P2 with their new free Houston theme that makes P2 look and work nicer than ever before. It’s the P2 theme your team should be using to collaborate.


Houston, making P2 look much nicer.

Houston, making P2 look much nicer.

P2 essentially turns WordPress into a private Twitter or Facebook for your company. It’s a Yammer that you can run on your own. Just make a new WordPress blog, add the P2 theme, and then add your whole team to the blog. They’ll be able to post updates about what they’re doing right on the front-page of the site, just like you publish status updates on other social networks. It’s fast and simple.

Houston takes everything that’s great about P2, and modernizes it. The theme at first glance looks far nicer than P2’s boxy design, and it works everywhere you work with a fully responsive design. Just like P2, it’ll automatically load new posts as they’re added, but it manages to feel faster in doing so. Best of all, it’s added an option to mention other people in your posts with a simple @name, just like you’d use on Twitter or Facebook, making it feel even more like a polished social network.

Simple mentions, Houston-style

Simple mentions, Houston-style

It’s incredibly simple to use it — it’s just a P2 child theme, one you can install right from the WordPress theme directory. Obviously you won’t want to install it on a normal WordPress blog, but if you already have a P2 site you can install Houston and upgrade your experience in a click. Otherwise, just make a new blog and install Houston, and it’ll bring P2 along automatically.

There’s plenty of ways you can put Houston and P2 to use in your company. It’s not precisely a chat room, but if your team’s not all online at the same time, it might be a better option since it’s not time-sensitive. Otherwise, just giving your team a simple way to post what’s going on throughout the day or discuss stuff among the whole team is really nice — especially when all it costs you is a tiny bit of installation time and a free WordPress install that can likely run on a server you already have or perhaps a $5 DigitalOcean VPS.

Making Houston Even Better

Houston, everywhere (via the WooThemes blog)

Houston, everywhere (via the WooThemes blog)

Houston makes P2 pretty nice, but if you really take your internal microblogging serious, there’s quite a few great P2 plugins that can make it even better — and they all still work great with Houston. There’s Markdown for P2 which lets you format posts on your Houston P2 install with simple Markdown formatting, and P2 Likes to give your posts and comments built-in Facebook-style likes. There’s a ton more P2-specific plugins on the WordPress directory that can add everything from post by email to a check-in option to see who’s online. Then, of course, you can add on the Jetpack plugin to get WordPress hovercards with quick Gravatar-powered profile info, stats, mobile notifications, and more.

Then, of course, there’s a few settings you’ll want to tweak to keep things internal — make sure your site isn’t open for Google indexing, and install a plugin like Private Only to require login before people can see your site. Also, tweak your P2 settings to make sure any user on the site can post, to make it simpler for your to maintain. Once you’ve done that, you should have a pretty great P2 setup that looks and works nicer than ever with Houston.

Beyond P2

P2’s a great tool right now, but it eventually needs disrupted in the same way P2 itself disrupted the original Prolouge theme. That effort is underway Automattic, where they’re reinventing P2 as o2, a Backbone.js-powered plugin and theme that’ll turn P2-style collaboration into a network where multiple sites can work together via the Jetpack plugin. It’s still a work in progress, but you can learn more about it from its unveiling presentation or signup for more info at the o2 site.

For now, though, the Houston P2 child theme is the nicest way turn WordPress into your own private social network. If you’re already using P2 with your team, go install the child theme and try it out — you can’t lose anything, and odds are you’ll like it a lot more than the default P2 theme. And if you’ve been looking for a new team collaboration tool, and haven’t taken P2 for a spin yet, go spin up a new WordPress install and try it out with Houston. You’ll likely be pleasantly surprised how nicely it’ll work for your team.


A P2 child theme that makes the original internal social network WordPress theme an even nicer option for today's business, with a cleaner design and responsive layout