Elgg is a social networking framework. It provides the necessary functionality to allow you to run your own social networking site, whether publicly (like Facebook) or internally on a networked intranet (like Microsoft Sharepoint).
Elgg is an open source product. Not all open source products are free to download, but Elgg is. That means, in its simplest form, Elgg costs nothing at all. This does not mean it's public domain: Elgg is released under the GNU Public License v2, which means the source code is licensed to you (e.g. you can create your own social network and earn money from ads, but you can't............help me please.........). With any software, it's always a good idea to read the license.
To run Elgg, you need to install it in a web server, but if you are a real beginner, you may find a hosting provider that can easily and cheaply do it for you! Search on Google or take a look here! (If you aren't new at these things you can find more detailed installation requirements over here, the installation guidelines and a list of Features).
A certain amount of technical knowledge will make you able to quickly customize your website, but don't worry if you have NO programming skills! We are creating this guide for you!
A panoramic view of Elgg - Demo website - User-side/Admin-side.
Most of the end user functionality in Elgg comes from plugins, that's why we provide the installation with some of them pre-loaded, which are listed below. In addition to them you can find a list of other available plugins over at elgg.org.
Take in mind that Elgg, as many other CMS, has two "operating sides" in which the administrator has to work: the User-side (that's what all the members are going to see and take part of), and the Admin-side (all it's hidden and works on the backstage).
Let's begin with the User-side.
Maybe you tried other CMS and before to install it (later we'll talk about how to do it) you would like to know if Elgg can fit your needs: we are going to give you a picture of the full Elgg bundle. Here's the demo site running a standard installation of Elgg.
The first page you face with is the front page, where you find the log-in/register form. Once logged in you are redirected to the main page or activity page that shows you all the members' activities: you can filter them through the tabs All, Friends and Mine. It is more a notification page than a content page.
This framework is more an actions-and-interactions-among-members "provider" (like Facebook), than a content from admin "displayer" (like Wordpress). It is about members creating content rather than administrators publishing content. You have to look at the website you've just installed with the Member's eyes, not with the Admin's eyes. To extremize the concept: Elgg is not to show the people something, but to let them interact. All you see in the menu (Blogs, Groups, Files, Bookmarks, Members, Pages) are things that all the members can create and share with other members. You don't have to look for static pages or a menu linking to the classical "Home", "About us", "Contacts", "Mission", "Products", or so. If you (admin-site creator) want to create new static pages for all the members you can't use the built-in "pages" section (in the user-side menu), because it is a collection of pages created by members and are not parts of the website structure. For those things you'll have to find extra plugins.
The components of your menu reflect the plugins pre-loaded functionalities, so be sure they are all activated: Activity, Friends, Groups, Members, Blogs, Pages, Files, Bookmarks, The Wire. Other User-side funcionalities are: Avatar, Profile, Dashboard, Message board, Private messaging. Anyway, admins are able to turn plugins on/off to get the functionality that they want: just because we distribute Elgg with a set of plugins doesn't mean that you should use all of them!
If we cross to the Admin-side... Well... the Admin-side is very intuitive, it doesn't need so many considerations. If you spend some minutes browsing through it you will learn very quickly. Maybe we should spend some words about the "Flush the caches" and "Upgrade" buttons......help me here.......
A few suggestions to get started!
Now if you want to learn how to fully customize your Elgg site, you'll need to jump into a deeper level of knowledge: the structure, the code, the core, the pugins... the development.