Ning Review: Building Your Own Social Network

Perhaps the most distinctive hallmark of the Internet era that has come to be known as Web 2.0 is the social networking site:  MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Digg, and a host of other catchy-named Web sites have sprung up to immense popularity on the strength of their addictiveness.  With demand high, social networking sites have sprung up all over the place:  it was only a matter of time before someone let you start making your own.

Enter Ning, the latest monosyllabic contribution to the feisty and social Web 2.0 world.  Ning isn’t a social network, it’s a network of social networks, and by signing up, you are given free reign to create one of your own (think yoursitehere.ning.com).  It’s certainly a clever idea and has real potential, but does it deliver the goods?  You’re about to find out.

How to Sign Up With Ning

Ning, like all other things Web 2.0, is simple, fairly easy-to-use, and has gigantic, boldly-colored buttons.  The attraction, however, is a little different from your Twitters and your Facebooks:  instead of looking to join up with a social network, you might actually be looking to start one.  And lest you get confused, there’s really only one place to go once you’ve taken a look at the main page.  (Note:  You can, of course, join other peoples’ Ning networks, but at this point, do you really care yet?)

ningfirst

Above: You can see the Web 2.0-ness by looking at how big the “Ning” is

Clicking “Sign Up” puts you on through to Ning’s registration page, which is actually just as simple – your name, e-mail, and password are all you need to get started.

Ning Signup Screen

That’s it.  A few clicks of the keyboard and you’re essentially signed up – and you’re all set to create your own social networking hub.

Before you start freaking out about how building your own social networking site will require outsourcing to Web developers, troublesome lawsuits after you make your first $5 million, and users complaining about your Users’ Rights list, you should know that the social networking site you actually build isn’t quite that sophisticated.  Sure, there’s a high level of customization possible, but it follows Ning’s template, limiting you to what Ning decides to provide.

And what does Ning provide?  Well, because you’re building off of a template, getting started is as easy as filling out two blank boxes.  I decided to dub my social network “Dan’s Social Network” in order to avoid any confusion as to whose social network I was building.  Ning supplies a pretty handy “yournamehere.ning.com” subdomain for you to get started, and if you want to get started now, you simply have to click “launch.”  I don’t know if they could make this any more simple, but if it was, I think it would just be called “N.”

Create Your Own Social Network

One benefit to the .ning.com domain name?  You can pair it up and form a word, ala del.icio.us.  You do have to supply at least six letters in order for your domain to be valid, but the “ning” can work with words like “run.ning” or “tan.ning” as long as you add words before them.

And that’s it.  It took me a whole five minutes to sign up and launch a social network on Ning, and you can do it even faster if you concentrate.  If you really want to, you can go register on Ning, set up a social networking site, and come back to read this article within a couple of minutes or so:

Create Your Own Social Network 2

How to Customize Your Ning Site

The social network I created is not exactly the most powerful one ever been built, and in fact I don’t really provide an incentive for you to join, but it is cool to have one.

Once you’ve created your social network, Ning allows you to customize it to your heart’s content – at least, within the confines of its template system.  What does the template include?

  • A wall of “latest activity,” ala Facebook, notifying your members what’s been going on in your social network
  • The ability to upload both photos and videos in tabs on the upper menu bar; what good is a social network if you can’t upload the pictures that you posed absurdly for because you knew they would end up on a social networking site?  You can also integrate these features with Flickr if you already have a large library of photos you want to simply move to your Ning site
  • A members list
  • Google Adsense on the right:  this one confused me.  After some research and help from Just Make Money Online, I found out that you have to pay a fee of $19.95 per month if you want to run your own ads on your social networking site.  Quite honestly, that seems perfectly fair if you’ve got a large one and plan on going somewhere with your Ning.  But if you plan on spending money on your social networking site, who’s to stop you from going out there with your own domain and creating one?
  • Like a WordPress blog, you’re free to choose from a number of templates for your Ning.  The great thing here?  You can go in and edit your CSS template by hand if you need to, giving you a high level of customization I didn’t anticipate.

ConclusioNing: How Does the Site Stack Up?

Overall, I found myself surprised by the ease-of-use and basic function of each social networking site you could create.  I was a little disappointed to see the AdSense on the right, but if you’ve got a need to create your own Web 2.0 Supergroup and don’t want to do it by spending a lot of money, Ning’s got you covered.

If you want to hear more about Ning, check out Ning chief Gina Bianchini talking about creating your own social network:

Also see examples of Ning social networking sites on the Ning Blog

Visit www.ning.com

Dan Kenitz

Dan Kenitz is a former professional Search Engine Optimization specialist and current freelance writer, commentator, and all-around entrepreneur.

10 comments

  1. amanda thomson

    Hello, im Amanda, I was just sat in a world of my own one day, clicking about on the spiritual sites to see if anything takes my fancy to read, until i saw something to click on saying create your own website, ive had so many wonderful ideas and didnt think i could ever manage to run a website, as im so slow at learning technical things on the computor, so anyways out of curiousity i clicked on to it, and was amazed at how easy it is, i got so carried away with things, and creating my page lol, also adding discussions etc, i forgot about one important thing, and this is… arrrgghhh… how the hec do i go about paying for this? how much will it be? whats going to happen now? anyhow i have tried to contact ning by email, but i have trouble when i go to send my message, as they wont accept an hotmail address lol… so i feel stuck in a rut and very worried, and not knowing how to pay them, i really want to keep this website, but also reading all the terms and conditions, i found it hard to understand everything, there was just so much information, that i got frightend and panicked, is there someone who can break things down a biy for me, and tell me what i need to do in order to keep my site running, i know im stupid and got carried away with things, but im really needing some help, and i will appreciate it if you can help me or put me in touch with someone who can.

    • Emory Rowland

      amanda, you could try watching some of the how to videos on youtube.

  2. paul

    sounds good this ning do! im gonna have a good dig around it and get back with some more comments! but i suppose ultimately its better to create your own, which is going to take you the best part of 2 years!

  3. Thanks for sharing this information. I was actually thinking about creating a ning, but then i read that you have to pay to put adsense on it. That has changed my mind completely

  4. Sto

    Ning. Hate it so much. I have a network on ning. I paid regularly. but then they have new plan&pricing. I refuse to accept that. then they shut down my network. which is ok. fine. My network is no longer active. but they still charging me for the old plan price.!! what the h***. Already send message to their admin. but no response. I have to go to the Bank to cut off the payments of my auto-Credit card Payment.

    I suggest DONT make any network on Ning platform. they have poor plan of revenue model that keep changing from time to time. This will affect the community you have been building and nurturing.

  5. henry gibson

    Picturesocial.com which is a member of the Ning network is a social group site which violates the rules of the Ning network. According to Ning there is suppose to be no nudity but nothing can be further from the truth. There are a couple of groups that specifically cater to a nude crowd. On these groups it appears that nearly anything goes. Women are seen fully nude, women are seen in the nude embraced, there are fully nude shots of women performing different kinds of activity which I hear is suppose to be artistic. This is a large group and I wonder how Ning polices its own groups. This Ning network does nothing and says nothing about what goes on in the picturesocial group. I have specifically remained anonymous as not to be kicked off the site as I have seen others ejected. It would be nice if Ning practiced enforcing its terms and conditions among its groups. I wanted to start a Ning group but I am concerned about its laxity in regards to enforcing it’s terms and conditions.

  6. Curtis

    I have 6 ning networks, been with them a long time. The customer service gets worse and worse. When they started charging for any network is when the support really got bad. They bill on networks even after you close the networks. The right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. They have a good business plan, but POOR execution. They will soon loose all my business because they only support me when I don’t need anything. No phone support, simple email support requests take days or weeks for responses, and if you try to have a back and forth conversation, each message is answered by someone different, making things almost impossible. Feels like some kids in a dorm room taking your money then making the support system unusable intentionally so you leave them alone.

  7. Irrelevant

    Ran a couple of truther sites on the Ning network… for about three years… pared it down last winter and finally threw in the towel mid October 2010.

    More money, no service.

    Access to files and content – disabled shortly after joining. Broadcast email – didn’t work. URL redirect – endless loop – that was fun. Ticket generation – worked sporadically. Member fleecing by other networks – worked great. Random, unannounced copyright removals – simply deleted. Then after paying for Pro, and getting naught but No,… I finally gave in.

    Advised members of shutdown, set the remaining network offline, requested deletion of account, DNS pointing to another server… and all was supposedly done. Til February 2011.

    Invoice magically appears, and some nutter (or programmer) decides to try processing the charges against the listed card (an empty pay per) 4 times over the course of two hours. A day passes as I attempt to resolve the matter – no phone number, no email address on the invoice, not sound business practice and certainly makes matters more difficult – what business doesn’t list a phone number on their invoices? The following morning, no less than 6 email notifications from the card co advising of repeated attempts to charge the card. Laughable.

    Still dealing with this matter – reared its ugly head again with yet another invoice issuance – downright silly. One might consider taking a closer look at why an inactive, unused, offline network is accruing such a large AR account which hasn’t been paid in months.

    Would tend to agree w/Curtis – take the money and provide poor support regardless of how much you pay a month – probably funding their college tuition. Try and leave? It’s like the mafia – once you’re in it, you’re in it for life.

    Been interesting watching the ‘devolution’ of Ning… a shame really – it once had quite the potential.

    If you’re looking at starting your own social website, check out open source platforms. Then you know your network is yours.

  8. Jordan Kittle

    I have a ning network and I am ashamed I didn’t do more research. The customer service is almost non-existent. Everything Curtis said is true: “I have 6 ning networks, been with them a long time. The customer service gets worse and worse. When they started charging for any network is when the support really got bad. They bill on networks even after you close the networks. The right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. They have a good business plan, but POOR execution. They will soon loose all my business because they only support me when I don’t need anything. No phone support, simple email support requests take days or weeks for responses, and if you try to have a back and forth conversation, each message is answered by someone different, making things almost impossible. Feels like some kids in a dorm room taking your money then making the support system unusable intentionally so you leave them alone. ” – Curtis I give Ning 1/5 stars, the one star simply for offering the service. The 2nd star is so far out of view I doubt they’ll ever earn it. I hate Ning more than any company I’ve ever done business with. The only reason I stay with them is so my members can continue to interact. Believe it or not, they are 100x worse than Dell customer support (if you’ve ever tried to deal with that, you know what I’m talking about). Dont’ ever do business with Ning. They are indeed “kids in a dorm room taking your money then making the support system unusable intentionally so you leave them alone.” I could never have said it better. Ning has a Better Business Bureau rating of F: http://sanjose.bbb.org/Business-Report/Ning-Inc-245024 They deserve worse.

  9. For those of you unhappy with Ning, try out our customized community platform builder (www.socialengine.net/). We have many features, including Google Adsense compatibility out of the box.

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