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?)
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.
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.”
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:
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