Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
July 19, 200710:54 PM

Create Your Own Social Network With Ning

I always get a kick out of examining what works (and what doesn't work) when it comes to the Digital Marketing landscape. Have you ever taken a second to evaluate why Friendster got scooped by MySpace and how Facebook is grabbing people from that scene now? What makes one online social network work while others fail? I think about this stuff a lot (that's how I roll).

Many moons back (I'd say just under a year), I was introduced to Ning. Ning allows anybody (for free) to create their own independent online social network. Unlike Facebook where you create your own personal file or group within the Facebook environment, Ning gives the individual the power to design and execute a centralized online community without being boxed into a larger social network structure. Think Blogger but for online social networks.

Here's how Ning describes what they do:

"From eBay sellers in Upstate New York to bead store owners in Maine, aspiring hip hop artists in New Jersey, pop culture junkies in New York City, college professors in Germany, young deviant artists in North Carolina, and even a few big media companies in LA, with Ning anyone can create the perfect social network for them... When we started, we wanted to enable a diversity of social networks the same way the web browser enabled millions of different websites."

The big question (and I hope you're asking this) is how is this not the biggest, hottest and most used platform on the Internet? Why would anyone want the constraints of a Facebook profile and be limited to only having access to other Facebook members for their online social network?

There's nothing inherently obvious about why Ning is not out-pacing Facebook (although, we could argue that they need to beef up their marketing and PR for more mass attention). After having played with Ning and being deeply engaged by most of the other online social networks, I've come to the realization that giving such openness and freedom might be too much for the mass population. That giving people the full flexibility to build, deploy and grow their own online social network might be way scarier than filling out a personal profile and uploading a picture of oneself to Facebook.

Bottom line: I think Ning is on to something pretty big and I'm more than little concerned that they might just be a little too early for everybody to realize it.

Whether it's for myself or Twist Image clients, I'm dedicating some time and resources to leaning more about Ning.

Our good friend, Chris Brogan, has set up an online social network via Ning that is worth checking out here: Grasshoppers.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Peter A. Mello
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch;

    Ning is a great tool. I recently created 2 networks.

    One is private for a a group that participated in a leadership development program I participated in at Harvard's Kennedy School of Govt. It allows us to stay in touch and continue the learning we started in Boston. Participants are scattered al around the world. I incorporated a Meebo Chatroom. Nearly all program participants have registered and a good number use it pretty frequently.

    The other one is called The Tabor Boy Project (www.taborboy.org) and is open to the public. It's a collaborative stoytelling project focused on a tall ship that I sailed during my high school years. Some of the photos and old news clippings that have been posted are pretty amazing. Check it out.

    I am no techie so thankfully Ning is easy to use and my experience with customer service has been phenomenal.

    Listen to SPOS regularly. Thanks for sharing!

    Fair Winds, Peter

    Reply
  • I've been on Ning for a while - financialaid.ning.com - as it has a LOT of promise. I'll have to revisit it to see what new features they've added - when I joined, it was still a Craigslist clone.

    Reply
  • Hmm. Ning lets you put an audio player on the center of your group - and it accepts podcast RSS feeds as an input. I'm converted - the ability to have my podcast play on my group homepage? Done deal.

    Reply
  • Posted by Mitch Joel
    Mitch Joel

    I really will be spending more time with Ning.

    Ninja, if you give it a thumb's up, that's a huge endorsement as far as I am concerned.

    Peter, I will go and check out your groups.

    Reply
  • Posted by Gina Bianchini
    Mitch Joel

    Hey Mitch!

    Thanks for the kind words and mentioning Ning! We really appreciate it.

    As for why we're not as big as Facebook, we just got started :-) We've got a lot more planned and continue to roll out new features every 2 weeks.

    We can definitely continue to add additional PR and marketing efforts, but ultimately, we are hyper-focused on creating first and foremost a phenomenal product. That's where we are throwing all of our time, effort, and energy today.

    So, while we might take a bit longer to catch on (it's only been 4 1/2 months since we launched your own social network for anything), we want people to absolutely love it when they start using it.

    So far, so good :-)

    Thanks!

    Reply
  • Posted by Mario Parise
    Mitch Joel

    I think you're right on alot of points, Mitch, and I certainly intend to keep playing with Ning (this was the first I'd heard of it, and it shows a lot of promise). However, one theory I have about why this might not take off is the level of commitment required by group participants. In Facebook, it only takes one click to join a group and one click to sign off. Plus, groups are just one feature of Facebook, so I have other reasons to be there. Ning, on the other hand, is specifically geared towards the goal of creating and joining groups. It's less attractive to a newbie until they find groups they really want to join.

    With that said, it's still a great idea, and I'll be playing with it extensively to see what I can get out of the system.

    Reply
  • Posted by Mitch Joel
    Mitch Joel

    Thanks Gina - I'm not surprised to see that you are listening to the conversation. Please feel free to let us know when/what those new services are.

    Mario - spot-on. Thanks for putting into words what was in my brain ;) It is a bigger burden to develop your own social network then to just upload a profile. I think for some, that's fine and for others, they'll stick to letting the network owner sort out the traffic and growth.

    Reply
  • Posted by Chris Brogan...
    Mitch Joel

    I was going to mention just how responsive Gina at Ning can be, and here she's come over and introduced herself to your audience. I will say without reservation that Gina Bianchini is reason enough to make your network's home on Ning.

    When faced with the daunting task of moving over 900 members from another site to Ning, I lamented publicly in Twitter. Tim Shey (who has a successful Channel Frederator RAW network on Ning) pointed me to Gina, who offered me HER STAFF as a way of making the transition until such time as they add a feature to do bulk moves. HUMAN BODIES at my disposal?

    I'm sold.

    And thanks for the mention of Grasshoppers. Our network has a simple goal: to be helpful. Who doesn't want to be helpful?

    Thanks, Mitch. Salut.

    Reply
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