This is a bit of a new one for me. The Ning is a site that sells the tools to make niche social networks. Anyone can buy it, set up their own social network, pick the topics and curate the community to your hearts content. While this might be the first such software I have ever checked out, I did take a few months two years back to check out Shopify, and other site storefront providers, so the core things to look out for will transfer over. The firm was originally a kind of software injection solution for social integration. This was back in the mid 2000s, and they freely distributed the source code to their product. It might not have been the smartest business plan, but it allowed them to gain a following, grow their software suites, and integrate all kinds of features into their social software. Then they went quiet for a number of years. In June of this year they relaunched, with a new management and design team, ready to update their product and expand its scope. Soon there will be an e-commerce add on. So when that happens I’ll have to compare them to Shopify.
Right now though it is a connection service, and from what I can see here, it is pretty good.
Ning.com Appearance, Professionalism, & Overall Look
Growing a social network these days is about the niche. You are not going to make the next Facebook with this thing, but if you are looking to set up an easy way to connect all sanitation workers in the state of Wyoming you might stand a chance. The aesthetic options available with Ning.com are fairly expansive. There are a number of core themes tom choose from, and all of them can be customized to a large extent. Anyone familiar with PHP and HTML5 can further edit the layout and integrations.
Whereas in e-commerce solutions the look of the site is a little more rigid, unless you go with Magento, here we are a lot more free to change things, set it up right and edit on the fly. It means that the professionalism and overall look varies widely from author to author. If you plan ahead, and know what you want, you can make some very aesthetically pleasing sites. All of the core themes are scalable as well, able to fit on any screen size seamlessly, so be sure to check any changes you make work as well.
Ning.com Features & Integrations
This is an area where Ning.com is amazing. In the early days there was only basic functionality, but now Ning.com has all kinds of different feature sets that you can snap together to create a cohesive experience. You have customizable member profiles, with layouts to your own specifications. If you want blogging support for users it’s a simple click away. There is also support for photo sharing/storage, video sharing/storage, group wide event planning and member categories. If you find your network growing a little unwieldy you can create sub groups, with different privacy settings.
All of these features are current and standard. Ning.com is expanding the feature set all the time, and the recent resurgence of the company has seen an increase in update posts on when we can expect to see the new features, like the aforementioned e-commerce integration. It’s in Beta right now, and you can test it out, with entry fees and on site selling, but I would wait until they roll out the v1.0. As standard every page comes with SEO options, allowing you to rank better on search engines, external contact solutions, such as site wide, and group specific, email blasts, and there are mobile options as well, allowing you and members to use push notifications.
There are also integrations with other social networks, like Facebook and twitter, allowing your social network to become a part of your users daily life. All of the features are editable by you, and doing so is presented in an easy to understand GUI, so you don’t need to be a programmer to use it.
Ning.com Flexibility, Ease of Use, & Scalability
This is another area Ning.com does well in. The site aesthetics are great, already said that, and the fact that it can be made to work on any screen size is a real plus. especially these days, and more and more people primarily interact with the internet through their phones. The back end is cleanly laid out and easy to use. A little reading, and perhaps a tutorial video or two, and you are off to the races. I was able to set up a mock up site in a few hours, but then I spent a great deal of time checking out all the various options.
If you find your site growing too large you can make on the fly changes to how moderation is handled, you can send specific messages to specific groups, or apply unique rules to certain users. There are also a couple of higher end packages hat cater to power users, with each one supporting an ever increasing number of users.
Overall, the system is easy to use, but has the depth if you are clever enough to use it, easy to scale to large audiences and supremely flexible, no matter what kind of involvement you want, Ning.com has a social network set up for you.
Ning.com Cost & Value
This is the only real downside to my mind. Back in the old days Ning.com had a free package, allowing you to set up a small social network for nothing. Sure, it lacked the fine controls of the paid packages, but it was useful, and if you had the technical knowhow you could make a very robust network out of the basic service. That is not the case now, likely as a result of folk abusing the free package. Still, it is cheap to get set up, and there is a free trial available if you are on the fence about the whole thing.
The Basic Package offers great value for money. $22 per month and you get pretty much everything you need. In terms of core features there really aren’t any missing. The only downside is the user cap, with the Basic package allowing only up to 1000 members, and 2 admins. I imagine by the time you hit a few hundred active users 2 admins will be flat out. The 1GB site end storage is a huge limit as well, and one that I would rather not see even on this bare bones package.
Next up is the Performance Package, and while the feature set is the same as the basics, it offers the user more member space, ten times the storage and a speed improvement across the board. The customer support from Ning.com themselves improves as well, but honestly for twice the price, $44 per month, I would like to see a little more parity with the top end package.
Speaking of, the highest end package is the Ultimate Package, and it has 500GB on site storage, support for up to 100,000 users and support for 10 administrators. Even at $82 this is my favorite package. The customer support is just so much better than that offered by The Performance and Basic Package. You get an email reply within 12 hours, 24/7 call support, access to the live chat server and even a personal manager, a liaison between you and Ning.com. Overall an excellently priced service.
Ning.com – Recap & Review
I personally don’t need a social network site, but I realize that quite a few people do, and if that is you, then I cannot recommend any other service provider. In terms of core aesthetics, and customization options, Ning.com offers a comprehensive solution. No matter how feature packed, or feature lite, you want your service to be Ning.com has you covered. As for the price, the Basic package is great, well worth it, and it’s the one I recommend you start with. When you see your network grow, and the user base expands, then Ning.com offers a nice steady increase in service and function, though I would recommend you move straight to the ultimate package, the customer support is so far beyond the other two that it becomes a no brainer.
If you want to set up a social network yourself there really isn’t any other options out there right now.