Ning: Start Your Own Social Network The Easy Way

Social networks can be a fun way to communicate with your peers, and if you don’t let them take up too much of your time, they can even be productive and make it easier to collaborate. While most of us probably spend the majority of our time on the major social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and App.net, there may be times when you need to use a niché or even private social network to communicate with others. Unfortunately, for a lot of nichés, social networks do not yet exist.

If you’re serious about creating a social network for your niché, organization or business, you can do so pretty easily today. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be the next Zuckerberg to create it. All you need is Ning, a popular web platform which allows you to create your own social network in minutes.

What Is Ning?

Ning is a web platform designed to help you create your own social network. The nice thing about Ning is that there is absolutely no coding involved. All you have to do is sign up, choose a design, and allow people to sign up for your network. Ning also gives you total management over your network, so you can designate who can sign up and what your users can do on your network. For instance, you can allow users to have their own blogs on your site, host photos as well as take advantage of a ton of other built-in functionalities.

Ning is also self hosted. This means that you can only use the Ning platform on Ning’s servers. And while this could be taken as a bad or good thing depending on the user, Ning offers various hosting plans which should fit your network’s needs, whether it be big or small. We’ll talk more in-depth about Ning’s hosting plans later.

Ning has been around since 2005, but has changed much over that time. It was initially popular as a free way to network, but now is a premium-only network. But that’s hardly a disadvantage, if it really makes it easier for you to network.

Using Ning

Setting up your Ning network is simple with the Ning Dashboard.

To start using Ning, you must sign up for an account on their site. We’d highly recommend starting out with their free 30-day trial as Ning is a service you’ll either love or hate, but we’ll touch on that later. During the sign up process, you’ll be prompted to choose a .ning.com domain. This domain is given to you free of charge, though you’ll most likely be registering your own domain name to go along with your site. Now that you’ve finished registering, you’ll be brought to your Dashboard where you can customize your newly created social network.

When viewing Ning’s Dashboard, you’ll likely notice a bright green box which gives you three different options: “Add or Update Features”, “Customize Appearance” and “Invite Members”. These three options are likely the first things you’ll want to configure when you create your Ning network, so let’s go over these options before we continue on with the review. First off, you may want to click the “Add or Update Features” button. This will allow you to configure how your Ning site works. You can also configure your website’s layout from here as well. If you’d like to configure your Ning website in even greater detail, like adding Twitter, Facebook and other types of integration, refer to the sidebar which is located towards the lefthand side of the screen.

Ning includes a variety of themes which you can use to make your network look nice.

Now that you’ve configured your site, how about making it look nice? You can do so by clicking on the “Customize Appearance” button which is located on your Dashboard. From here, you can choose from a wide variety of Ning themes, each of which are catered towards a different audience. Most of these themes are available in multiple color options and can be heavily customized via the “Customize” tab in the sidebar. If you’re a CSS wizard, you can click on the “Advanced” tab and head into developer mode. This will give you complete control over your site’s CSS styling.

Finally, you have the option of inviting your friends to the service by clicking on the “Invite Members” option. You can sign into your Yahoo!, Gmail or other email service to automatically invite users via email. Finally, you can also choose whether or not you would like to allow members to invite their friends to your network and how many invites they can send out per day. This is especially handy if you’re creating a semi-private social network for a club or organization.

Once you get the hang of it, all of these features will become second nature when continuing to update and improve your site. And while Ning’s Dashboard doesn’t offer the best user interface I’ve seen, it gets the job done and doesn’t accidentally hide features.

Ning Features

Now that you know how to set up your Ning social network, what can you allow your users to do? To start, you can allow for the creation of a user profile. This allows for status updates, photo and video uploads as well as a plethora of other features. Ning also offers an events pages and a main page which shows all status updates and content uploads. Ning also allows for cross-posting to all of the major social networking sites on the web like Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

Ning also allows you to charge for access to your social network. You can choose to charge for membership, though you can create special pages and groups which require paid access. This is ideal if you plan to post webinars or virtual classes to your Ning website.

Ning Hosting Options

Since Ning’s backend can only be used on their servers, they offer three different pricing plans: Plus, Pro and VIP. The Plus and Pro plans retail for $24.95 and $59.95 per month respectively while you’ll need to contact Ning for a quote on their VIP plan. Each of these accounts offer a different amount of storage ranging from 10GB to 1TB as well as different levels of support. Ning Plus is recommended for those who want to make a small social network with less than 10,000 users. Ning Pro offers 20GB of storage and the ability to add as many members as you’d like. Ning Pro also gives you a few extra options like branded video and music players as well as access to Ning’s API. You can switch between these plans whenever you like and they all offer free 30-day trials.

Conclusion

All in all, I think that Ning is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to make a quick and easy social networking site for their group or club. This is because of the ease of use that Ning offers while not compromising on any powerful features like content uploads and realtime chat. If you think that Ning might fulfill your needs, we’d highly recommend giving Ning a shot.


Summary

Ning is an easy way to start your own social network. The service gives you tons of powerful features which you can extend onto your users like an in-house blogging platform and realtime chat.

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  • $24.95+ per month  | 
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