Alternatives to Ning

A brief survey of alternatives to Ning with comments. Please feel free to extend the list.

Cloud Hosted
The following were recommended by JP in a discussion “The Best, Most Reliable and Trusted Freemium Social Network Alternatives.” on the Ning Creators community site. I haven’t tried any of them.

  • Ning – paradoxically, the paid-for version of Ning may prove to be the best alternative to free Ning. It should at least be familiar, and there are hints of attractive price points for non-profits and educational communities.
  • Spruz – is already wooing Ning community builders and is top of JP’s list. Free site option and premium features from $9.95 a month.
  • SocialGo – is second on JP’s list. The free version is quite generous in terms of storage and bandwidth but the price jumps to $24.99 a month for the advertising-free “premium” version with custom domain.
  • Grou.psbeta – is third on JP’s list and also offers to migrate your Ning site on the sign-up page. Price is free for 10Gbyte of storage and 100GByte data transfer (per month?). Prices for premium editions rise according to a complex tiered system of credits based on memory and bandwidth usage, so it might prove unpredictably pricey for a very busy site.

In addition to these suggestions, Gbswales introduced me to bîgtent which looks good from the outside, and for which I could find no pricing details. This means either that it’s completely free (but presumably advertising funded) or that the prices are only revealed after you’ve signed up.

As a wise man once said though, “you get what you pay for”, but I’d nonetheless be interested in your views if you’ve used any of these, or suggestions of others that are worth a look.

Vapour Ware

A couple of interesting cloud-based possibilities are “coming soon”:

  • elgg.com is planning to release subscription-based services based around the open-source Elgg platform. Prices will be in the range $29.95-$49.95 per month. Launching in May 2010.
  • drupalgardens.com is another hosting service that is currently in beta testing. It plans to make sites based around the popular open-source CMS framework Drupal easy to build. A free version is available and subscription services start at $19.95 per month. Drupal is more general purpose than the other social networking platforms, and it may take some work to get it to work like a social network. An interesting feature mentioned in the video is that you can build your site in the cloud then export if for self-hosting!

“Ground” Hosted

If you have some technical expertise and can host your own platform, the three best choices today are probably Elgg, BuddyPress and Drupal. All three are open source applications released under the GPL license. They are all relatively easy to set up providing you are not afraid of Apache, PHP and MySQL and can manage the Unix command line. The advantage of “ground hosting” is that you would have control of the server and the software. The disadvantage is that you or someone in IT support would have to maintain it!

In brief:

  • Elgg was our first choice of a Plan B platform for a project that we are currently working on when the announcement of Ning’s change of service was announced. It is no stranger to Swansea university because the Oremi Pilot was based on an early version (pre 1.0 release I think) of Elgg.
  • BuddyPress is an attractive proposition because it is a “plug-in” for the WordPress Multiuser (WordPressμ) blogging platform that is already in use at Swansea (see blog.swansea.ac.uk).
  • Drupal is a sophisticated content management framework that can be used to create a social network but could also be used to create a range of web applications ranging from a university web site through to a photo sharing site via a roll-your-own VLE. Because it is so sophisticated, out of the box it would require a lot more work to create a functioning social network than either of the two alternatives. But for the ultimate in control and extensibility, it would be hard to beat. The export feature to be provided by drupalgardens.org may provide a way to overcome some of these initial hurdles. I’ll be able to tell you more when I’ve had a chance to play with it.

So there you have it, some suggestions for school or institutional social networks.

If your needs are more prosaic, say you want some simple social interaction on a module or with a small group of students, don’t forget the possibilities offered by the Learning Objects blogs, wikis and podcasts within Blackboard, and Twitter, FriendFeed or even Facebook if you prefer to go your own way.

3 Comments

  1. Grou.ps looks quite good. I signed up to a few different free sites when I heard about ning and so far grou.ps comes closest in terms of functionality.
    I haven't had any issues with reliability.

  2. Thanks Lee, I'll have another look. When I tried to access it yesterday while writing this post, I first got a yellow screen saying it was under maintenance and then a complete blank screen as if the web site had completely given up the ghost.

    It's back up now and it also invites one to migrate one's Ning site on the sign-up page!

  3. I am also aware of Cloudworks which was developed by the OU with JISC support. The link above takes you to a kind of nationwide equivalent of this learning lab, but I wonder if the software is also available for use in institutions.

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