If you are into first person shooter video games like Halo, Doom, or Quake, you have to join Shoot First. Shoot First is social networking for FPS game fans that I built using Ning. As part of Ning’s free service, I easily created a full-featured social network and customized it to look the way I desired. I like to think of their platform as doing to social networking what Googleâ€™s Blogspot did for bloggingâ€¦ but with much more flexibility.
Yes, it took me only 60 minutes to use Ningâ€™s wizard-based platform to create a basic social network. Hereâ€™s the time line:
- Draft a quick marketing plan (15 minutes)
- Do some basic keyword research (10 minutes)
- Create my Ning account (1 minute)
- Create the Shoot First using the 4 step wizard (10 minutes)
- Grab some images, videos and content to add to the site (15 minutes)
- Update the site (5 minutes)
- Update my personal profile (3 minutes)
- Behold my own social network (1 minute)
I found Ning incredibly easy to setup, comparable to WordPress or Blogspot for blogging. Less than 20 minutes of the setup time was actually using the Ning interface to modify my site. It contains all of the fundamental social networking features â€“ user profiles, groups, invitations, discussion boards, and blogging. Plus, they offer services that allow direct integration in with Facebook, Flickr and YouTube. However, the services offered are not quite as polished as a Facebook or MySpace. For example, the invitation process does not allow folks to import names from existing contact lists like Yahoo, AIM, Hotmail or gmail.
From the standpoint of managing a social network, I have control over the site with moderation tools and adult content filtering. More importantly, I also have a lot of power to customize. Ning makes it easy to do a complete overhaul of the template UIs using CSS. Additionally, I can plug in my own external widgets and tap into their developer community for custom services that others have built.
For anyone who wants to monetize their social network, they have to pay the $19.95 per month fee from their a la carte menu of premium services. Ouch. Worse yet, you have to pay for that service if you want to remove their Google AdSense ads. I can understand that Ning needs its own revenue, but this is too much. Nobody serious can make the math work by posting Google AdSense ad blocks like Ning suggests. Or if your social network becomes big enough to use an ad network or sell your own ad space, then you probably have the resources and technical ability to build the site yourself.
Unfortunately, the other premium services that are available through Ning for Businesses also offer little value for the price. For example, the ability to use your own domain name is a nice option for anyone who wants to build their own brand and does not want Ning as part of the domain name. However, paying $4.95/month for simple domain control (and the site is still hosted by Ning) is way too expensive.
Overall, I give Ning an B grade from my first impressions. The platform shows a lot of potential and I will keep building out Shoot First to see how the community develops. If you are big into Facebook and have dreams of creating your own social network, then I definitely recommend giving Ning a shot. If you want to build your own community for the purpose of making money online through affiliate marketing or placing your own ads, then you may want to wait and see how the business services and advertising flexibility evolve.