In the past few days, I have been assessing the pros and cons of using a white label software solution like Ning to create an online social network. I have used Ning myself to set up one group, and have been an active participant in another Ning group (for which it served the purpose beautifully) but I am developing a new major new multi-platform project called TURN YOUR TOWN UPSIDE DOWN and wanted to find out if white label tools like Ning and KickApps would cut the mustard.
I participated in AFTRS Laboratory of Advanced Media Production (LAMP) in February this year and my wonderful mentor Laurel Papworth told me there that she had yet to see the evidence that Ning is sufficiently scalable. Ning social networks tend to number the tens or hundreds, rather than the thousands. Of the top ten most active groups listed on Ning’s Network Creators home page today, most have fewer than 30 members. Only one – the Ning Developers Network – has more than 100 (357 members to be precise).
Despite its popularity (some 67,000 + networks up and running), I wanted to know whether Ning had been used for really big networks (in excess of 100,000) and if not, why not. So I started with a Google search for "Ning sucks" to quickly track down the critics, and found a number of posts on blogs and developer forums such as Tech Crunch. I also found an excellent critique on Poynter Online.
A number of comments on these blogs and forums suggested that white label solutions like Ning would not give us sufficient control over either security or reliability of service.
Indeed, Ning’s terms and conditions state:
To enable a great experience for all Users on the Ning Platform, you, as a Network Creator, must ensure your Network(s) don’t unduly degrade the performance of the Ning Platform. If your Network(s) exceed the quotas and limitations set by Ning (e.g., API calls or bandwidth) or otherwise degrade performance of the Ning Platform or other services in any way, we may suspend your Network(s) at our sole discretion.
As far as I can tell, it is also not possible to effectively ban members on Ning (given that you do not get access to granular security detail like IP addresses). Given that TURN YOUR TOWN is a site that will include many members who are minors, it is very important we have complete control over who can belong to the community.
Finally, Ning’s terms and conditions would appear to preclude us from monetising our community:
I also consulted developers’ forums and a number of developers expressed views similar to this: ‘I can’t see the ability to build a system of any non-hack scale in that kind of sandbox.’
So while Ning is ideally suited for smaller, amateur networks I think it’s clear we need to build our own customised system for this project. This will enable us to exploit our intellectual property rights in other international territories, which is very important given that we intend to develop this as a multi-platform format.
Disagree? Then leave me a comment ðŸ˜‰