Is today's enthusiasm for online social networking similar to the citizens band radio craze of the 1970s (a communications fad that will soon fade into obscurity)? Or will social networks be the enduring communication tools that reshape our culture?
Much evidence suggests that social networks are here to stay, and they are having an effect on everyday life. For instance, surveys have found that people today are more likely to attend high school and college reunions because of friendships they have maintained or renewed through online networks. Forrester Research says more than 80% of those U.S. adults who are online use social media at least once a month.
Many of those users are now meeting at Ning (www.ning.com). They're not just joining the site's 1.5 million social networks, they're creating their own. Ning makes it easy for anyone to launch a network with an array of features, including member profile pages, messaging, email notifications, videos, music, chat, and support for RSS (really simple syndication). You can choose from dozens of design themes or develop your own look.
So if you've dreamed of hosting your own network--whether you want to connect with friends, family, colleagues, customers, cat fanciers, heavy metal fans, or people who only wear striped sweaters-Ning offers easy-to-use design tools and a prebuilt infrastructure so you can quickly design your own.
Joining a Ning Network
Aprivately held company based in Palo Alto, Calif., Ning was founded in 2004 by Gina Bianchini, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker, and Marc Andreessen, the multimillionaire software engineer who co-created the first widely used web browser (Mosaic) and founded Netscape Communications. Ning now claims more than 33 million registered users.
Functionality for members of Ning Networks is similar to that on such sites as Facebook and MySpace. On CNBC (www.cnbc.com/id/15840232?video=1095044147& play=1), Bianchini differentiated Ning from other social networks by pointing out that, while Facebook is great for networking with people you already know, Ning lets you maintain social contacts and helps you meet new people who share your interests (at home and abroad, apparently, because more than 40% of Ning Networks originate outside the U.S.).
As expected on a site that lets users create their own online communities, Ning Networks that are already available cover a range of subjects. Here are a few examples:
* BroadwaySpace is a place for actors and Broadway fans; the network offers exclusive interviews and giveaways.
* Swap Mammas is not a swingers club but rather a group of bartering mammas who are "smarter, greener, and kicking the economy to the curb."
* TuDiabetes is a network for people who have been affected by the disease.
* Babble Playground is a parenting network and a companion to the Babble parenting magazine.
At this writing, other featured networks on the site include My Modern Metropolis, "a celebration of urban art, design and photography from around the globe"; the National Marriage Boycott, a studentdriven movement for gay and lesbian marriage rights; and Pinup Lifestyle, which focuses on "ruby red lips, high [heels], and retro clothes."
"Before Ning started, Marc and I decided that we would judge our success by the diversity of networks on the platform," according to Bianchini in an article in The New York Times (www.nytimes.com/2008/12/28/jobs/28boss.html).
But you won't find adult-oriented networks. The site stopped hosting them in January. "We're not discontinuing the Red Light District because we no longer believe in the freedom to create your own social network for anything as long as it's legal. We do. Practically though, supporting adult networks no longer makes sense," Bianchini wrote on the Ning Blog (http://blog.ning.com/2008/12/the-end-of-the-red-lightdistrict. …