1. Thanks Aliza. As I said in our blog post we are currently working on most required features so that it’s possible to see the aces in our sleeves. Feel free to watch the progress on our blog.

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  2. Great post! This is a keeper for me, since I’m occasionally asked why social networks should be of any interest to companies and nonprofits.

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  3. Hey Aliza!

    Just wanted to note that we recently launched an Events feature, and our Forum allows for easy document attachments/sharing. For a peek at some more cool stuff on the horizon, check out our 3-Month Product Roadmap blog post.

    Thanks!
    Kyle Ford
    Director of Product Marketing, Ning

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  4. I’ve found that a branded social network is an easier sell to the brand than to the user. Companies want to jump on the SN bandwagon, but users are busy enough already on Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Dogster, Sneakerplay, Bebo, and god knows wherever else

    Rather than build a complete social network, I prefer to incorporate simple, familiar social features into the branded environment that make for a compelling experience without requiring a major ongoing commitment from the user.

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  5. Josh – good points. I do find, however, that those people who are NOT busy with Facebook, MySpace, etc. but are loyal to particular brands, can be introduced to social networking by a custom network hosted by their favorite brand. It facilitates their first social networking experience.

    We in the “biz” tend to forget that there are millions and millions of people out there who have yet to get a MySpace or Facebook page, let alone Dogster and Bebo. I meet at least several a week including clients, friends, and people I talk to at the coffee shop, the grocery store, at networking events, at the gym, at the doctor’s office, at the mall, etc.

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  6. Travis Retzlaff Friday, May 16, 2008

    Are you getting into the business of building social networks? And if so, what tools are you using?

    Yes.

    Lotus Connections. Parts of IBM really do get “it” and produce some fantastic software.

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  7. I have been working on selling social networks projects for specific purposes in Brazil since last year. For more than one year – until last week, to be more precise – I have successfully delivered in a SaaS structure SNs for a handful of clients, ranging from nationwide educational programs (a SN for teachers, and the job also has a consultancy in best educational practices for the teachers as well) to a internal corporate SN for a bank that wants to capture stories among its collaborators in its 200th anniversary. The software at hand is a work in progress proprietary SN called AMIGOS. It is a Java 2EE application, which is a both a product and object of a Doctorate and several Masters researchs at the Federal University of Pernambuco, Brazil.

    Having left my employee last week, I am right now starting a social media consultancy biz, and will primarily focus in the advertising business. Web APIs from Kickapps and Ning are my weapons of choice, but I am still nurturing the foundation of my first job.

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  8. @Josh
    @Aliza

    We are always at several social networks, whether they’re web-based or not.

    While I agree to some extent that having several “branded-CRMish SNs” we may have some sort of overdose, isn’t it possible for companies to run non-instrusive SNs that permeate all their other SNs through their API/widgets layers?

    It’s not link having avatars or things like that, but more like SNs over several SNs.

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  9. @ Aliza:

    The people I work with are trying to reach audiences that are already heavy web users – and I’m in San Francisco – so I admit to forgetting about the rest of the world sometimes….

    @ Andre:

    I think that’s right. Taking the brand’s content and tapping into existing communities to put that content in front of people where they already are.

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  10. I understand that everyone is looking to make a buck but this turns my stomach, trying to profit off of people’s social networking. It doesn’t exist to be a “market”, it is for people to make connections with each other. Once you bring in the profiteers, you kill the whole thing and if the social networks get saturated with advertisements, people will just go find some other vehicle to connect where people aren’t trying to sell them something.

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  11. Aliza Sherman Tuesday, May 20, 2008

    Antoinette – Sorry this turns your stomach, but the reality is that every social network out there is profiting from your social networking and the use of their service. Why do you think you get to use it for free?

    One thing I do as a consultant is to help companies or nonprofit organizations identify how they can provide value to their customers or attract new customers (or constituents) through the viral nature of social networking.

    So I might help an arts foundation create a social network for rural artists in their state so they can “meet” virtually if they cannot in person. Or a market research group to create a social network for people interested in receiving and discussing their data and meet other marketers with similar interests. Or a woman who sells chocolates and gifts with inspirational messages to start a social network just for women focused on inspiring each other.

    The company/organization doesn’t necessarily “profit” from the social network in the monetary sense but they do get to put their brand and information in front of receptive audiences.

    And I get paid for my strategic services and technical advice to help them bring their private-label social network to fruition.

    Can’t figure out what about this actually turns the stomach..

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  12. Like you, I *also* get paid for strategic services and technical advice and like you I also have a very clear idea of how YASNS work. They are, unquestionably, about profit via the collection and trade of our user data. Data, I might add, that all of us have willingly given over when we join these networks and agree to their privacy policies and TOS. Like you said, nothing comes for “free” – you give something, you get something. In this case, you get a fun space to meet friends, share stuff and be virally marketed to and surveilled :)

    That said, a great many ordinary people – by ordinary people I mean people who don’t share our passion for all things webby – are really unaware of most of the above. As we all know, these services are marketed very strategically to such non-webby folks according to the user’s needs – “make friends” “share things” etc. Nowhere on any of the marketing would they say “join up here so we can scrape your data and abuse your privacy.”

    No, we leave it up to the ordinary user to figure it all out on their own. And we tell them: if you don’t like it, don’t use it.

    I teach post graduate professional web courses at the college level. Most of my students have university degrees – some have advanced degrees. These guys are smart and they’re all very heavy users of social media. Remarkably, when I tell them about how Facebook and other YASNS work, very few of them are aware of it. Are they stupid and naive for not knowing? Or carefully managed to a state of total ignorance by systems that make it prohibitively difficult to understand what precisely they’re doing with your content. Systems that pit the ordinary user against Opt Out policies the user is totally unaware of unless they click through carefully designed UI that places the opt out and other privacy and user controls in non-intuitive locations and small fonts (entirely intentional).

    While I think that early and late majority users share blame in the profusion of deeply user unfriendly paradigm shifts and TOS, I also think the designers of these systems have put a lot of hard work and effort into concealing the things you and I take for granted.

    Is Antoinette to blame for her perspective or are we? Who is responsible for her education as user? I’d sure love to know where that news source is so I can send all my students there to learn more about their rights.

    As a professional person with a background in politics, I’m well versed in the “realities” of globalised corporate capitalism. And the naturalisation of corporate ideologies like those you espouse above. While I agree that these positions are part of doing business, I don’t have to accept them. In fact, I might take it a bit further than you and say – we can do business, but we can do so ethically.

    Ostensibly what “turns” her stomach is the conceit that you and I and others who profit from our current ideology take for granted. I take heart from the fact that some people have the humanity and good sense to see just how deeply ugly a lot of it really is.

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  13. Aliza Sherman Tuesday, May 20, 2008

    KarenH,

    Thank you so much for your input. I’m not sure I (and I can only speak for myself here) take for granted the fact that I can make a living by offering advice to others based on the things I’ve learned over the years (self taught, no college degree) about the Internet from may day-to-day use, exploration, research, observation, discussions, participation and by giving back to the online community on a regular basis.

    I can understand being sickened by any ABUSE of the system or the data or by marketers/companies not being forthright about capturing/using that data, etc. – but that isn’t everyone, and I don’t think that is what was being discussed here at all.

    I totally agree that most people have no clue to the extent with which companies and marketers cull our data at every turn and without our knowledge and/or express permission.

    But that is the type of ignorance that proliferates in this (U.S.) society and goes hand in hand with people who don’t “realize” that some politicians are bought by big monied interests, that some corporations/corporate leaders are corrupt, that the media they consume every day from the big media outlets is all about ratings and business interests and not really world news, etc.

    It seems to me it is all about Media Literacy and Internet Literacy. Most people blindly use and consume without thinking twice about where the information originates or what information they are unwittingly revealing to others by their online actions.

    Scrupulous marketers and entrepreneurs who are not deceiving consumers and advising their clients not to deceive consumers should not be lumped in to any blanket statement about taking anything for granted or engaging in sickening business practices.

    Developing a private-label social network for a client who wants to provide value to his or her customer while also learning more about them – with their permission – isn’t really a bad thing or an abuse of someone’s trust, is it?

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  14. “It seems to me it is all about Media Literacy and Internet Literacy. Most people blindly use and consume without thinking twice about where the information originates or what information they are unwittingly revealing to others by their online actions.”

    I don’t disagree with this at all. And I think the magnitude of ignorance, apathy and submission on the part of ordinary citizens is certainly part of the problem. That said, as much as I would support your argument of personal agency I also feel that agency is an old social darwinist standby “it’s yer own fault if you’re poor/stupid/excluded/unhealthy, etc” which negates the operation and internalisation of power and social conditions. Again, who is responsible for these digital literacies? Right now, it’s teachers – in fact, we’re mandated in high schools to teach it as a core and fundamental part of citizenship. Otherwise, our youth – which extends to the population in generation – are awash in a flood of mostly corporate info that they have no means of navigating. (my argument anyway – I respect that you may disagree)

    I’m not suggesting that you need take responsibility for this education but that we ought to think before blaming the victim and arguing that they are responsible for their own situation. This is too convenient.

    “Developing a private-label social network for a client who wants to provide value to his or her customer while also learning more about them – with their permission – isn’t really a bad thing or an abuse of someone’s trust, is it?”

    That makes perfect sense. I take no issue with this at all. I guess the question is this: how UP FRONT are you going to be about asking for that permission? Is the TOS and privacy policy communicated in plain language or dense legalese? Are you taking a transparent approach to UI design in which the user is aware of your intentions – and the conditions of their UGC?

    I gave you the link to Facebook because it examines the verifiable ideological interests of key stakeholders in FB. All of the predominant social networking tools at this moment have been designed by and for corporate interests. Since those interests extend far beyond profit and well into political and social power, citizens ought not to take these systems very lightly.

    FB – and the people behind it – have already committed really atrocious abuses of privacy and put transparency on hold until further notice (last time I checked their developer blog didn’t even allow comments).

    It is interesting how you attempt to discredit Tom Hodgkinson and the Guardian by calling his article “old” (Jan 2008 barely qualifies as old) and situating this piece as merely “FB bashing.”

    While critical mindedness and critique may not be so common to Americans, the rest of the world still has firing synapses. You may go ahead and defend your godlike corporations against the slings and arrows of those who deign to question their abuses of power but you should also know that there are far, far, far more people who have read, acknowledged and applauded pieces like Hodgkinson’s given the apparent apathy/naivete clearly present in your own culture (as you yourself pointed out).

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  15. I guess I thought (and think) that social networking is about people making connections with each other over common interests. Not as a vehicle for someone to make money. I realize that along with those “free” websites comes advertising. But what you’re talking about is the creation of corporate websites that serve as promotional vehicles for corporate interests (i.e. profits).

    It was sentences like this that turned my stomach: “By building social networks, companies and organizations use social bonding to keep people coming back for more.” Using social bonding to gain customer loyalty is a perversion of the concept of what “friendship” means.

    When I think of all of my online friendships, the only “benefit” we are getting out of them is social interaction and support. Seeing ads on some websites (not all forums have them) is just the cost of using the sites.

    My only comfort is that you and your clients might create social forums but even if you put in a few ringers, you can’t control people’s comments unless you have a moderated forum (which will drive users away). So, for all of your manipulative efforts, your forum could be a place where consumers come to complain about the corporation’s products or suggest to other consumer alternative products that they could use instead of those of the company that sponsors the site.

    People aren’t sheep and they won’t devote the time and energy necessary to create “community” if is just meant to enhance customer loyalty. There are thousands of other alternatives of ways to spend time, hundreds of free forums that don’t have a corporate “minder”. You can build these sites but you can’t make people use them or control how they use them. And, in my 10 years of discussion board/forum experience, once you set up a strict system of control/moderation, 90% of the users will leave for greener pastures where they can express themselves (positive and negative feedback) without a lot of restrictions. JMHO.

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  16. [...] Building Social Networks for Dollars-Web Worker Daily [...]

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  17. I think what you are looking for is http://www.collectivex.com. The two major features you are looking for are within this community building social media.

    Secondly, I think the coolest feature is this little drop down that if you are on many collectivex group sites they are all right there in your drop down to switch back and forth between your communities.

    check it out http://www.collectivex.com

    http://www.keithprivette.blogspot.com
    http://www.freeartsminnesota.org

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  18. In the last several years we’ve seen the rise and fall of many social web applications. If you build and release your social web site and nobody uses it, you have the cold start problem. This problem affects most social sites, and directly results from designing for the network.
    —————-
    Tanyaa
    Link Building

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  19. [...] know about it yet. So what’s the next big thing? There are a lot of sites out there just for making your own social networks. Maybe someone out there will make one just for expats in Korea. Certain google products are [...]

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  20. [...] know about it yet. So what’s the next big thing? There are a lot of sites out there just for making your own social networks. Maybe someone out there will make one just for expats in Korea. Certain google products are [...]

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