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February 24, 2008

Beyond Ning and CollectiveX: Open source social networking site platforms

White label social networking site (SNS) platforms are nothing new. Setting up a white label SNS is like creating a facebook for your membership. For example,, one of the most popular of these, lets you create a SNS around any topic you want in a matter of minutes in their hosted environment. I have a crusty, dusty old Ning site called CAE and Proud, and Jeff De Cagna has one for his Ungovernance work. CollectiveX is another popular white label hosted SNS platform that was reviewed by Dave Sabol some time ago.

Both sites let you start communities for free, but if you want to remove (or receive the monetary benefits of) the Google ads that appear in the sidebar, you pay a small annual fee. They are both customizable to a degree, allowing you to use your own color scheme, organize the sections of the community into whatever order you want, and upload your own logo, among other things.

Recently a member asked me to evaluate an open source SNS platform called Dolphin for an affiliated group he volunteers for. In the course of doing some research, I discovered that there are literally dozens of open source SNS platforms. Today, marc1919 tweeted with a link to a great roundup of no fewer than 40 open source SNS platforms. Incidentally, the list is compiled by a graphic design firm that is spinning some really outstanding logos.

Obviously there are quite a few SNS options out there. Open source has its pluses and minuses, but certainly the additional choice afforded by this new flood of possibilities is a good thing for those who find Ning and its hosted competitors limiting. And of course, if you still can't find what you're looking for, you can do like Matt Baehr did: download Drupal, basically a CMS for SNS, and get to creating your own custom SNS from scratch.

Still, my recommendation to associations interested in the SNS world continues to be: if you want to gain the broadest possible member participation, use facebook and Linkedin to test the waters. These sites already have millions of users, including some of your members. And asking members to sign up for your Linkedin or facebook (instead of some entirely different) group removes a barrier to entry that should increase participation.



Anonymous said...

Hi Ben,

I agree with the idea of getting feet wet before jumping in all the way. Launching a social networking site is a lot like launching a blog - while extremely easy to set up, they can take a lot of time to build your community and maintain momentum. Makes sense to learn what you can on established sites. Cynthia

Ben Martin, CAE said...

Thanks for chiming in Cynthia. Not only that, but with such a critical mass of people ALREADY with usernames and passwords for facebook and linkedin, you've already eliminated a huge barrier to entry.

Andy Steggles said...


While I definitely agree it's a cool way of getting your feet wet, I definitely don't think it is a longer term strategy for your association. The results would be completely different if the SNS were proactively embedded within your main website etc. Also, most association prefer to provide a SNS as a member benefit and as we all know, facebook doesn't have the member vs. non-member integration with your AMS that you need. Can't really comment on the open-source ones though, haven't paid them too much attention other than Drupal which has its limits.

Cheers all,


Anonymous said...

I think I come in somewhere between Ben and Andy.

I find that many association folks who talk about wanting to add a social network to their association don't know enough about them - thus getting involved in others makes sense.

The jury in my head is still out about the role of Facebook, etc as a component of an association's branded experience.

My church adopted a small alternative location with the thought that those who were unchurched would be more comfortable getting their feet wet with a more comtemporary experice - and then migrate over to the big church.

The retreat type locaction created such a different experience that those who were attracted to it have little interest in transferring to a tradition church experience.

This has frustrated the church elders who expected to fill the big church.

Makes me wonder if using Facebook, etc. would create a similar experience for most associations.

Still wondering. Cynthia

Anonymous said...

In the spirit of full disclosure I must first state that I am part of the CollectiveX Executive team (CIO) so feel free to discount my comment to a certain extent since I have a vested interest in what we do.

I wanted to comment on Cynthia's remark about the "frustration of the Church elders".

We see dozens of association members forming their own private project groups and informal communities on CollectiveX every day without the blessings or even the knowledge of the parent organization (including board members).

These self-organizing groups are based on real conversations between people who have a desire to share and communicate with each other.

The successful associations of tomorrow will be the ones who help encourage and learn from these conversations rather than spend time and money trying to keep everything in house.

It's the conversations that matter, not the platform.

Matt Baehr said...

Andy - I will be the first to admit that Drupal has its limits. That is why I am looking to other platforms for ANPMP.

Anyway, I think getting your feet wet is good. Most EDs can handle that approach. However, make sure your testing ground can be easily integrated to your site and your strategy. Don't do it just to do it.