I am often asked, “how is creating your own social network on Ning different from creating a group on Facebook?” I think it is a great question with a simple answer best shown through a few pictures.
Let me start by saying that we think Facebook is fantastic. As Marc mentioned in a recent post, Facebook’s popularity has directly translated to people creating their own social networks on Ning:
Interestingly, rapid growth of all of these metrics on Ning has coincided with the explosion of public interest around Facebook — as people learn about social networking on a system like Facebook, they get even more interested in creating their own social networks and engaging in targeted, topical social networks on Ning. Or, put more simply, the market is very large and growing fast — people love this stuff.
We love it too.
That being said, there are a few key differences between a social network on Ning and a group on Facebook. Let’s dive in…
The first major difference between a Facebook group and a social network on Ning is that a social network on Ning is its own social network. It’s not a group. It’s not a club. It’s your own MySpace or Facebook for your own particular passion, interest, cause, location, or community.
For example, each member of the Rawkus network has their own profile page unique to the Rawkus social network. Here’s quietstorm’s profile on Rawkus:
You can see quietstorm’s friends, profile, blog, comment wall, photos, videos, music, and even embedded widgets all within the Rawkus social network.
However, given that this is a social network on Ning, the level of freedom and control doesn’t stop here. People want different identities depending on the context. So, for any social network on Ning, your profile is completely customizable and specific to that social network. Here’s Jabo Wayne’s profile on Rawkus:
Jabo can control his page all the way down to the CSS and HTML. Plus everyone can see all of the videos, photos, discussions, and music he’s contributing across the Rawkus network on his member profile page. All of these features and members are unique and specific to Rawkus.
Now let’s look at the Rawkus group on Facebook:
In contrast to the Rawkus social network on Ning, when you click on any member’s thumbnail on a Facebook group, it takes you to the person’s Facebook profile. If I click on my thumbnail, for example, I’m taken to my Facebook page:
This is my one and only profile on Facebook. While I do have some additional freedom on my Facebook profile page that I don’t have on a Facebook group – like pulling in Facebook Apps to my page – it’s still limited to a single, uniform design and a rigid layout. It’s not unique to Rawkus or any individual group on Facebook. You don’t have the same freedom you have in the real world to show different sides of yourself depending on the context. On Facebook, all roads lead back to a single profile.
Some additional differences between a group on Facebook and a social network on Ning:
- You can integrate your social network into your external website. Using the branded widgets, links and exhaustive APIs Ning offers, you can offer a seamless user experience between an existing website and your new social network on Ning. For this reason alone, there are over 5,000 members on the Rawkus social network. It’s completely integrated with Rawkus.com. In contrast, there are 67 members, including me, on the Facebook Rawkus group.
- On Ning, you can choose which features you want on your social network and set them up exactly the way you want. On Facebook, a group is static. You do have a few limited options, like whether you want to show photos or videos, but basically it’s the same set of features for every group. You don’t have a choice.
- On Ning, you have full control over the look and feel of your social network. In contrast, on a group on Facebook, you can change the logo. In fact, changing the logo is the only thing that you can do to customize a group on Facebook.
- On Ning, you can choose to put your network in any language you’d like. On Facebook, your group is in English. That’s your only option.
- On Ning, your social network is inherently viral. Your network comes with branded embeddable widgets for photos slideshows, videos, music and podcasts, as well as network badges that you and your members can embed anywhere on the web and that send new visitors back to your network. A Facebook group can be spread within Facebook, but you can’t really spread the word outside of Facebook. There’s no RSS. There’s no sharing. There’s no widgets. There’s no badges.
- On Ning, you can pull in external widgets and feeds to make your network exactly what you want it to be. On Facebook, you can’t pull in external widgets or feeds into your group. In fact, you can’t add Facebook Apps into a group on Facebook.
- On Ning, you have the option to make money on your social network. Ning offers a tremendous amount of freedom and control for a free service. However, if you want to turn your network into a business, you can go for it. For $19.95 per month, you can choose to run your own ads. For an additional $4.96 per month, you can use your own domain name, like my.rawkus.com. And for $7.95 per month, you can take off the remaining Ning promotional links so that you get an almost completely branded network. You can use your social network on Ning for just about anything. It’s entirely up to you.
There are also a few additional differences that aren’t completely obvious to the naked eye:
- On Ning, you can customize anything on your social network, including the code itself. Despite offering Facebook Apps on profiles as a plug-in, on Facebook you have no control or ability to customize the code of your Facebook group.
- On Ning, you have full access to your member data. We’ll be making some announcements on this front in the next week, but your member data is completely accessible via Ning’s exhaustive APIs. You can’t export your Facebook Group and member data the way you can export and control all of the data and content on your social network on Ning.
A group on Facebook is fantastic if you are only focused on distribution and you are willing to give up freedom and control to get it. It’s theirs. Ning offers the latest social networking features, all infinitely customizable to meet your unique needs. It’s yours.
In practice, though, you don’t have to choose between your own social network on Ning and using Facebook. You can have both by simply activating the Facebook Promotion option on your social network on Ning. With this option, you can spread the word about your social network within Facebook while still linking back to a full fledged social network that is uniquely yours.
This is as much a philosophical difference as is it a difference of features. On Ning, your social network is yours. Your choice of features. Your content. Your decisions. We want you to create the exact right social network for you. It’s not about us. It’s about you.
Update: Just to clarify, Facebook Groups are the only thing that you as a member can create on Facebook, which is why this analysis is against Facebook Groups, not networks on Facebook. Networks on Facebook are defined and controlled exclusively by Facebook.
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