Friday, November 05, 2010

It's now so easy to establish a social network - is this a good thing?

I've recently been looking around some at some of the 'white-label' social network services.

They allow anyone to establish their own branded social network at little or no cost. Most include features such as personal profiles, blogs, forums, newsfeeds, photo and video libraries, live chat, email lists, calendars as well as widget markets (with custom features you can add) and more - much more.

These services have made it incredibly easy to set-up and manage social networks. In fact you can have one branded and live within five minutes for less than it costs for a coffee per day.

But is this a good thing?

I wonder sometimes if it has simply become too easy.

Successful social networks need a purpose and regular nurturing (particularly in their infancy). Given how easy it is to now set them up, are there many that were established without a clear purpose or need?

And do organisations have the skills and experience to manage successful social networks. Sure everyone HAS personal experience through a social network of their own but, as anyone moving to a new city appreciates, it takes time and effort to turn strangers into friends - even virtual ones.

I'd like to think that organisations largely follow a strategic approach. In this case they'd start by defining their goals, identifying their audience and seeking existing communities to engage with before considering establishing a new one.

They would then employ the right tools and tactics, deploying the correct functionality and nurturing their social network until it was capable of standing on its own feet.

If you are going about community building - social network building - in this way, let me know.

If you are new to the area and want to know what's out there, I've included a list of some of the white label social network providers below. I haven't provided a review of the services, as I've not used all of them however I have seen good executions of Elgg, Ning, Groupsite and SocialText.
Finally, here's a summary of Forrester's report on Community sites which provides more details on white label social network providers; Forrester Wave™: Community Platforms, Q1 ’09


  1. It is worrying although it seems the trend in my organisation is the epidemic of mobile iPhone app development rather than social network update - but I'm sure it's coming.

    Related articles:

  2. iPhone apps are definitely on the upswing. How many have Android and mobile web versions made as well I wonder...

  3. A slightly off-topic question:

    Imagine a regional council that has an existing website that is built, designed and operated by staff, runs on open source software. The site is attractive, informative, regularly updated, conforms to standards for accessibility, HTML, CSS and and annual costs for hosting and domain name is a few $100.

    Now imagine that being replaced with a new site with the same content but built, designed and hosted by a large corporate design company that can't even get its own site to meet the accepted standards mentioned above. This new site will run on proprietary software that is more complex and requires retraining for staff. This new site is budgeted at $50k to start with. It's also very ugly.

    Is this a good example of government not really understanding value, lock-in, standards, open source and so on?

  4. Anon,

    It sounds like a situation where a vendor did a good sell and an organisation didn't understand its options.

    These things happen from time to time. Sometimes its possible to influence the outcome, sometimes you have to make do, and sometimes it's a sign that it may be time to seek a career change.



  5. Pierre-Antoine FerronNovember 12, 2010 at 11:39 AM

    A good alternative for public administrations could be for public admnistrations to deploy their own tools. First in an intranet fashion then in an Internet iteration.

    At the City of Montreal (Canada), we are currently deploying BuddyPress on an experimental basis in our intranet.