Need more proof that social networking sites are becoming a commodity? Look no further than Ning version 2, dubbed: "Your Own Social Network". It's the company's latest iteration of its service which is designed to allow anybody to create and run their own social web site -- with little or no coding skills. Similar products include the hosted version of Elgg (Elgg Spaces), and Marc Canter's People Aggregator.
Whilst the original roll out of Ning offered a lot of functionality -- other than 'cloning' an existing Ning site, users needed to get their hands dirty, and required knowledge of the PHP programming language. With version 2 it's possible to create a fully customized and functional social network, without writing a single line of code. Although to further personalize the look and feel of your social network, users can edit the CSS and HTML templates.
After giving your new social networking site a name and strap line, you get to decide which functionality to include, such as a video uploads or embeds, blogging, and photos etc. Then in drag 'n' drop fashion you can re-arrange the layout of the site, and pick from a list of style-sheet templates. And that's pretty much it, you're good to go.
Pricing starts from free, or you can upgrade to run your own Google Adsense code for $20/month, and have your own domain point to your Ning site for $5/month.
When Ning first launched, many people questioned the viability of using the service to develop social software -- the argument went: who would invest in a startup whose product was built and hosted on Ning? Surely anyone serious about developing a social web service would roll and host their own?
I think this kind of misses the whole point of Ning and other similar services. It's not about creating the next MySpace or YouTube. Instead it's similar to how blogging changed the game for personal publishing. Nobody questioned whether people who were passionate about writing great content, should use a hosted blogging platform. Call it Long Tail social networks or just a bit of fun -- hosted platforms, like Ning, are the next phase in putting social web tools into the hands of everybody.