Last night we had a great get together as part of our Atlanta Digital Marketing Meetup. However, of course, not all of our friends and fellow demented digital marketers live in Atlanta. So, we wanted to make sure that we shared what we discussed.
These days, so many companies are trying to figure out how to use social networking tools to do everything from target new prospects to conduct the equivalent of an ongoing panel of their best customers. Also, importantly, there are new tools emerging that put social networking and social media features within reach of just about anyone who can drag a mouse.
That said, here’s a list of social networks that you might want to consider. While most are indeed open source, we sort of cheated on this list and added a few other ones that strictly speaking are commercial, but have low cost or no cost options. Sometimes they present a better option – it just depends.
In other words, what is the top of the list for you might not be top of the list for the next guy. For that reason, while these represent the Top 10, in our humble and occasionally fishy opinion, we’ve not added specific numbers (and might try to sneak in no. 11 without you knowing).
In any instance, if you’re looking to build a social network, integrate a social network into your existing site, or maybe just get a little bit of social networking mojo, give this list a look.
LovdbyLess is a free and fully customizable social networking platform, built using Ruby on Rails. Lovd developers have offered their code to anyone with an itch to socialize and the server space to host it.
It comes with many of the same features and functionalities of Myspace and Facebook, such as:
- blogs with comment capabilities
- photo galleries with captions
- profile bio and information
- the ability to follow a user or “friend” them
- site search for friends
- user-to-user messaging
- profile comments
- user dashboard (recent activity feed)
- emailed activity
- flickr integration
- youtube integration
CommunityEngine is a free, open-source social network plugin for Ruby on Rails applications. Drop it into your new or existing application, and you’ll instantly have all the features of a basic community site.
- Authentication (sign up, log in)
- User profiles
- User search
- Blogs with tagging, categories and rich text editing
- Photo uploading and tagging
- “Clippings” – visual bookmarks
- Commenting and comment notification by e-mail (Blogs, profiles, photos, and clippings can be commented)
- Friendships and activity feeds
- Favoriting of clippings and blog posts
- And more!
SocialEngine is a PHP-based social network platform that lets you create a social network on your website. Right out of the box, your social network will offer nearly all of the features found on today’s wildly popular social networks.
Other social network apps overwhelm your users with superfluous features. History shows that the simpler, user-friendlier social networks are more likely to succeed. SocialEngine allows you to buy features “à la carte.” This means that if your unique idea includes specific features like blogs or photo albums, you can build them yourself or buy them from SocialEngine for a small fee.
- Extensive user profile options
- Search engine friendly URLS, template engine and support
- Anti-spam features
- Photo albums
- Private Messages
While it’s not for the non-technical, Insoshi can let you create your own social network for a very low price – zero. All you need to do is download and configure the software, then customize it to work for your customers. If you want to see what it looks like, you can just sign up and play around to get a good idea.
The current version of Insoshi has the following features:
- Activity feed
- Personal profiles with photo upload and comment walls
- Internal messaging system with read/replied/trashed messages
- Contacts list
- Blogs with comments
- Discussion forum
- Search for profiles, forums, and blogs
- Admin panel with site preferences
- Option for email verification and activity notifications
Elgg is an open, flexible social networking engine, designed to run at the heart of any socially-aware application. Building on Elgg is easy, and because the engine handles common web application and social functionality for you, you can concentrate on developing your idea.
- Activity feed
- User preferences
- Comprehensive administration tools
- OpenSocial applications
- File repository
- Social bookmarking
- And more…
- RSS, FOAF, XFN for content syndication
- OpenID, OpenSocial, OAuth for integration with other web services
- Open Data Definition and an increasing number of data portability formats for import / export
- An extensible RESTful API, with results in JSON, serialised PHP or XML
- AJAX through jQuery and user-definable callbacks
- Easy extension for use with caching systems such as memcached, for increased system performance
Drupal + community modules
Drupal is a free, open-source software package that allows users to easily publish, manage and organize a wide variety of content on a website. There are already tens of thousands of sites powered by Drupal.
While not a social network specific platform, between the built-in functionality and an endless list of add-on modules, Drupal could be the perfect fit. If there’s a feature you need, someone has probably already developed a module to do it. But if not, there’s an enormous community of developers who support Drupal and you can write custom modules to share with them.
Joomla + Community Builder extension
The Community Builder suite extends the Joomla! and Mambo website user management systems and allows further management of those users.
Key features include:
- extra fields in profile
- enhanced registration workflows
- user lists
- connection paths between users
- admin defined tabs and user profiles
- image upload
- front-end workflow management
- integration with other components like PMS
- Use of multiple database connections for scalability
- Multiple network structures and full customizability
Kickapps is a community-building platform – something of a private label social network that you can embed in your site with a modicum of effort. You may even have already seen it if you’ve visited or used community features on ABC Family, the DIY Network, or the Phoenix Suns. If you want to create your own brand’s Facebook, here’s one way to do it.
- My Home
- Media Sharing and Mobile Uploading
- Profile Pages
- Friending and Groups
- Blogs and Podcasts
- Message Boards
- The KickApps Affiliate Center
- Industry’s First Self-Service Widget Builder
- Media Management
- Member Management
- Advertising Inventory Control
- Detailed Reporting
- Content Management System (CMS) Compatible
Ning offers the latest social networking features, all infinitely customizable to meet your unique needs. As a platform, you don’t have to appeal to Ning for the features you want. If you have the time and the inclination, you can build them yourself. It’s the software equivalent of Home Depot. Unlike other services that offer a “one-size-fits-all” offering, your social network on Ning runs on a programmable platform.
- Fully customize the look of your network with themes and CSS
- Insert widgets from other websites or create your own
- Fully customizable profile
- Schedule events, invite network members, and keep track of who’s attending
- Create groups inside your social network around hobbies, interests, affinities, geographical locations and more
- Real-time Activity Stream – Keep up with the members of your social network
- Discussion Forum – Start a discussion on any topic and watch your members respond with posts, photos and attachments
- Upload original footage or share videos from popular video services
- Post photos and organize them into albums, galleries and slideshows
- Create a network badge that your members can display with pride on their blog or website
- Members can share photos, videos and music from your social network on their Facebook profiles
Ning offers some premium services as well, such as removing certain promotional links or ads, expanding your storage, or using a domain name that you own.
Google Friend Connect
Google Friend Connect is a new offering from Google that allows you to add social networking features to your site by simply copy and pasting gadget code from Google. The best part is, anyone with a Google, Yahoo, or OpenID account can join with only one click
Just copy and go
- Choose the apps you want from a gallery of gadgets created by Google and the OpenSocial developer community. You can get gadgets for photo sharing, concert listings and games, with many more to come.
- Copy the snippets of code for the gadgets you’ve chosen.
- Paste the snippets where you want them to live on your site and just like that, they’ll be up and running.
With Google Friend Connect, visitors to your site or blog can:
- Sign in with their Google, Yahoo, AIM or OpenID account.
- Interact with other visitors by making friends, sharing media, posting comments, playing games, and more.
- Invite friends from other social networks and contact lists to join your site or blog.
Facebook Connect is a new arm of the popular social networking platform, which gives users the ability to take their Facebook identity and friends with them as they explore outside sites and applications. Third-party sites need to adopt a portion of the Facebook API to enable Facebook Connect features.
For Third-party sites, Facebook Connect:
- Provides trusted user authentication
- Real Identities – Users bring their real names and information to your site, no pseudonyms or spammers
- Social Distribution – Users can share and distribute their web activities with friends, putting your site, application, or content in front of new users.
With Facebook Connect, users can:
- Login to your site with their Facebook username and password
- Bring their Facebook information with them – username, friends, privacy settings, profile, images, groups, etc
- Participate in activities on your site – like commenting or writing a review – then share these site activities with their Facebook friends (or publish activities under their feed)
Here’s a PDF version of our presentation, courtesy of our friends at DocStoc:
If you need some help with any of these, we know of some digital scientists who might be able to lend you a hand. Go forth and network, er, socially.