Home Battle of the DIY Social Networks: Ning, vibEngine, PeopleAggregator

Battle of the DIY Social Networks: Ning, vibEngine, PeopleAggregator

There are a number of DIY social network services on the market, and in this post
we’ll take a look at 3 of them – Ning, vibEngine and PeopleAggregator. By DIY, we mean
services that allow you to create a custom social network for any topic. These services
can be either hosted or based on your own server. In many ways, these services represent
the second generation of social networks, after Friendster, MySpace and Facebook. You
could argue virtual worlds are ‘next generation’ too, but in any case custom social
networks are certainly a step up from proprietary SNS like MySpace and Facebook.


Let’s start with the most familiar such service, Ning. It’s the most talked about and was founded by Marc
Andreessen of Netscape fame. Ning started out in a flurry of web
2.0 hype in October 2005 as a mashup builder tool, but the current incarnation of Ning is
styled as “Your Own Social Network for Anything”. This Monday Ning announced a whopping
investment round of $44 Million. Andreessen noted in his blog that
Ning will be “substantially expanding our product plans — we have a long list of
features and product capabilities we plan to add as fast as we possibly can”. So the $44M
will allow them to “staff up” and pump out those new features, as well as scale for
expected growth.

Ning claims to have 71,531
social networks so far. Examples of Ning-based social networks are the Smashing Pumpkins SN (with 450 members) and Rawkus (a hiphop community with 3,500 members).


One of the first custom social network
services was Marc Canter’s PeopleAggregator
(disclosure: I used to do some consulting work for PA a year or so ago). Marc Canter has
long held a vision for, and evangelized on his blog and at events, an open social network
service – with an emphasis on
. It’s fair to say that Ning has muscled in on this market and gotten more press
than PeopleAggregator over the past year or two. Nevertheless, PeopleAggregator is a solid
offering and has implemented many of the ideas and features that Canter has been talking
about for years – for example the notion of an “identity hub”. It is both an open source
Social Network solution that can be downloaded and even forked, while at the same time
being a white label offering and a free hosted service. PeopleAggregator has a mix of free and paid options. See our post a year ago
for more details.

Many PA social networks are white label, but a couple of public examples are GT Channel and Connect at EconSM.


The third service we’ll discuss here is vibEngine,
from Vibe Capital. Originally based in Perth,
Australia, the founders Clay and Rachel Cook are now firmly planted in Silicon Valley –
in fact right down the road from Mr Techcrunch himself! Perhaps they figured that to
compete with Andreessen and his formidable Silicon Valley network, they needed to be at the center of the action too.

The main difference between Ning and vibEngine is that Ning is a free, automated and
easy-to-use solution, whereas vibEngine styles itself as a “professional tailored
solution”. In other words, vibEngine is a white label offering (it’s not free) and they
will help set up custom social networks for their customers. PeopleAggregator is a mix
between the two. Another subtle difference with vibEngine is that it specializes in
providing “ranked-advice communities”.

I spoke to Clay Cook about vibEngine, because at
first I couldn’t see how they are competing with Ning or even PeopleAggregator – as it
doesn’t have a free offering. Clay explained that their aim is “to build many wholly
owned subsidiaries” that use the vibEngine technology. They also plan to license
vibEngine to large existing websites and startups. Currently they have 2 wholly owned
subsidiaries – Minti (a social network for parents)
and Refurber (ironically, a social network for DIY
folks), both of which were founded by Clay and his wife Rachel. The pair also recently
launched a partner license site at buildinginlondon.com (a social network for London
homeowners). There are plans for more such partnerships and licensed sites.


What all of these services have in common is that they provide a bundle of tools for
creating a social network – complete with all the ‘web 2.0’ features you can think of,
such as blogs, photo sharing, video sharing, RSS, tags, personal messaging, email,
friends lists, discussions, privacy options, etc. There is no real ‘winner’ when
comparing the three services we’ve mentioned in this post – Ning, vibEngine,
PeopleAggregator. Each has its specific market and each is differentiated well from the
others. It’s certainly an interesting market though and, with the social networking craze
showing no signs of slowing, one that will only grow.

What do you think of each of these services? If you have used one (or more) of them,
please leave a comment telling us about your experience. Indeed, how many custom-made social networks are you currently a member of?

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