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MU vs NING for Community Building

This is a guest post by Roni of GreenLiteBites. Roni has developed a successful online community, BlogToLose, to support her weight loss blog WeightWatchen.

In 2005, I started a blog to track my weight loss progress after joining Weight Watchers. Initially, the site was a very egocentric attempt to be accountable on my weight loss journey. However, as I started to get some regular visitors my blog began to change. In addition to reaching my own goals, my focus turned to helping others reach theirs. I polled my readers, asking if they’d be interesting in connecting with one another if I gave them a space to blog. The response I received was and astounding “YES!”.

My initial solution was WordPress MU. If you don’t know, MU is the multi-user version of the famous WordPress blogging platform. Installing it was a cinch, but customizing it and managing it was a bit of a different story. Despite the problems and time commitment, my idea worked! I built a community of about 1600 people (600 blogs) interesting in communicating, sharing experiences, changing their eating habits and losing weight. Consequently, the traffic and popularity of my blog grew as I now had a community of people supporting it.,

However, after a year of managing the users, the site and the SPAM, I sought out another solution. MU was great and some of my users loved the control they had on their blogs, but overall my novice users felt intimidated and overwhelmed and I was getting burnt out supporting it all on my own.

Then, a few months ago, a friend asked if I heard of NING. NING allows you to easily develop a robust network (community) with minimal or no programming. Unlike MU there is no installation involved. There is absolutely no upfront development to get off the ground. A few clicks of the mouse and you have an online community shell with forums, user blogs, templates, etc.

I successfully launched the NING community 3 weeks ago and with 485 users it’s growing faster then I ever imagined. As suspected, my novice users are ecstatic about the easy to use interface. However, my advanced users are a bit discontent about the loss of control on the new site.

Currently, I’m running and managing both the orignal MU community and the new NING social network. Both have thier pros and cons…

  WordPress MU NING
Installation & Set up Need your own server space, php, mySQL Complete hosted solution with no cost for the basics
User Tools Nothing beyond the base WordPress admin, unless you install or program them yourself Comes with base tool set, RSS feeds, forums, ability to create groups, user profile page with comment wall, etc.
Customization Full access to open source code but must know how to program Drag and drop customization for basics but can request access to code for more advanced control
Message boards Not integrated but can install BBpress and share user database for integration. Included but can not customize unless you request access to code
Chat Not integrated Not integrated without 3rd party widget
User Pages Users have control over blog and can add posts as well as pages Users have no ability to add their own pages
Friends Feature Not integrated Included in basic solution
Community Messaging Not Integrated Included in basic solution
Ad integration Easily include ads in community pages and user templates Must pay monthly fee for ability to include ads
SPAM control Hard to mange without installing plugins for captcha and comment spam control Integrated captcha for new user sign up
Privacy Options Nothing beyond basic flag for "I would like my blog to be visible" Community control over access level for non-members and individual user control for thier own blogs.
Support Large user base and therefore a lot of online support and user generated plug ins. Not as many users but online support is growing.

Overall, both solutions offer a great start for building an online community to support your blog. MU is a great solution for those who have programming knowledge or access to programmers while NING offers a nice base of community features for those with minimal programming experience.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Yes, great article Darren. I’ve actually been really looking into Ning. I’ve seen so many sites pop up using it, it really got my curiosity going. It sounds like I’d try the Ning solution as compared to MU by the looks of it. Thanx for the article, got my thinking cap back on!

    Cheers
    Davin

  2. Andrea says:

    MU is definitely for thsoe who know, or are willing to learn, about programming and running a server-based & self-hosted solution.

  3. I am reading WordPress for Dummies after 18 months of getting nowhere quick on my WordPress.org blog…I am sure my problems have no where near the complexity of bringing on other bloggers and trying to help them with MU. I will probably just skip the chapters in WordPress for dummies about MU.

    I have joined Ning.com groups… I think I started a group on Ning.com before I had joined any other groups, the one I started is a smaller more intimate group and I just started it to think about social networking from a different angle. I think. The Ning.com community I started is called The Maureen Corps … just for people named Maureen. We only have four members. A fifth person tried to join. His name was (and is) Art though, he started a Ning.com group about Art and generously under the circumstances allowed me to join. I can appreciate Art.

    Isn’t the argument it’s YOUR traffic on the WordPress blog but you are giving Ning the traffic on a Ning.com but with 1600 members or even 485 members or even 4 in my case you give up lots of headaches too?

  4. For building more professionally-oriented communities you should also take a look at CollectiveX-powered Groupsites.

    Visit CollectiveX.com and Groupsites.com for more info. Let me know what you think. Some see it as Ning for professionals.. or a social Sharepoint.

  5. Ning is difficult to monetize. Or at least expensive. Checkout how much do you have to pay to use your own domain and put your own ads

  6. Dominique says:

    I have tried using NING and have attached it as a forum to my main blog. It is really easy to use and good for non-tech savy internet users. It is also easy to manage the various communities that you may join on the NING network itself.
    It is extremely easy to upload videos/photos to your own personal page in your NING network.

  7. I will give them a shot!
    Look like nice tool… But where is link to them?

  8. Ning looks interesting but how do you grow beyond Ning’s hosted solution?

  9. WPblogger says:

    Roni, did you look into BuddyPress? It’s a set of WordPress MU plugins and it sounds like it would have done a lot of what you wanted.

    Here’s some more info on it: http://buddypress.org/about/

    Cheers!

  10. MoneyNing says:

    Ning is of course interesting (it helps when it’s in my family name :)) but it will be hard to grow out of it once your blog develops.

    But then… why would another use WordPress MU when they can get their own WordPress hosted site with minimal setup?

  11. Ben says:

    I found this article interesting, but sloppily put together: spelling errors and hard-to-read table. I was also very surprised that links to Ning and WordPress MU were not included…

  12. WordPress MU is a great tool, I have used it on a couple of client projects and found it nearly as easy to modify/enhance as WP itself. The main issue is finding/modifying existing plugins/themes for WP-MU; many that work on WP work, some need tweaks.

    I would also like to point readers to another great option called BuddyPress (http://buddypress.org). From their site, “BuddyPress will transform a vanilla installation of WordPress MU into a social network platform.” It is basically WordPress MU with preset plugins that are tightly integrated into the initial package.

  13. Strong One says:

    Best of luck with your venture’s Roni!

  14. Roni says:

    maureen – YES it gave up a ton of headaches with giving the hosting up to NING. I was afraid of how my dinky hosting was going to handle any more members on MU.

    Nico Granelli – Agreed it is a con of NING. However having an already an established relationship with a CPM network I knew I would cover the expenses within 3 months if my traffic held.

    As for the links, sorry guys, I wasn’t sure if Darren was going want or to stick them in… here you go….

    http://mu.wordpress.org/
    http://www.ning.com/

    Gary Jones – Great Question! I’m really not sure as I haven’t reached that point yet.

    WPblogger – I Haven’t – DARN! That may have solved many of my problems!! lol

    MoneyNing – The sense of community is strong and not everyone is looking for a monetizing blog, they just want to be heard.

    Ben – Thanks for the feedback. Writing is not my strongest talent. I’m hoping the clarify the table with Darren. Sorry about that.

    Strong One – THANKS

  15. AK says:

    Joomla is also a noteworthy community building platform. The plugins are quite cool!

  16. Stephanie says:

    I was managing communication for my African drumming group on my blog, and the demands of people went beyond what I could maintain given time constraints.

    I chose Ning for ease of use to users more than anything, as we had a variety of backgrounds, and most are not tech-savvy.

    Choosing a social network platform requires you to consider the level of your users, and as my network supports users that interract physically as well as virtually, Ning was an ideal solution.

    We manually approve all membership to try and avoid spam. :)

    http://drumstuff.ning.com

  17. Mike says:

    I think it is difficult to compare Ning and WP-MU, especially without mentioning some of the many other CMSs available. Ning to me sounds pretty expensive if you want to run it on your own domain with ads.

    I compared some of the other options available on my blog:
    http://www.retireyoungandwealthy.com/options-for-creating-your-own-social-network/

  18. Callum says:

    Roni, nice article, good comparison.

    I think Ning makes sense if you want to unload the support / server maintenance / etc headache. I maintain a WPMU install professionally, and there is quite a lot of work involved. It’s not like the famous 2 step WordPress install.

    I’d say Ning is also very competitively priced. $43 a month for your own domain, your own ads, and an extra chunk of disk / bandwidth. I guess the downside is the lack of integration with your own site. Plus, if you wish to move away from Ning at some point in the future, I’m pretty sure you can’t just export your data and start somewhere else.

    I’m considering offering a hosted WordPress MU / buddyPress product. It would include all the updates, the plugins updated, themes updated, etc. It would cost a minimum of $500 a month though. Anyone think there would be a market for a product around that price?

  19. healthynerd says:

    Hey, roni, wait up, why are we only comparing MU and Ning? Have we extensively researched on which social networking platform is best on the market? Have you tried searching for open source ones besides MU?

    What about Elgg? or Dolphin? or AroundMe? What about you guys? Did I miss anything better?

    Thanks, Roni for sharing your insight!

  20. Roni says:

    Callum – That would be too steep for a little start up like me but for established business trying to build a network around a campaign, I can see it being viable.

    healthynerd – We are only comparing MY to NING because this article is based on my experience. I’d love to hear about other networks and how they compare. please!

  21. MJ Ray says:

    I can’t remember whether it was Ning or Xing which I refused to sign up to because it had poor accessibility (don’t use IE or Firefox with all the trimmings? Then go away, kid) and an IMO-abusive doorstep-sized terms of service which dictated copyright licensing terms of anything people posted there.

    Anyway, I’m surprised accessibility and terms of service don’t appear in the comparison.

  22. Del Sauzo says:

    I’m off to take a look at some of the links here. Nice post Roni. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  23. Cathy Moore says:

    A challenge I’ve had as a Ning user is that it’s very hard to keep track of posts in forums. I can’t tell what I’ve read and what I haven’t, and the RSS feed for forum posts hasn’t been much help for me.

  24. Sam Stevens says:

    Here’s a new social network platform I was just reading about: soceeo.

  25. Jake Rutter says:

    I have recently taken another look at Ning and they have come a long way since I last checked them out about 2 years ago. The level of customization that they offer their user is huge! The tools there are much better than WP, dont get me wrong I LOVE WP, but the MU version just isnt there yet. The only thing that might come close is BuddyPress.

  26. healthynerd says:

    The only drawback that is keeping me from choosing Ning is the commission cut. It’s too HUGE as well, Jake. Frankly, once you’ve made a name for yourself like Roni, and have established a significant number of people in your community, it would not be a good move to maintain your site in a third-party platform like Ning. Now, the question is, how easy is the migration?

  27. Sam Stevens says:

    KickApps also deserves consideration.

  28. LHenry says:

    Great post, I actually posted my own blog series about Ning, and creating your own Ning Network as I’ve found so many people having questions about starting a network of their own.
    http://ilhenry.com/sistasense

  29. Matt Jones says:

    Ning is great but customization is a problem. I recently launched one with premium features called Network Airsoft. I have several ways to monetize it which I will implement in the future.

  30. Ning has some cool features but there are some downsides that can be problematic for a business owner.

    When new features or system wide issues occur on the Ning platform the Entire network is often down (Including Ning.com sometimes) and your social network will display a “Join Ning Create Your Community Today”

    At first glance this may not seem like a big issue but if you are concern about branding this issue that often occurs on Ning can become a hazard for your business by exposing your Hosting service leaving your clients & potential customers confused to say the least.

    Also, Ning is not the most SEO Google friendly platform for content management. I had my Ning network for months and i could not get my Blog post to be index properly by Google for life of me. I noticed only links to blog post on my home page when Google crawled got index in the search engine.

    Besides that, Ning is ok if you can push traffic over yourself but don’t depend on Google being your savior especially if you have a Private Social Network that requires Members join before viewing your content.

    http:///www.makemoneyonlinesafely.com

  31. Absolutely. Overcoming the issues specified above are tedious and sometimes require specific skills. I do agree with your first statement and thank your for your very informative post.In all this was an excellent post and I sure am impressed with this blog, i’ll come back again and again to check for updates.Regards,Patrick Brunt,http://www.seov2.com

  32. اناشيد says:

    I’m off to take a look at some of the links here. Nice post Roni. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  33. doris says:

    Nice post Roni. Thanks for sharing your experience.