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…
|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.