June 11, 2013


Before starting the Sanctum private social network, I looked at the options for creating an online community and explored : SocialGo, GROU.PS and Ning (in that order).

Ning 3.0 plansNing 3.0 Wins

Ning is the most popular, with over two million communities. That’s an indicator they’ll stay in business.

The latest iteration, Ning 3.0, launched in March 2013 and is still under development. Some capabilities I want won't be ready until summer (see the roadmap). Normally, I would not wait but I'm so impressed by what Ning is offering that I will.

Ning has a new pricing model. All accounts get all the important features. The price depends on the size of the community. In contrast, competitors give you more if you pay more. That’s annoying. Just because your network starts small doesn’t mean you need fewer capabilities.

Ning 3.0 makes other options look dated. Why would you want to start a community that looks like it’s from 2008?
Bad News Is Good News
You’ll find lots of criticism of Ning going back to the days when free accounts were eliminated. I understand the anger. Meetup also dropped their free option. Ning 3.0 has changes that Ning 2.0 communities may not appreciate. Since I’m starting fresh, the transition process doesn’t matter.

I was impressed that Ning allowed the discussions to take place on their site. They certainly cannot please everyone. By allowing the discussions in public, they show in extreme level of transparency. Some complainers look like whiners — best ignored.

Some suggestionsCreating a Ning 3.0 page have led to changes. What more could you want? Having a lively community of network creators is very valuable.
When building a community, there are many questions arise (at least for a novice like me). I tried Ning’s online chat support and got good results. There is also extensive help online. 
Ease Of Use
I’m finding Ning 3.0 is very flexible while remaining easy to use. When creating a page, you decide on the layout and who sees it. Most of my pages are only for community members. Some are restricted to different classes of members. Others are public, such as this page showing recommended sites and tools.

SocialGO = TooSLOWSocialGo

My previous choice was SocialGo Network Maker. Support is very poor as the screenshot shows. All I wanted was to reset my password. Normally there is an instant automated way. Their “ASAP” took days.

Also, I wanted a trial longer than 14 days. A rep contacted me but then disappeared without doing anything. I’ll spare you those emails.
This company offers another product called SocialGO, which does not allow member billing. Combining both products might free up resources to support customers.

LinkedIn Recommendation withdrawn
Be careful where you click. I accidentally recommended SocialGO on LinkedIn. Since I thought I would pick it, I wrote a recommendation. I’ve now deleted the text but there doesn’t seem to be a way to remove all references to me.


GROU.PS has a weird, too-clever spelling (though I’m fond of the initials “PS”). They seem to be the second most popular way to build an online community after Ning. They have made several very odd decisions.

odd discount, odd timingWhen you first look at the pricing page, you’re offered a 10% off if you signup within 10 minutes. Who would? You need time to explore. Also, 10% is a measly discount. Why even bother?

You only get a 7 day free trial. That is way too short. One month is ideal, though two weeks seems to be the norm. What’s going on? Do they want to lock you in before you’ve explored what’s there?
GROUP.PS resells your communityThe Dark Side
Something went wrong in the registration process and I was unable to enter my credit card information. My site still got created but was shown as having no owner. Anyone who wants can buy your site … that’s not right.

It seems that the site you build does not get deleted if you cancel or close your account. This is not clear while setting up an account. Would you like someone else to takeover your creation? What a trust killer. I didn’t explore further.


Selecting the right host for your private social network is important and there are clear differences. In particular, you want to pick a provider that’s likely to stay in business. I could have saved time by starting with the leader, Ning (which Seth Godin uses for triiibes.com).


PS If your needs are limited, try a free Google+ Community.

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