Hawaiʻi's Technology Community

Aloha fellow geeks -

I'm looking for information about and experiences with hosted "social media platforms" (for lack of a better phrase).  My daughter's school is looking for something in this regard, and while I think the requirements are fairly flexible, the essential thing is the ability to define groups and to distribute messages to group members.  Some sort of calendaring (at the group level, and globally) would probably be useful.  I'm not sure at this point whether member blogs are essential, or even desired.  It is also critical that the tool be manageable by your average moderately tech-aware parent.

Being a loyal TechHuiian, I naturally thought of ning.  This is a possibility, of course.  Ning no longer has a "free" option, but I expect that even Ning's "mid-level" pricing option would be within budget. Perhaps our fearless leader Dan can comment on his satisfaction with the platform.  Hosted Drupal also came to mind, but with that I worry about management overhead.  Then again, I know nothing of Drupal.

Any suggestions?

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If you're looking for seamless SaaS hosting, SocialGo may be worth looking into. It's relatively inexpensive, and it's not such a fuster-clucked back-end platform like Ning is. Both are relatively easy turn-key solutions, 'just depends how much you like to bang your head against a wall to achieve a desired effect. :-)

Drupal is OK, but to be brutally honest, Drupal 6 is a lot more high-maintenance than it should be. If your hosting administrator isn't on the ball, you can find yourself outdated (and vulnerable) rather quickly. The upshot is, the D6 code maintainers are very good at patching security vulnerabilities and pushing out updates, which makes D6 one of the best platforms to run.

From experience, I don't recommend self-hosting D6 on your own machine(s) -- you'll end up spending more on D6 theme and module customizations and then routine maintenance than it's worth for a low-budget operation. Better to buy into a hosting provider that specializes in D6 (and is tooled up for mass-deployment and maintenance).

I can't think of any other publicly available platforms in the low-budget range at the moment, sorry. Hope this helps.

Aloha e Joe. I recommend Ning. I agree with Laurence that self hosting Drupal is probably not the best option for an organization like yours.

Ning has actually gotten _a lot_ better since they no longer have to deal with millions of free networks. Although they aren't free they are very cheap and you get a ton of features out of the box. They finally have decent Open Social support so you can extend networks with third-party and custom features. Their new APIs are also much better than their first attempt.

SocialGo has some great features like Facebook integration, premium membership with paid areas, etc. I also really like the design of their default themes. One thing that drives me nuts about SocialGo is that you can't put HTML in many places where it would really be useful, such as calendar entries. Several of the core features still feel a bit rough around the edges, probably because they are a newer platform.

At this point we've created about a dozen social networks for customers. We've had a couple where the requirements were so specialized we built the social network from scratch, but in most cases Ning worked just fine. Its inexpensive, it has tons of features, its reasonably customizable and now you can extend it via OpenSocial and the Ning API.

Another reason we tend to favor Ning is that they are a more established company and, therefor, a safer bet long term. They are profitable. Ning has over $100M in funding and 125 employees. They have 80M unique visitors monthly. SocialGo is a company with 12 employees and around a million in funding. I don't know if they are profitable.
Dan, Laurence: thank you both for the feedback. To clarify: I'm not at all interested in hosting Drupal or anything else myself. Given Dan's praise of Ning, I think I should at least give their trial a shot.

Thanks again!

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