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May 1, 2009 by Andy Johnson

Your Own Custom Social Network

A few months ago I had a little lunch reunion with a group of guys I hadn’t seen in over 15 years. We used to ride BMX bikes together and had developed some strong friendships via that sport. It was a blast to talk and laugh about the good old days. By the end of the afternoon we vowed to start a web site that would give us a forum to document some of the crazy stories from yesteryear, and allow us to meet up with other BMX riders from around the world.

Facebook would do the trick, but it’s sort of a shotgun approach to social networking. You end up with all sorts of old school mates, family members, and lots of people you don’t even know who are convinced they know you. We wanted a social network that would be a bit more targeted; our own custom social network dedicated to a specific group of people. Imagine a custom social network just for your family, or just for your graduating class. Or a custom social network just for those of your same profession, or for those who are passionate about the same hobby you’re addicted to. Setting up your own custom social network is easier and cheaper than you might think.

There are several companies who specialize in custom social networks. The set-up is fairly easy and the capabilities of the site you set-up will pleasantly surprise you. Each of these services make a variety of design templates available, which should be fine if your network is fairly informal. But if you get serious and you can afford it be sure and go the extra mile by hiring a professional designer to customize the look of your social network. A custom design will give your users the sense of belonging to something much more special. Here is a list of four companies to get you started with a custom social network. Visit their sites, decide which company appeals to you, and jump right in!

CrowdVine
Price: Starts at free

ONEsite
Price: Starts at free

Ning
Price: Starts at free

Elgg
Price: Starts at free

In the end I chose Ning as the platform for our BMX social network. It was easy to set-up and has worked pretty flawlessly since its launch. Being a web designer and developer I spent a good amount of time customizing the look and feel of our site. Using one of their supplied templates just wouldn’t cut it. I also opted to pay a fee to use our own domain name and to cut down on some of the Ning advertising.

But the most important part is that our custom social network is accomplishing our goal of meeting other BMX riders from around the world as we all share our stories about riding silly little bikes. After just a few weeks we already have close to 100 members and a large face to face reunion planned for the near future. Do you have a targeted group of friends or colleagues that you’d like to socialize with? A custom social network just might do the trick!


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