At the Work Literacy course (starts today, with 365 people registered) we’re using Ning as our social networking platform. According to my co-facilitator, Michele Martin, “Online social networks facilitate connections between people based on shared interests, values, membership in particular groups (i.e., friends, professional colleagues), etc. They make it easier for people to find and communicate with individuals who are in their networks using the Web as the interface.” That’s an okay working definition and gives those new to the concept an idea of what I’m talking about.
We chose Ning because it is easy to manage as a completely hosted service. It’s been around long enough to have the major kinks worked out, the company is well funded and all of the facilitators have used it before. We also don’t expect this community to be active for long after the 6 week course is over, though we could be surprised. We didn’t expect to have so many people sign up either. Our initial idea was to use Ning as the connector, while writing on our own blogs, or the Work Literacy blog. For communities that are going to be around for a longer period of time, a different platform could be more suitable.
I came across Grou.ps recently and set up a demo community. I like the interface and the various options for modules. Grou.ps also includes a wiki module. Like Ning, it is not open source, but the company says that an OS version is coming. Grou.ps has already donated a fair bit of code back to open source projects. I prefer using open source based platforms for any community site that has the potential to scale. With open source you keep the option of migrating the platform to your own servers where you can maintain better control of service.
Another new player that I’ve only looked at quickly is Buddy Press, a social networking framework built on WordPress MU (multi-user). An example of WordPressMU used for education is edublogs. Since I’m already using WordPress and wordpress.org has always been open source, I’m quite excited about this new set of tools. BuddyPress is in Beta at this time, so it may not be best for your first company-launched community. Let the geeks test it out first.
Finally, an older player in the open source community space is Elgg. The free Eduspaces service offers Elgg as a hosted service, which you can test out and connect with the educational technology community.
There are several options to test out social networking online as well as some open source platforms that won’t break the bank and will allow you to tinker with what’s under the hood. As far as the technology is concerned, there are few excuses not to try out social networking for work or learning. Notice that I didn’t have to mention the really big social networking platforms that are getting all the mainstream media attention?