This year really has been about social networks. Blogging, forums, personal webpages, groups and information sharing have all started to merge. Of course Facebook has dominated the space this year, but with privacy concerns becoming an issue, people might start looking for alternatives in the new year.

I would expect lots of niche social networks to start appearing in the coming year. I have some ideas to run my own social network and I have been exploring the different options available.

The first one is Ning. This is a fully hosted solution, that is probably best for the novice or someone just looking to add some social networking functionality to an existing site. You can get access to the code but you need to apply and probably need to show you have experience with PHP. To start making your own money from the site you need to pay certain fees. $19.95 per month to run your own ads, or to remove Ning’s advertisements. $4.95 per month to use your own hostname, instead of using a subdomain of Ning. $7.95 per month to remove the option to remove, “create your own social network”.

As you can see, if you want to make money from it you could be looking at around $33 a month. Since this includes hosting it is a reasonable deal, but then you would need to spend money and time promoting your network and you are going to have limited ownership rights. Ning is basically the blogger for social networks.

Drupal is something which I have played with but not used on a site yet. It seems to have everything, blogs, forums etc, but people still seem to use vbulletin to run the forum. Using bridges is one thing I want to avoid. It has a reasonable number of add-ons but nothing like Joomla.

PhpFox is a MySpace type clone. It is not cheap at $300 and I have read pretty mixed reviews about it on forums. I have never used it, so I can’t really comment.

Vbulletin is forum software, but they are offering more social networking mods like blogs, photo galleries, classifieds and individual user pages. If the forum is going to be the main emphasis of your site, I would go for vbulletin. It is very search engine friendly with the VBSeo module.

I spent yesterday looking at the new components and modules available for Joomla. I was very impressed with what I saw. The community builder component is really the core of their social networking capability. The many other good modules available have some tie in with community builder. I have an idea for a site that would include things like property classifieds, general classifieds, galleries and forums. The new fireboard forum is getting some good reviews and you don’t have to worry about bridges. A good multi-user blogging component is one thing which Joomla lacks.

Ok, my review is a little biased as I am already pretty familiar with Joomla, but in the time I have been away from the Joomla website, I am very impressed with the developer support it is getting. Lots of fantastic new modules. Most of them are free. You don’t have to be a programmer to set up your own site, but you do need to follow instructions and if there is no instructions, well you just need to be someone who likes playing around with this kind of stuff 🙂 Joomlashack also have some very nice new templates that can give your site a professional look.