Ning

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"Ning is a platform for creating your own social network. Our passion is putting new social networks in the hands of anyone with a good idea. With Ning, your social network can be for anything and anyone. You start by naming your social network and choosing a combination of features (photos, videos, forums, events, etc.) from an ever-growing list of options. You can then customize your social network's appearance and launch it! People who join your social network will automatically have a customizable profile page and will be able to message and friend each other."

Source: http://help.ning.com/cgi-bin/ning.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_faqid=2695

It differs from Facebook and Myspace in that each of those tools combine both the platform and the network together whereas Ning provides the tools for lots of different networks.  Each network is independent and you would sign up for each one separately.

The fact that Ning networks can be single-purpose has benefits and drawbacks.  I rarely ever interact with the Ning to which I belong because I just don't have a particular need to do so.  Since other tools like Facebook and Twitter cross personal and professional boundaries, I'm much more likely to go to them on a regular basis.  I did just subscribe to the RSS feeds for the Library 2.0 ning, but so far, they've been quiet.

Pros:
  • Lots of features - blogs, forums, audio, video, chat, photo hosting, many more
  • None of the Facebook noise like chain-mail (25 things... notes), games (Mafia Wars), etc
  • unobtrusive ads

Cons:
  • usage
  • notifications

Clients:
  • none that I know of.  While some twitter clients also pull data from Facebook, Myspace, Friendfeed and LinkedIn, I haven't seen any that do so with Ning.

Backup Services
  • same as for clients.

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In response to your 'cons: notification' this is a simple fix whereas you can simply turn off notifications, or forward them to a secondary email address. A simple, but useful fix.

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