Many people have started communities on the popular network creation site Ning since its inception. On April 15th they announced they would no longer offer their free services. Realize this isn’t the end of Ning as they point out

The tens of thousands of you who already use our paid service represent over 75% of our traffic

So I imagine most of the popular networks you belong to on Ning will remain in place.

However, for the other 25% that might navigate elsewhere you have several options. I’ve yet to see a good breakdown of some of the better free Ning alternatives out there so I thought I would give it a shot. I found most of these sites in the comments and blog posts of other despaired Ning network creators. I’ve also tried to track down these other networks reactions to Ning’s announcement. Hopefully this will help you with your own transition.

Hosted Solutions

Spruz

Create a free socially enabled website! Many powerful features including Blog, Forum, Videos, Member Management, Shopping Cart & more! Fully data driven free websites.

Spruz seems to be the network of choice for most ex-ningers. I’ve read several reports of great up time and quality service. Spruz seems to have everything Ning has and a few extras that make it somewhat unique. I’ve seen users specifically boast about its file sharing capabilities.
[Post from Spruz welcoming Ning users]


Webs

Webs gets 30 times the traffic of Spruz and any other network on this list falling short only to Ning at two-thirds its traffic. Webs promises to always be free and shares several of the main features that made Ning popular including forums, member profiles and blogs.

[Post from Webs welcoming Ning users]

WackWall

I guess being in beta it wouldn’t be fair to compare their traffic to some of the other sites on the list. However, WackWall looks very promising. They are backed by a software company and don’t rely on investments which is why, they say, they will always remain free.

[Post from WackWall welcoming Ning users]

Grou.ps

Grou.ps is another great choice based on open source software. It seems to have everything Ning has and a very reasonable pricing plan to help scale your network. They also prefer to be called a social operating system. Looks very powerful.

[Post from Grou.ps welcoming Ning users]

Grouply

Grouply looks a lot like Ning on the front end and already has FAQs on importing members from other services. Matter of fact I’ve mistaken grouply groups for Ning groups a few times. One does have to wonder why their traffic has been dropping only to be revived by Ning’s latest news.

[Post from grouply welcoming Ning users]

[UPDATE: Grouply no longer available]

BigTent

BigTent may be one of the babies of the bunch but it provides all of the same services in an “integrated” approach. Users claim the support is tremendous making it worth their switch. BigTent looks like a very simple solution, maybe a little too simple for some.

[Post from BigTent welcoming Ning users]

Zerista

Still trying to wrap my brain around this one but it looks VERY cool. Imagine FourSquare meets Ning and has little mobile babies. With tons of cool features to integrate the social experience, maybe its about time you take your network to the next level and go mobile?

[Post from Zerista welcoming Ning users]

Groupsite

Groupsite (formerly known as CollectiveX) looks like an awesome network solution with some excellent features. It does seem like they find ways to lure you into buying their premium services, like limiting subgroups to 5 but overall another good solution on the free side.

SocialGo

SocialGo, like the rest has a very impressive feature list and is just as popular as Spruz traffic-wise. The site seems to have a pretty satisfied user-base as I’ve seen several people recommend the site across different blogs and networks. Definitely worth putting on the list.

Open Source Solutions

Maybe the phasing out of Ning’s free service is what it takes to get you to take ownership of your community and move to a self hosted solution. The following are all free and trusted solutions in the industry. I personally would go with BuddyPress but to each his own.

BuddyPress – [Message from Buddypress]

Elgg - [Message from Elgg]

Pligg

Dolphin

LovdByLess

Insoshi

Astrospaces

Conclusion

I wan’t to hear your thoughts. If you know of any other free hosted social network creation services, please share them in the comments. Also feel free to give feedback on any of the networks listed if you are currently a user or have used one in the past.

- Photo by Samuel Stroube

0saves
Leave a comment below and continue the conversation, or subscribe to my RSS feed to get articles like this delivered automatically to your feed reader.
  • Mark Johanssen

    We use a company called Brilliant Directories for our Directory website http://www.brilliantdirectories.com

  • rashurashu

    no one is free now.

  • Heidi Shannon

    Hi we are currently using Ning and looking to switch. We need better subscription /paywall functionality. Wanting to charge a subscription fee for part of the network, need a forum, profile pages and blog. We want to be able to manage subgroups and offer discounted subscriptions or be able to use promo codes. If anyone knows of a system that does this we would be grateful for the advice. Thanks in advance :)

    • Bogdane!

      Only if you are willing to pay for that options.

    • Birch Wind

      Spruz seems to do that. The forum has better interaction that webs.com’s forum. Notifications are better, pricing plan is better and there is the ability to make groups within the group. There is quite a bit going for it and I’m only using the free version.

    • Guest

      oiippppioi

  • http://twitter.com/xpcro Bogdane!

    Believe it or not i tried all of the above. From all af them, paid ones, ALL OF THEM ARE A RIP OFF. The homepage is shiny and modern but the actual software to use for groups is a FUCKING JOKE!

  • Pingback: Moment of Inspiration | Space Storm

  • http://twitter.com/jackzliu Jack Liu

    This article needs some updating as some better ones have come out. The two that are left out on this list is SocialEngine and phpFox. SocialEngine was the best alternative out there before phpFox recently came out with their newest version. I’ve been using SocialEngine for my own community and intend to move over to phpFox.

    I wrote up my experience using SocialEngine here:
    http://www.socialbuilders101.com/my-honest-review-of-socialengine/

    There are some major issues when it comes to missing features. Do lots of research before buying a platform.

  • http://www.igeeki.com Mohammad Kmail

    Well , I tried Elgg , and its brilliant social platform, I can nominate phpFox too.

  • Debbie

    Great article. FYI, though, Groupsite and SocialGo no longer have the free options.

  • http://www.pinoyau.info aolee

    I find Vanilla forums a bit similar to ning. why not check it out on vanillaforums.org

  • Derrick

    Grouply is no longer operating

    • http://www.jonbishop.com Jon Bishop

      Thanks, updated the post

  • Mike

    RE Designs Ultimate Web Builder is the best. It has an awesome built-in social networking app. The software is very dynamic and flexible, and fully customizeable.

    Here is the link: http://www.redesigns.org/web-builder

  • http://www.electrummarketing.com Thomas

    I have recently tested almost all of the social platforms in this list and would have to say that at least for us NING is by far the clear choice. Honestly I was hell bent on NOT using NING for a variety of reasons but after trying the others we decided that it was a no brainer.

    We initlally decided to go with grou.ps and after one day realized there software lacks key features, things that I would call basics. For example, if someone posts a photo, they can’t post a description of the photo. Our site is a site for artists, we could not possibly operate without this basic option available to us.

    Also they claim there site is ‘faster’ then NING. It’s not, in fact its very slow and very buggy. When adding my profile photo it got stuck (numerous times). Ultimately later I realized I had 9 profile photos – all duplicates. My partner in another state on a different computer had an identical problem.

    I am not one to post negative reviews unless I am really unhappy but clearly grou.ps is not ready for prime time.

    Also – a word of warning. If you close your group, they feel they own the content and can ofter it up to anyone if you discontinue paying them. This is clearly unethical and probably illegal.

    • http://twitter.com/freydrew Drew Frey

      Thomas,

      That sounds awful! If you’re looking for a white label social networking solution that allows you (the creator of the online community) the ability to OWN all of the content you might want to look at SocialEngine. (Full disclosure, I work for SocialEngine)

      We’ve been looking at this problem for a while and feel that the community should own all of the conversations and information and no one else. That’s our stance anyways…

      Hope all is well,

      Cheers!

      Drew
      http://socialengine.com

  • http://lust-academy.com/ UK discussions Message Boards, Forum & Chat

    It’s nearly impossible to find experienced people in this particular subject, but you seem like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

  • http://lust-academy.com/ UK discussions Message Boards, Forum & Chat

    Next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesn’t fail me just as much as this one. After all, Yes, it was my choice to read through, but I actually thought you’d have something helpful to say. All I hear is a bunch of moaning about something you could fix if you weren’t too busy seeking attention.

  • Timothy

    Grouply.com just went “belly up” after a buyout on February 24, 2012.

  • http://webdesignmachinist.com Rex

    Like Ning.com Socialgo.com is NOT free anymore.

  • Pingback: Is er zoiets als een social network armageddon? « Erfgoed 2.0

  • http://cherokeepath.ning.com/ Kay Smith

    I am a website builder/creator. I created The Cherokee Path on Ning. I was so shocked when they started charging for the websites on Ning. I had moved and was without internet and I lost my old email address and pass word to log into my website on Ning. Now they have it up for grabs. I spent years building The Cherokee Path and it was very enjoyable for me to create the site! If I had known when I was building The Cherokee Path that down the road they were going to start charging for the use of it…I would Not have put all my effort into building it. Excuse me but I feel like I have been robbed of my art!!!! These are my thoughts and feelings on how I feel about Ning not letting everyone Know at one point they would be charging for the use of their site!!

    • http://cbcf.groupsite.com Miss Capri

      Yes, I detest what Ning did as well. I am very happy with Groupsite.com, but a heads up – they have just introduced new limits on free networks starting in late June. Free networks created before June 21 won’t be effected and can operate as they always have, without the new limits, but any new groups now are something like 25 membrs per free group, and then you have to pay to increase that limit. Only one manager/owner per free group now, and I forget what the other limits are. So, u until late June, I would’ve said Groupsite all the way. It has good features, and the support is very friendly and helpful. There is Blastgroups too, but you only get one forum per network “the Lounge” – not quite so great if you want several forums dealing with specialized topics. Wackwall is now Wall.fm and they’re okay. Yuku – I really don’t like the name of that domain, otherwise, very good looking setup.

  • http://cosmiclove.ning.comhttp://lovefrequency.ning.com Elshara

    I have 2 ning pro ning networks because I hate all the other options. Spruz in my experience is just about the worst of them all! I tried grou.ps and hate them as well but I love the interface and its easier to use than ning. I never honestly liked ning all that much to begin with because something told me that it was going to end, and it did so I was not the least bit surprised about it. What honestly can you find that is free anymore without having extensive web application knowledge for things like Drupal and well, I will not even begin to tell you how I hate the modern ones like facebook and twitter, well, nah, my opinion is I will check out a few of them and let you know what I think. So far, ning seems to work for me, but I am seriously thinking of switching to another site, I need all the same capabilities though as ning, but it would be so much easier if I went with something reliable two. Comercialisation is fine for me but when it comes to lying to clients or at least asking their opinions about charging for services like that, it is that which I have a problem with. Just because 1 company does it, does not mean that all of them have to. Let the idiot fail for once lol. My vote is grou.ps until further notice for free stuff even though they suck, as far as interface goes, I like it and the options are cool. Never give them your credit card information!

    • Wendy White

      Nothing makes me more crazy than trying to deal with the SPRUZ TEAM. They SUCK and turn me into a maniac and of course, I don’t like being so angry.

  • http://www.testsking.com testking

    It offers several services including Drupal website installations. We also offer blog article posting and integration of Word Press blogs.Thanks for sharing the informative post.

  • http://www.hollman-alu.nl aluminium kozijnen

    Thanks for sharing this ning alternatives and open source solutions..

  • http://hoop.la Rosemary

    Andrew, we’d love to help you! Our Hoop.la application is free, offers unlimited usage, and has forums, blogs, chat, video/photo/other file upload, so it might meet your needs. Please feel free to email me directly If you have questions.

  • Andrew

    Hi Guys,

    I hoping someone maybe able to please answer a question for me. We are a non-profit that plans to provide some classes on-line for our members. We were thinking of using a social network site like Ning or some others listed here. If we wanted to post a number of classes with video and audio, do these sites offer enough storage and bandwith to allow us to do that? Any suggestions?

    Thank you,

    Andrew

  • http://www.adsense.pk soni gul

    hi hi hi ( http://www.adsense.pk )
    Regards,
    M IMRAN YOUSAF-19105

  • http://www.phoenixvoicerising.org John E. Rodriguez III

    The comment above by Rob Reinhardt is in fact the most helpful one I have found on this website. I highly encourage EVERYONE to go to the website he developed, where a very detailed and complete list of many (if not all) of the mentioned networks are clearly reviewed.

    I was a ning user, turned off by how they treated us free users. I went to grou.ps as an alternative to star a new network, and am now searching for that magic alternative once again.

    Rob’s web page was the ONLY place I saw the mentioned issues I am having with grou.ps, and that is largely unresponsive support from the creators of the group. I can assure you that bugs will occur, and you won’t get assistance for them.

    After looking around Rob’s page, I am going to give Wiser Earth a try. Fortunate for me the aims of my organization fit in well with the mission of Wiser Earth,

    Best of luck to everyone, and Rob if you are reading this… You rock!

    • John E. Rodriguez III

      Well, checked out wiser earth. Cool site, but does not offer the customization and/or layout I was hoping for. Also, it would not be recommended to use this as a main web-site as can be done using ning or grou.ps… If it wasn’t for the obvious issues with those networks…

      Siggestion to all; look at the already created pages of other members before investing the time and energy to join a new network.

      The search continues.

    • http://www.social-networkreviews.com Rob Reinhardt

      Hi John, Thank you for the kind words. Sorry that Wiser Earth didn’t work out for you. I hope my list will help you find a host that will finally meet all of your needs. As you may have caught on my site, there’s still not a site that meets all of our group’s needs either.

      In any case, I’m glad to hear that you’ve found my site useful and invite you to add your own user reviews to the site. The true power of my site will be when many users offer their own views about the usefulness of each site. This is important since every person/group has their own concept of what an online social community should be like.

      Cheers!

  • http://www.social-networkreviews.com Rob Reinhardt

    Jon,
    Great summary. It sounds like we’ve gone through similar searches. The social networking landscape is constantly changing. As a result of my search for a solid platform for hosting inexpensive small community/social networks, I’ve started a web site to attempt to keep up with all of the options as well as allow users to offer their own ratings!

    Please feel free to utilize it as a tool in your search as well as share your experiences and reviews!

    http://www.social-networkreviews.com/

    FWIW, our group has ultimately decided on implementing our solution in Drupal as none of the hosted sites were able to fulfill our feature list. One of the most common missing features is the ability to handle recurring/repeating events; a mainstay of local social communities.

  • Capri

    Thatstoday.com appears to be good, Groupsites.com makes you use your real name, otherwise, looks good. Blastgroups.com – for some reason, the registration form winks out and I cannot fill in all required fields. But it looks like it would be another good alternative. I wasn’t happy with Spruz, and if you don’t log in after a time, they delete your network anyway. There is Yuku.com but as good as the features look, the name puts me off a bit – looks too much like “yuck” I just used Boardhost to put all my Ning discussion posts but still would like a social network.

    • http://www.jonbishop.com Jon Bishop

      Thanks so much for the detailed input.

  • http://www.it-career-coach.net @ITCareerCoach

    This is an excellent post. I have been looking for this information … a detailed review of Free vs. Hosted Community Applications

  • Jay A. Allen

    I would be interested in people’s opinions regarding Google Sites Groups as an alternative.

    I’ve been working/playing with Google Sites and Groups for a few months now and they seem pretty capable in offering a solution.

    It appears the biggest drawback is the storage size limitations (which seems odd for a Google product).

    Thoughts?

  • http://www.amazee.com Mathias Möller

    Hey Jon and everybody else, since you asked for free Ning alternatives, may I shamelessly suggest our platform for Social Action/ Social Collaboration? The name is Amazee, we are a small team based in Switzerland and offer a free migration service for Ning Networks whose members aren’t willing or able to pay for the new payment scheme Ning has come up with. You can find all the necessary information and a link to the migrator here: http://blog.amazee.com/welcome-ning-refugees-2/. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, if you do have any!

  • http://allornothing.spruz.com Arashiland

    Well, about spruz, they said at first its going to be free. Now it force us to have at least 100 members , less features and pages so we stay free, since google removed the ads from it. So we have less bandwith or else if we want more pay to become premium. No good at all. I came back to this blog to search for another host.

    • http://www.jonbishop.com Jon Bishop

      Thanks for keeping us updated. Let us know how your search goes.

  • Robert

    I moved to Grou.ps. They offer 10GB storage, 100GB bandwidth and very flexible full customization option. If you know some html & css, it means you are holding magic wand in your hands. Grou.ps has many free features.

    On the other side, all your destiny is in Grou.ps’ hands. But I cannot afford hosting costs and manage technical issues on my own now. I’m not an advanced user. So those open-source alternatives are not for me.

    So far so good with Grou.ps. You can see the comparison from here http://grou.ps/move_ning.php
    I also found this today – http://www.emresokullu.com/blogs/item/thoughts-on-ning-exodus-and-groups-socialgo–grouply-amp-others

    Thanks for all other information here. I will check them as well.

    • Ja

      How is grou.ps with you? Today i just got an email.. that i need to choose a plan payment. aww! i though i was free! oh well!

  • http://www.serveandshare.com/networks Networks

    I haven’t found any decent social networking scripts. I thought dolphin was going to be the bomb but I wasn’t thrilled with it. I did like buddypress with a social networking module but it isn’t exactly what I wanted, but it has been the best so far. Another hosted solution is the serve and share networks that can be found by clicking on my name.

  • C Maia

    Grouply FREE offers 10GB just as Ning.

  • http://www.zerista.com Adam Coburn

    I think Zerista looks like the most promising of the bunch. It seems more customizable for more broad usage. They have general uses listed on the site, but it can be used beyond that.

  • http://goodsexspace.webs.com/ Richard

    Based on your recommendations, I evaluated six of them. Here are my findings. I finally chose Webs to replace my Ning site. They’re not perfect, but I like them the most. Webs’ best feature, I think, is their account-manager/site-manager.

  • http://www.zonkk.com Richard

    There is another alternative that was launched yesterday in beta at http://www.zonkk.com. Zonkk is an elgg based social network creator that is free to join and has lots of applications and options. There are also paid upgrades available too.

    • Buboy

      Can you post their storage and pricing scheme?
      Without that I’m not interested.

    • http://www.jonbishop.com Jon Bishop

      It looks as if you are running on the Elgg platform.

    • http://www.zonkk.com Richard

      2 GB storage and 20 GB transfer is allocated for free accounts.

      Zonkk is running a modified form of elgg.

  • buboy peralta

    For me the most important thing is storage, wackwall offers 5gb free (default), grou.ps offers 10gb same as ning,

    The other thing is ownership, in ning you don’t own your network.

  • http://mixxt.com Oliver

    Another free alternative is mixxt.com, offering functionalities very similar to Ning but with some additions.

    Some of the advantages are:
    - Strong Community Management features (e.g., newsletter system, access control)
    - Powerful sub-groups
    - Full collaboration features including wikis, image albums, file systems, event-management and CMS
    - Advanced customization

    mixxt’s philosophy is different from Ning’s: it is based on White Labeled solutions for large institutions and enterprises, as well as Freemium services.

    mixxt networks are especially popular among education, work-related and event networks.

    Users wanting to import their Ning network to mixxt find a useful tool in our Ning importer (http://bit.ly/migrate-ning).

    Give your own mixxt network a try for free here: (http://mixxt.com)!

    • http://www.jonbishop.com Jon Bishop

      Thanks for sharing. Looks promising.

  • Pingback: mixxt » A real Ning-Import and the migration survey

  • Dex

    Great list of Ning alternatives! Spruz does seem to be the top pic, looking at the twitter buzz and news posts I’m reading.

  • http://www.EPC.org Dana

    After a lot of comparisons, we decided to use SocialGo. Overall, I give it high ratings. Creating new page layouts is very easy, even if you don’t know HTML and CSS. I find inserting pictures to be an annoying process (and that could just be me). I’m also disappointed that there are no tag clouds for the blogs. However, SocialGo includes iFrames, which lets us import a lot of external content. And the pricing is very reasonable.

    • http://www.jonbishop.com Jon Bishop

      Thank you Dana for sharing your experience with SocialGo. The external content thing seems like a major plus.

  • http://rexworld.ning.com buboy

    What I really want to know is which of this sites offer the same 10GB storage for free same as ning.

    • http://www.jonbishop.com Jon Bishop

      Spruz says they give you unlimited bandwidth and storage here. I’m sure some of the others probably do as well or at least matched Ning’s.

    • Richard

      Actually, Jon, Spruz do not specifically say unlimited storage. If you drill down further here, they say storage depends on the number of “Avg Daily Page Views.” Low traffic will limit you to 100 MB.

    • http://www.jonbishop.com Jon Bishop

      Good catch. It’s actually a pretty interesting model, rewarding those with the most traffic.