Build a group, keep the value

The social web has been dominated by individuals and their personal lives for the past few years. Facebook, MySpace and alike have been focused on building services and tools that focus on “the friendship” as the primary social connection. This is largely due to young age group of the early adopters and the ease of targeting them vs the difficulty of getting businesses or groups to adopt emerging technologies.

With the millions of hours being spent by internet users organising their photos, events and even business relationships, there is a growing trend for groups wanting to get in on the action either to recruit and reach new members or simply engage their existing ones. But the question is HOW?

With SocialGO we are trying to give groups a powerful platform to leverage the social web as best they can. But of course, we are not the only choice.

Self Hosted Solutions

I have tried pretty much every single self-hosted solution there is but they just didn’t stack up and that was why we set SocialGO up. The cost and scaling issues associated with self-hosted software was a big issue. Not only did you need to pay a big up-front fee but you also needed the expertise in-house to get it setup, installed on a dedicated box and working.

Also, support was terrible. I remember waiting for 3 weeks to get a reply from Boonex about a simple issue with their Ray video product only to find out that it didn’t really work at the time. Strength in numbers with Saas means that other customers will find the problems with your setup before you do.

With Saas, there is a constantly evolving, maintained service which you get for your monthly fee supported daily by the company providing the service. They have a rolling incentive to keep you happy!

Social websites need scalability, complex infrastructures (video encoding, mail delivery)  and maintenance/failover which just isn’t viable on a 1-server setup and intensive support to keep them going.

Groups within larger social networks

The big social networks offer groups and businesses an easy way to setup their spaces within their networks.

The obvious choice when building communities online is to simply create a Facebook Page or Bebo Group or simply to coexist inside one of the larger social networks but in reality this comes with some painful caveats.

From a revenue standpoint you are largely unable to monetize your audience. You can’t place adverts on your page or group, charge them subscription fees or sell them products. Someone else is essentially profiteering from you work.

Secondly you do not own your data. You could not take your users and import them into another application or back them up for safe keeping, your group can only exist as long as your relationship with that one service provider remains intact.

Thirdly it is often very difficult to get traffic and users to join your group as you drowned out the millions of trivial, ‘throw-away’ groups out there. Finally the sheer traffic of group information that flows into inboxes every day on networks like Facebook and MySpace makes it difficult for users to get the quality information out from the dross.

Finally of all, you are restricted to what you can do in that group, bound by the technical limitations of the platform and their TOS. You are bound to the someone else’s moral standards and code and they are free at any time to remove your group and it’s contents and give you no access to that data.

Ning

SocialGO is often compared to Ning because they are the market leader, but as their business has matured it has become increasingly clear that they are trying to make Ning the next Facebook by using the thousands of fanatical network creators to inadvertently promote Ning platform and drive traffic to the NIng.com portal. They claim to have white-label whilst leaving the Ning Bar and Ning ID on every network and leaving the ning name in their pages’ images and CSS.

Whilst this is just fine for some groups, it is a difficult pill to swallow for many who spend years building up a network of 4-5,000 people only to find their members being attracted to 20 other similar networks on the same platform. Every green-eyed member on your network with think they could do a better job and it will give you a very leaky bucket.

SocialGO is truly Saas, we are not reliant on advertising revenue so our business is closer to that of a Basecamp or Zendesk than it is of Facebook of Ning.

Our challenge going forward is to leverage the increasingly open nature of the big social networks (portable id’s, feed integration, notification systems) to give our network owners all of the benefits of these networks but on their terms. Should group owners not realize the full value of what they have created, rather than someone else?

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