Past weeks I have been busy evaluating Social Networking software products with a request to write articles about those. To my surprise, at least one third from commercial and open source Social Networking software products didn’t work as promised and mostly they where full of bugs.
I started from Alstrasoft eFriends, which is low cost social community management software solution allowing profiles, invitations, messaging, classifieds, groups, forums, articles, blog, and ranking, chat, IM, calendar and affiliate management. It should be suitable to run commercial social networking sites and that has been their main usage. However, as somebody had commented: “do not buy the license if you do not have good php programmers in your house”.
From administration module I was able to setup membership fees using package manager and two tier affiliate commissions, site functions with using the Site Configuration. Those parameters where mostly related to moderations, like auto approval of articles, images and sign-in verification procedure, etc.
Product administration supports setup and management of banner campaigns where banners can be setup to header or footer.
I didn’t find any way to put Google AdSense for the site and Header banner was limited to 420×60 pixels where footer ad must be 720×60 pixels. Campaigns can be limited to certain period, number of impressions or clicks.
Site statistics where elementary displaying total members, total visitors for the week and month, daily visitor stats, number of signups and sign in’s for the week and month.
Interesting feature was user ratings so besides pictures I could vote user Overall, Physique, Personality, Style and Profile using 1-10 scale.
As an user, I can modify your profile background colours or choosing predefined skins but those skins and colour schemes didn’t appear as shown in preview. If you are professional web designer, it still takes some time to create your own colour schemes using included CSS editor and paste it to your profile. I assume that those predefined skins are stored in some folder as CSS files but the preview haven’t implemented yet.
The profile page objects seems to be your profile voting results, hotlinks to Bookmark, Add as Friend, Make an Introduction, Invite to Group, View blog and Ignore.
Groups feature was enough powerful containing classified listings, Discussion board, events and even shared files. Groups can have categories predefined by system administrator and they can be public, moderated or private. User are able even specify the group URL and create the Group photo album. Group photo album was not to be well integrated with other group functionality, so it was simply a copy of personal photo album functionality.
Creating an article was actually very simple and I would use it compared to Article Directories applications.
Creating a blog using Alstrasoft was very messy and full of bugs, but at least the RSS feed was implemented for the blog module.
Alstrasoft website lists a lot of users but when visiting those sites, they where mostly modified code or maybe even using some other product. Anyway, IMHO Alstrasoft was designed for those whose objective could be “get quickly rich” with affiliate schemes for membership.
My next product was Social Engine and I was surprised how well designed this product was and it performed without any bugs. It was expandable with plug-ins and uses Smarty to customise its look and feel.
It had Groups, Blog and Photo Album plug-ins included and their website says that Events plug-in is currently available. After around twenty minutes of installation I was ready to go. Together with installation key they sent me encrypted license.txt file by email, which I had to copy to my program root.
The signup was extremely simple. First page will ask your e-mail, password, username, second page will ask some personal information like date of birth, home address and time zone which all where customisable by site administrator. The next step is to upload your photo or skip this step and as final step you are able to invite your friends by sending an email to them.
Users are able to the time zone and what kind of activities they want to be shown in your recent activities list facebook style. The options where: When I log in, When I update my profile photo, When I update my profile, When I post comment to somebody’s profile, When I add a friend, When I update my status, When I create new album, When I upload new photos, When I post comment about a photo, When I write a blog entry, When I post a comment about blog entry, When I create a group, When I join a group, When I leave a group, When I post a comment to group, and When I post a group photo.
Other users where able to post comments to the profile which owner can delete when necessary, send friend requests, report inappropriate person profile to the administrator or block this person. I was able to send messages only to friends so seems that spam protection was already included to their system.
Blogging and Photos worked fine so even it’s not for the professional blogger, like wordpress, simple blog entries can be written quickly without a hassle and to be commented by others which was a feature I wasn’t able to switch off.
If you know how to write CSS, you are able to develop your own blog layout.
I also tested the event which was actually unique and useful feature to integrate with Social Networking software and was missing only multimedia support.
Because Social Engine license costs $300 plus $40 per each plug-in, I tried to find some truly free open source solution to start my own Social Networking portal.
I found elqq and after spending around a week to upload all 50MB of files to hundreds of subdirectories, I run to first problem. It didn’t start in my shared hosting with included .htaccsess file and when I had removed the complaining lines the product started to complaint that “I’m running it using “register globals on”, which is unsecure environment. So after some discussion with my hosting provider technical support they recommended me to use php.ini so I got it even work. But the product was absolute opposite what I had expected and total crap. Most of the links in homepage didn’t work; the layout was horrible and pages where full of error messages.
I didn’t get it work at all as the software probably should create directories for each user and activity which it didn’t in my installation and was giving only “Page not found” messages.
I hope that the removal process will be easier than elqq installation was.
As a conclusion I had found only one decent product which I would use for my Social Networking portal. However even lot of business people are bullshitting about Social Networking on LinkedIn, I didn’t found any person interested to spend $300 to really launch it. All claimed their objective to be highly paid consultants and knowledge of technology and running a portal before wasn’t much in their interest. Again British SCAM artists who are trying to make money with bullshit talks rather than acquiring expertise. I’m starting to get tired of those.
If somebody will be interested to invest Social Networking software license, I could start and run this network as Social Engine is already installed. Let’s see where it ends up and how many users we could get. I believe that with my internet marketing skills, we could generate some tens of thousands members within few month period.
At least from those three products evaluated, I definitely will use Social Engine as my Social Networking portal platform.