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Now that sites like MySpace and Facebook have popularized social networking via the Web, some people want to start their own network, away from the spam and adolescent silliness that can accompany the big sites. Ning and Nexo's eponymous, competing services stand ready to make that happen: Both let anyone create, for free, a site for their bowling club, theater company, or other group. I liked the level of creative control in Ning more than that in Nexo.
In many ways, Ning and Nexo aren't that different from services like Homestead, which for years have helped people create personal Web pages. Both services offer you a variety of design templates and let you point and click to add elements to the page (no need to download an application, as site creation is entirely Web-based). And both will provide you with a URL within their domain.
The difference from personal pages of a few years back is in the kinds of elements you can choose to add to your Web page. Both Ning and Nexo let you put blogs, discussion forums, and video modules on your site so visitors can interact with you--and with one another.
Make Your Site Your Way
I found both services easy to use: If you have all the materials you need (photos, logos, and such), you can easily have your site up in a half hour.
I prefer the look of Ning's templates and the basic organization of the sites it creates. And if you know what you're doing, Ning allows an almost infinite capability to tweak your site. Co-founded by Netscape pioneer Marc Andreessen, Ning is a tweaker's paradise. You can easily change everything from the font used for body text to the background color of the title bar. And if you know CSS, the editing possibilities are endless. Ning has also opened the site's source code, so programmers can build small applications to perform whatever function they need and embed them on sites. Largely spoiling the look of free Ning sites, however, are the Google text ads that take up most of one of the four columns on the page. You can remove ads from a Ning site for $20 a month.
Nexo, which was in a public beta when I tested it, doesn't allow as much flexibility as Ning. But for now Nexo has one great advantage: No ads appear on your site. Nexo CEO Craig Jorasch says the company plans to include ads on most pages, probably in the last quarter of this year. You'll be able to pay a nominal monthly fee to remove ads, but at the time of this writing Jorasch didn't know what that fee would be.
In my testing, I found Nexo certainly flexible enough to satisfy the needs of most people, though it doesn't provide all the tweaking options that Ning does. On the other hand, it does have more preprogrammed modules, from a widget that lets you show product information pulled from Amazon.com to an applet that lets you post a one-question poll. I don't like the default organization of Nexo sites, though: The first page of the site shows just a boring list of the site's pages, and visitors must click deeper to see much of the actual content.
Ning's blog and forum creation tools are bit more sophisticated than those in Nexo. With Ning, you can thread forum posts, something you can't do with Nexo. And the formatting of Ning's blog entries simply makes them look a bit more substantial.
If you need a Web site that's heavily customized, and you have the skills to make the changes, Ning is a great choice. But if all you want is a simple site, you should go with Nexo, especially while it's ad-free.
NexoBeta site; not rated
Service lets you easily set up a Web page with lots of widget options and no ads--for now.
Price when reviewed: Free
Highly customizable service creates attractive Web communities, but ads mar the looks.
Price when reviewed: Free ($20 per month without ads)
- Almost everything can be changed
- Produces well-organized, social network sites
- Column of Google ads mars appearance
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