A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this website.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this site-generation tool also offers entry into more than 700,000 social networking sites that have already been created by other people, most of them adults. Although Ning's terms of service forbids content harmful to minors, including porn, "extreme" violence, and profanity, it clearly does not want to quash all adult fun. As a result, some of the sites are suggestive or a little risquu; for example, the innocent sounding Tree House Kid's [sic] has a female cartoon cat with exposed breasts. On the plus side, most such sites require a password to delve deeper into forums and other features beyond the home page.
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What's it about?
NING.COM is two destinations in one. First, it's a huge collection of social networks others have created for every conceivable interest and topic, from needlepoint to Britney Spears. Second, it's a place where almost anyone can create their own full-featured social networking site for free. Just type in a name for your social network (say, Friends of Emma), give it a short description, and start building the Web site by dragging features from a list on the left side of the screen to a three-column homepage layout on the right. Options include photos, videos, groups, chat, music, RSS, forums, even your own blog and RSS feed. Choose your site's appearance from 64 templates, then tweak the typeface and background colors. Now you're ready to invite people to your social network and start managing their interactions as owner of the site. The URL will be a subdomain of ning: http://friendsofemma.ning.com.
Is it any good?
Nothing – not even MySpace or Facebook – matches Ning for its simultaneous simplicity and creative potential for social network fans. Rather than creating a page in a community like MySpace, users are in effect creating their very own MySpace knockoff and inviting others to join. A Ning site can be cobbled together using templates in just a few minutes, or users can spend hours tweaking features, colors, and even the underlying code.
Regardless, the fun and sense of pride and ownership that comes from creating and running one's own social community complete with posts, photos, and blogs can be priceless, perhaps even a window into a future career for youngsters. Creators can choose to let anyone join their social network or make it invitation only, an important consideration for minors and their parents.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the types of social networking sites your child is allowed to visit and join. Not all of the existing sites have been created by adults. For instance, there are plenty of fan communities for the Jonas Brothers, Twilight, and other social phenomena that have been created by teens for their peers. The real excitement, though, will be helping your teen create his or her own social network complete with blog, email, photos, and discussion groups. The downside: managing an online community is a time-consuming responsibility that could overwhelm some teens' schedules.