- Social Network?
- User Ratings
Summary:Solid Platform With A Couple of Annoying Flaws
Cost Info:Free, supported by banner advertising
Pros:Repeating Events, Payment Processing, Customer Service, Email/Forum integration
Cons:No Threading/Nesting/Quoting in Forums, No polling feature
According to their web site, "BigTent was born out of co-founders Nicholas Chim and Laney Whitcanack's desire to build a free, easy way for trusted groups to connect online." Perhaps it is because the site was homegrown by people who understand the need of a great number of groups that BigTent is one of the few sites that have been able to follow through on the promise of "free". Of course, it's also possible that their marketing to a niche (volunteer community groups, moms and schools) has kept them from having to deal with issues of extensibility faced by their larger competitors.
BigTent definitely has some things going for it. Their standout/unique features include:
the ability to create recurring events
the ability to collect and manage membership and event fees
the ability to join and manage memberships in multiple groups hosted at BigTent
Classifieds and Reviews
friendly and responsive customer service
On that last point, I even had one of their VPs contact me regarding some feedback I had offered.
BigTent is such a strong offering that it almost became our group's solution. If it weren't for one glaring oversight, the lack of full-featured forums, it would have met all of our criteria. Specifically, despite the much sought-after merging of forums with email, BigTent did not see through to allow quoting, threading or nesting, making it difficult to follow a discussion of anything more than a trivial length or complexity. This was even harder for me to believe since BigTent professes to be born out of wanting an alternative to YahooGroups. One might think that would lead to them creating something that surpasses their target. To be fair, they do so in almost every way. Probably the strongest feature of YahooGroups is the ability to interact in the group discussions via either the web interface or Email seamlessly. This includes the ability to properly quote and have discussions be threaded so that you can readily follow long, diverging talks. In BigTent's quest to take a good thing and make it better, this is where I feel they dropped the ball. Because group communication is so important to building and sustaining an online community, this will likely be a deal breaker for most groups. BigTent's only other significant weakness is the minimal amount of page layout customization that you can do. For their target market, this is likely of very little concern, though it could prevent them from ever cutting deeply into the market at large currently controlled by Ning. If they are able to address their Forum issues, however, I can definitely seem them becoming a major player, especially if they truly find a way to keep the free offering viable where others have failed.
Significant Feature Notes
General Use - Mostly user-friendly guided by a tabbed menu with sub menus. Oddly, many of the most performed actions on some screens are in a pull down to the right called "Quicklinks". This is not immediately intuitive, but useful once you get used to it.
Resources - Active Community forums, "Coach Corner" including tutorial videos and live coaching sessions
Pricing - Free across the board, with a promise to keep current features "free forever". We've heard that before, but surely someday someone will be able to keep the promise?
Layout - Only minor customization available and mostly on the front page.
Forums - The weak point of the site. Strength is the unique ability to receive AND reply to posts via EMail (think Yahoo Groups) but there is no quoting, no threading and no nesting. Very difficult to spur conversation and follow discussions.
Events – Strong point of the site due to recurring events and flexibility. Includes payment per event! Exportable to Google, Outlook or iCal. Includes Google Map link and ability to attach photos to the event. Ability to show subgroup events on public web page as well as share with other subgroups. Support for full-day and multi-day events. Ability to add multiple coordinators. One very minor weak point is that RSVP settings have granularity of only hours for when RSVPs are cutoff (i.e. must choose 1 hour or greater, or allow RSVPs right up until start of event).
Groups - includes own calendar/events, forum, news and about pages. Ability to label "leadership positions".
Blog - Titled News here. Defaults to only admins of site and subgroups being able to post.
Files - unlimited, searchable
Photos - Unlimited, searchable
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