Types of Solutions for a Social Community Network

There are three main types of solutions you might find in your search for a home for your web-based social community network.

Hosted

Hosted solutions are what the Social Network Reviews site is currently focused on.  These are "all-in-one" solutions that provide all the tools, including the web hosting, that you need in order to create your site.  While most provide customization options and some even provide the ability to modify CSS code, there is no programming involved.  These solutions focus on creating a user-friendly environment where even non-technical users can create a site to their liking.  They usually include support for all facets of the site either through a community/user forum or, often with paid accounts, corporate technical support.  Most hosted sites require that their branding appear somewhere on the site, though some allow you to replace this with your own branding when you purchase a premium level account

 

Script (Pre-Built)

A script is a set of code that you install yourself.  This might be on a a server you own, or on a server owned by a web hosting company that you pay for services.  Essentially, it's the equivalent of someone handing you the program from a Hosted solution and allowing you to install it where you want.  Additionally, some scripts are extensible through modules and add-ons.  Usually the support for scripts is limited to the code itself and, perhaps, installation.  You'll either need the knowledge for administering applications on a server or the help of a web hosting company that will provide such support.  Prime examples of social networking scripts are Social Engine and Dolphin.  Scripts are sometimes also refered to as "white-label" products since one of the major selling points for most of them is that you can attach your own branding to the web site.

 

CMS (Content Management System)

Utilizing a Content Management System (CMS) to create a site is the most time and knowledge-intensive choice.  A CMS is generally built to provide the framework for the widest possible range of web sites.  For this reason, they are often the tool of choice of web designers and programmers in creating dynamic sites.  Utilizing a CMS typically involves installing the core code and then piecing together the modules/features that your web site requires. This approach requires at least a modicum of knowledge about things like web server administration, database, HTML, CSS, PHP and related technologies.  Typically, there is also a learning curve with the CMS itself since each takes a unique approach to both its programming and its user interface. Like with Scripts, you'll need to provide and manage your own web hosting.

To be fair, the most popular CMSs make a strong effort to have a user-friendly front end that requires little programming knowledge.  Several even have packages of modules available presented as a starting point for social community networks.  Still, without extensive prior knowledge, you'll not likely be able to implement this type of solution in short order.  The great payoff of a CMS, however, is that you have the utmost of control over the site and a greatest potential for customization including the exact set of features you require.  Additionally, most of these solutions are open source, so the code and modules are free and continually added to and improved.  Currently, the most popular solutions in this area are Drupal, Joomla, and Elgg.  A less robust example would be BuddyPress, a modification of WordPress, specifically targeted to creating social networks.