ning-social-network MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn are some of most talked-about social networks on the Internet with millions of users across the globe. While LinkedIn is all about promoting your professional career, MySpace and Facebook are more for fun or connecting with friends.

Then there exists dozens of other "special" social networks like Twitter for tracking current activities of your friends, Flickr for sharing photos, last.fm for music and YouTube for videos.

Now if you do not want to be part of these mammoth-sized social networks or can’t find an online community that matches your interest, all you need is Ning ("peace" in Chinese).

Unlike MySpace or Facebook, Ning is not a social network – it’s a platform where anyone can create their own social networking site for free. And you need not be a geek to create a personal social network at Ning – if you know how to register for a new email address at Yahoo! Mail, you will have no trouble mastering Ning.

create-ning-networkTo get started, search the 220,000+ social networks on Ning and join communities that match your interest – interact with members and once you get comfortable, launch your own social network (see example) in few simple steps.

Give your social network a name (say "Indian Premier League Fans"), choose an easy-to-remember web-address (like ipl.ning.com) and you’re almost done. You can associate keywords (like cricket, ipl, 20-20 cricket, etc) to make it easy for other IPL fans to discover your social network on the web.

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Ning also provides an array of ready-to-use web templates for you to customize the look-n-feel of your social network. You may add other interactive features to your social network like blogs, discussion forums, photo galleries, videos, RSS feeds, events and more.

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Members, who are part of your social network, can upload their own photos or import them from Flickr. Same is the case with videos; video files (max 100 MB each) can be uploaded from the desktop or one can embed videos directly from YouTube / Google Videos.

ning-photosPeople who join your social network will also be able to message and friend each other. You can make the community public (anyone may join) or private (open by invitation only). The latter setting is recommended if you’re connecting with a closed circle of friends and family but a public community makes more sense in our previous example of "cricket fans."

You can integrate Google Analytics with your social network to know how people are discovering your Ning community and what sections are more popular among the crowd. It is nearly impossible to get this kind of data from other popular social sites like MySpace or Facebook.

While Ning is completely free, they will display advertising from Google AdSense on all your pages to cover the costs. In case your social network becomes popular on the Internet, you may upgrade to a premium version of Ning that allows you generate revenue by running your own ads on the network.