Hi all. New member, so I hope I'm posting this in the right group!
I am in the process of setting up a private, paid network for small business owners that will be a combination of online (social network) and offline (real world networking events and a shared office space) activities and features.
I have spent hours looking into alternatives for the online component, but don't feel like I am getting any closer to a decision. I am strongly in favor of paid options because I don't want to invest time in building an online community only to have the platform providers go out of business or lose interest. I also want to be able to expect/demand a certain level of service, and want to pay so that I am on strong ground when I do that.
So, if it's not too much of a "how long is a piece of string" type question, if you had a budget of $500 to $1,000 per year for an online social networking platform, which one would you choose?
Okay, too hard a question? Here are the features I do and don't need:
Forum - must have
Groups - must have
Customizable profile fields - must have
Subscriptions and member levels - highly desirable
Link sharing/voting/rating (like Digg/Pligg) - highly desirable
User points/credits - highly desirable
Calendar/events - nice to have
Chat - nice to have
Pictures/Videos - don't need
Here are my thoughts on my leading options so far:
Ning (Plus or Pro) - generally positive, but don't like the recent discussion from unhappy members (relating to poor support rather than the decision to eliminate fee accounts) and the fact that Ning sites look like Ning sites and it appears hard to make a site not look like a Ning site.
Social Engine - need to learn more, but from the outside can't see the benefits over cheaper alternatives
JomSocial/BuddyPress - like them both, and am leaning towards JomSocial because the Joomla add-ons seem better supported (because they are commercial options?) than Wordpress. However, I find that relying on plug-ins makes is difficult finding the right combination of core and add-on versions so that it's all compatible. For example, if one add-on requires an update to the core, but other add-ons haven't yet been updated, you have to choose which add-ons you can live without. All-in-one solutions don't have this issue as the provider ensures compatibility before adding or updating features.
vBulletin - great option for forum, and with vbcredits it will give me the user points option, but would need to be bridged with another CMS and the vb CMS looks a bit underdeveloped.
IPB - another option with the emphasis on forums.
Google Apps - was close to going with this, but there is no google or third party (with single sign on) discussion forum. Google groups would work if it had categories, but without it its more like an email list than discussion forum.
I could go on but I might have lost too many people already. Hopefully there are some members here that are interested in having a good discussion on the major paid/premium options for social networks and will join in.
So if you have $500 to $1,000 a year to spend, which would it be?