SocialEngine is one of the most popular brands when it comes to social networking software. SocialEngine was initially released in 2007 and has over 10,000 active customers utilizing the SocialEngine platform. Currently their are two flavors of the platform, SocialEngine PHP and SocialEngine Cloud. The latest version of SocialEngine PHP is 4.3 with enhancements being worked on constantly by the SocialEngine developers. Get more information about SocialEngine and learn why it is a great platform to easily create a highly customizable social network.
I. Installation of SocialEngine
Depending on the SocialEngine platform you go with, either SocialEngine PHP or SocialEngine Cloud the installation is either going to be manual or completely automated. SocialEngine Cloud is fully hosted and installed by SocialEngine staff. Once you decide to go with SocialEngine Cloud, the SocialEngine team spin up your community on their servers, configure a base SocialEngine script and optimize the web server for you. The data of the community lives on their server and you lease the script and web server for a fixed monthly price.
Alternatively, if you decide to go with SocialEngine PHP, you need to manually install the social networking software. SocialEngine has done a wonderful job building an installation script that will walk you through the installation process. Take a look at the video below to see how simple it is to install SocialEngine PHP on your own web server.
If manually installing the script is a scary thought, SocialEngine also offers an installation service in which SocialEngine staff will work with you to install the social networking script on your own server. This is an additional fee; however, it takes a lot of guess work out of an installation for someone who is not familiar with web servers, database creation, and uploading data. The installation service is usually completed within 24-48 hours.
II. SocialEngine built in features
SocialEngine is an extremely popular community platform with a ton a built in features. Pretty much anything you could ask for when starting a social networking site has been built into the core of the SocialEngine script. Recently SocialEngine changed their licensing models. Take a look at the list and description of the features below that are included with a SocialEngine Started license:
- Member Profiles – The essence of a social networking site is member profiles. The section gives each member space for their content, activity and personal information. You can create different types of profiles for different types of members which can display various types of content. You can also create multiple classifications of users, whether a regular user, moderator, admin, etc. Each level of membership can be granted or denied specific access to your site. Lastly, if you choose to allow it, users can customize their own profile using various profile themes or custom CSS styles.
- Activity Feeds – The essence of a social network today is the activity stream. The stream shows posts made by members mixed with notifications regarding what is happening with the social networking site. Users can comment, like, and share all types of content in the activity feed. Users can attached videos, images, and music directly into an activity feed if allowed by the site administrator. An administrator can also control what users see in the feed, whether is be everything posted by anyone on the site, posts made by people in users networks, or just posts by friends. Site admins can also place announcements directly into users main feed at anytime. These can be used to provide information about the site, insert advertisements, etc.
- Photo Albums – Similar to what most social networks have today. The photo album module allows your users to upload and tag people in their photos.
- Content Management System (CMS) – The back end of SocialEngine allows for an administrator to control the entire look and feel of the site as well as configure what users have access to on the site. Designing your social network is as simple as dragging and dropping items within the CMS. You can rearrange most areas of your social network without having to write any code whatsoever. You can choose to have up to three columns on your pages and decide which widgets go into what column. You can easily make certain areas of your network public or private from within the CMS as well.
- Privacy Settings – Keeping users data as secure as they want it to be is important in social networking and SocialEngine has done a great job with their privacy settings. When building your social network, you can choose whether users have a two way friendship or a one way follower relationship. Privacy settings are configurable by users and include settings like who can view photos, posts, blogs, etc. The settings include everyone (public), friends only (private). Lastly you can also make your social network invite only. You can set it up so that only administrators can invite new users, or make it so that any current user can invite new members.
- Monetizing your social network – While running a social network is a fun thing to do, most people want to earn a return on their investment and time. SocialEngine has a great built in ad manager in which you can host your own advertisements. The ad manager allows you to select which users see which ads, as well as where the ads are located on the site. SocialEngine is also Adsense compatible and you can configure click through rates to automatically protect yourself from click bombing. In addition to advertising SocialEngine has a membership subscription option. You can bill members weekly, monthly, annually or a one time lifetime payment.
If you decide you want additional features, you can go with the SocialEngine Professional license which gets you the above features as well as the following:
- Mobile Web App – This makes your social network more accessible on mobile devices. It enables a mobile theme for your community so it is easier to utilize while on the go.
- Video Sharing – This allows users to upload and share their videos on your social network.
- Events – Users can post events and invite other members of your social network to attend.
- Chat and Instant Messaging – These features greatly enhance a social network by allowing members to interact in real time with one another.
- Forums – The forum module adds a bulletin board to your community in which users can start their own posts and allow others to respond. Forums add a lot of engagement on a social network and help introduce new people to each other.
- Blogs – This module gives each member in your community their own blog to do with as they see fit. If they want to share their blog publicly with the entire website they can. Alternatively they can lock it down to just friends as well with the privacy settings.
The last option in the SocialEngine PHP licensing model is Advanced which unlocks all the first party modules within the script. You get everything from Standard and Professional plus the following:
- Polls – This allows members to post up questions, and results and let the community vote. This is surprisingly a popular feature on many niche social networks.
- Classifieds / Marketplace – This adds a classified section to your community. People can post just about anything you allow in the classified section similar to how Craigslist works.
- Music Sharing – Another hugely popular feature is the ability to let your members upload and share their music with your community. This module also allows users to create custom playlists.
The Standard and Professional licenses come with 30 days of support and the Advanced license comes with 60 days of support. Advanced also comes with free installation service which is something you can pay extra for with Standard and Professional licenses.
Take a look at the screen shots of the images below to see some of the front end and back end of SocialEngine.
III. 3rd Party Add-Ons
SocialEngine has a huge marketplace for 3rd party developers. If you want your social network to stand out from the over 10,000 other SocialEngine sites, you might be interested in some 3rd party themes and plugins. While the core SocialEngine script is fully featured, 3rd party developers can take some of the basic features of the script and take them to another level. Some of the most popular 3rd party add-ons at the moment are as follows:
Community Ads Plugin – Allows an admin to sell ad space to members of the community similar to how Facebook sells advertising.
Directory Plugin – Have a robust directory system with various types of business listings controlled by the site administrator.
Advanced Facebook Integration – Enables Facebook like buttons on your social networking site to attract additional members from Facebook
While some 3rd party plugins and themes are free, the more unique and featured plugins are paid. If you don’t see a theme, plugin or widget that you are looking for, you can post a request to have it developed. You can also take a look at the custom developers list and reach out to developers individually if you want to keep your idea private.
Check out the 3rd Party options in these images below:
IV. Final Overview
SocialEngine is a great option for starting a social network. Being able to choose between a fully hosted option or a more fully featured self hosted platform gives SocialEngine a strong competitive advantage as literally anyone can built a successful social networking site no matter what skill level they currently have. If you have no server skills and no coding skills I would recommend you give SocialEngine Cloud a look. It does not have all of the features of SocialEngine PHP but is definitely good enough to get you going in the world of social networking. If you are comfortable with installing and uploading scripts to your own web server then SocialEngine PHP is definitely a good option. It allows you to utilize php and html code if you are comfortable with those languages as well. The licensing models for SocialEngine PHP are one time payments as follows: Social Engine Standard is $299.00, SocialEngine Professional is $449.00, and SocialEngine Advanced is $699.00. When it comes to SocialEngine Cloud, it is a cost of $29.00 per month. Over the long run it is definitely cheaper to go with SocialEngine PHP licensing as it does not have any recurring charges to SocialEngine once you have paid the initial one time fee. SocialEngine also is sold as a while label script which means it does not include any Powered By SocialEngine branding that you need to worry about.
SocialEngine offers a 14 day free trial to both SocialEngine Cloud and PHP. If you want to experience SocialEngine without any commitment you can take a look at the user demo and admin demo directly from the SocialEngine website.
The only negative thing I can say about SocialEngine is that their pricing is a bit high. The Standard license is good enough to get you up and running but is a bit expensive for the lowest license available. To get some of the popular plugins such as music sharing, video sharing, blogs, chat and instant messaging SocialEngine charges an additional for a higher end license. Conversely, if you take a look at phpFox and their community license, you get all of the same features of the SocialEngine Advanced license at the cost of a SocialEngine Starter license. If you want a fully featured social network that includes everything at a great price take a look at our phpFox review.