Ning’s an online community builder. Think of it as a toolbox with templates for online groups, complete with forums, space for photos and videos, and all that. So, if you want to talk with a group of like-minded people, you either find a Ning “social network,” or start your own. And it’s all free.
Problem is, I haven’t found a single active Ning social network that interests me. There are certainly active groups out there, but in the topics that interest me, all the social networks are either empty or way too specific (“This is the online space for Mr. Lennie Irvin’s Summer 2008 English 0301 class.”).
This may partly be a failure in their search algorithm. When I search for “writing,” I get every writing group, in no apparent order. It should probably sort by popularity, and there’s no way to filter results by language (I’m just not going to join any of the many Spanish networks).
That said, if you want to start an online social network, Ning seems to have great tools to support it. The technology’s there, and it’s easy to start using it.