Via my husband and Checklist, a Dutch blog, I found Ning. Though I don't even try to keep up with all the new tools that are thrown on the internet, but I must say this looks just like the kind of tool I was waiting for. It gives you the opportunity to build an online platform in a super-user-friendly and easy way! You can choose to add or leave out features like video, blogs, etc. and you can choose whether you want a public or private platform. Erwin Blom created a Dutch one if you want to have a look. If you want a 12 minutes instruction you can watch this video:
Considering my recent experience with customizing a microsoft sharepoint environment for an online workshop (which needs technical expertise etc.) Ning sounds like an amazing innovation. With sharepoint, after all efforts, you get very un-userfriendly features; there is no email alert with content, there is no way to see a whole thread at once without clicking about 10 times, etc... A disadvantage of Ning could be the advertisements, but if you pay some money, it will be removed.
The funny thing is that they call it a social network (build your own social network). Whereas I would call it build an online interface FOR your social network. I may be old fashioned because I see the first useful application of Ning for existing groups. With the public version, you can choose to build a ning around a certain topic that may attract new people, so in that sense it might be a tool to build a social network too. (still can't believe that works well with starting with an existing social group or network)