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Comparing KARL to Ning

November 1, 2010

Many organizations are searching for ways to communicate with their constituents while fostering member-based collaboration. Ning has gotten a lot of attention for its social network management abilities that are relatively inexpensive. KARL is an open source web product for highly collaborative intranets and knowledge management. Six Feet Up has been hosting KARL-based online communities for several international non-profits. How do Ning and KARL differ?


Ning lets you build your own network. A Ning community allows you to use blogs, forums, events, RSS Feeds and other tools to "build, organize, and engage your army of supporters". Overall, each community is created for a specific topic. This means a user may need to manage multiple Ning networks if his or her activities don't involve the same core group of fans or affiliates. Ning costs are based on number of members, disk space requested, and add-on features used.


KARL supports an unlimited number of communities and/or groups out of the box. KARL is focused on enabling members of a distributed network to communicate and collaborate with one another. This makes it a tool of choice to manage office intranets, as each location can have a custom intranet page. Each community has its own suite of collaboration tools, such as shared blog, wiki, calendar, and files. KARL costs are based on resources used and level of support requested.

Major Differences


Ning aims at helping build a social network. KARL allows members of various communities to work together.


Ning is focused predominantly on one group of constituents. KARL manages an infinite number of distributed communities out of the box. 


Ning's pages offer many options, features, add-ons, and graphic customizations that allow users to heavily customize their Ning community, however often resulting in a complicated UI. KARL focuses on clean, straight-forward editing and sharing features, and makes sure to get out of the user's way so as to encourage efficient collaboration.


Ning collects data on your Ning network members and your Ning network. (See Network Data in their Terms of Service)

KARL is funded and backed by the Open Society Foundations, which has pledged never to sell users information, or place advertisements on KARL pages.


Ning can be made public or private. Multiple levels of administrators can be appointed to control who has access to which features, such as blog, photos, forums, notes, pages.

In KARL, all users must log in for access to any of the content. KARL is permission-driven as communities can be made "public" for all staff members or "private" by moderators who can precisely control who has access to what information. Moderators can also provide access to to third-party affiliates to allow collaboration with members outside the organization.


Ning's first tier pricing only comes with "community-based support" a.k.a. "figure it out on your own".

KARL users' questions are answered by a team of KARL champions.


Ning started as a free service that now requires payment for communities. Ning serves ads at the lower pricing level ($2.95/month, up to 150 users). A "Ning network" that you might purchase for up to $49.95/month would equate to one KARL community.

KARL starts at a higher price range (around $600/month) but comes with unlimited communities and unlimited members by default. KARL is more than just communities though; KARL includes features for organizations to share information with its members through intranet pages as well.

Bottom Line

Ning is a social network tool similar to Facebook or LinkedIn. KARL is an enterprise-level knowledge management system with robust features and great security.


Is your organization using Ning? What for? Can you share success and horror stories?

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