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What is SocialEngine?
SocialEngine is a paid application used to create social networks. It supports several different types of social frameworks, allows full customization of site appearance and layout, and includes a widgetized content management system with drag-and-drop layout control. SocialEngine is supported by an in-house support team and backed by an extensive third-party developer network.
SocialEngine is exactly what you would expect to get from a premium social network software suite. The feature list is extensive and includes highly customizable member profiles, a variety of network structures, customizable activity feeds, monetization through placed advertising and membership billing, anti-spam features, private messaging capability, an easy-to-use content management system, and much more.
SocialEngine comes in two flavors. SocialEngine PHP is a self-hosted software package installed on the server of your choice, and the focus of our review. While SocialEngine Cloud is a hosted software as a service (SaaS) application.
The core features of SocialEngine can be summarized in three categories: network structure, monetization, and administrative features.
SocialEngine supports many different network structures and types of member relationships. Two-way friendship (Facebook) and one-way follower (Twitter) relationship structures are supported. In addition, connections can be made by invitation-only, with invitations extended by members or admins. Privacy levels and member profiles are customizable as well, and member experience can be crafted by selecting from a variety of activity feed options.
Social networks built on SocialEngine can be monetized in two primary ways: paid subscriptions and placed advertisements. Membership management features are built into SocialEngine, and support for subscription billing and a range of billing cycles is extended. Ads can also be placed anywhere on a SocialEngine powered site, and the platform is Google Adsense compatible. SocialEngine provides filtering and targeting capabilities to get the right ads in front of the right members.
Powerful administrative tools are also included in the software. Strong anti-spam tools including CAPTCHA protection are built-in. Complete membership control, including privacy settings, member blocking, moderator accounts, and banning features are provided. The content management system is designed to be usable without the requirement to know any code, while allowing layout control using a drag-and-drop editor. The CMS also provides site-wide statistics and analytics.
In addition to these core features, which are included in every version of SocialEngine, many additional features are supported by upgraded versions of SocialEngine. Premium features include blogs, group creation, photo albums, event creation, forums, chat and IM, music sharing, classified ads, video sharing, polls, and more.
Depending on the version of SocialEngine PHP selected, between 30 and 60 days of support by the SocialEngine team is included with initial purchase of the software. Once outside that initial window, technical support can be purchased on an as-needed basis in one month blocks. Free ongoing support is available from a sizeable FAQ knowledge base, and a public bug tracker located at GitHub.
While just about any shared server, running Apache web server, will provide the minimum requirements for a SocialEngine installation, a busy social network will be much better served by the increased network and server resources provided by a virtual private server (VPS) or dedicated server.
At a minimum, SocialEngine installation requires PHP version 5.2.11 (5.3 recommended) with extensions gd2, curl, and iconv. In addition, safe mode, register globals, and magic quotes must be off. The memory limit in PHP.ini must be 32M or larger, sendmail must be available, and Zend Optimizer must not be installed.
SocialEngine stores data in a MySQL database, and MySQL version 4.1 or newer is required (5.0 recommended). In addition, InnoDB table support must be provided.
What does SocialEngine cost?
The full version of SocialEngine PHP can be used for free for 30 days. After the initial trial period a license must be purchased. As of June 2015 license pricing ranges from $299 to $699 depending on the version selected. All versions include the core features discussed in this article, while upgraded versions include the premium features mentioned above. The trial version includes all core and premium features, an important factor to keep in mind when evaluating the trail version. All prices are a one-time fee and yearly license renewals are not required.
Many third-party plugins, themes, and widgets are also available through an add-on marketplace at the SocialEngine website.
What are some alternatives to SocialEngine?
SocialEngine is a premium social network framework, and there are a few other premium alternatives worth considering. Two of the most directly comparable alternatives are:
- Dolphin by Boonex
- Nebula and Neutron by PHPfox
It's also possible to use any of the three most popular content management systems (Drupal, Joomla!, WordPress) to build a social network by integrating plugins and modules designed to provide social network functionality. One noteworthy WordPress plugin with social networking functionality is BuddyPress. In addition, there quite a few open-source social network frameworks such as Trident, Elgg, and Oxwall that you might consider if you don't have the budget for a premium solution.
SocialEngine is a premium framework used to build a variety of full-featured social networks. It is available in a range of packages with different features, as well as self-hosted and hosted flavors. It can be used to build just about any type of social network imaginable at a cost that is higher than average, but still reasonable.