Tony Hirst has an interesting post pointing to Ning-based institutional social networks at The University of Wales, Newport, and at The University of Bradford. He cites some colleagues reporting "Yeah, it's happening all over the place". As Tony points out the Bradford site is part of a more general online student support system, Develop me.
Michael Webb describes some of the thinking around the Newport site:
So our options - do something ourselves (our usual default position I guess), piggy back onto an existing service (eg Facebook), or go with one of the new wave of 'create your own' social network sites, like Ning. [Michael Webb's Blog : Newspace - a social networking site for new students]
Probably the biggest discussion was whether to make it open or closed - ie visible to everyone on the net or not. We've gone with closed - we feel we need to protect our users privacy given we are inviting them into the space, and have a closed space makes it feel a little more special. [Michael Webb's Blog : Newspace - a social networking site for new students]
It's certainly given me food more thought about how we provide services in the future. If we had created the site ourselves it would have taken months. If we had bought in software it would have still taken weeks. This took days. And no worrying about upgrades, downtime etc. What have we lost? We can't control the development of the service - our users probably don't understand this, and have already started suggesting functionality improvements. [Michael Webb's Blog : Newspace - a social networking site for new students]
One can see these types of sourcing and policy questions begin to apply to a wider range of institutional services.