KickApps Wades into Ning Territory with Version 3.0

KickApps is implementing a lot of new features and capabilities with its newest release, version 3.0, which debuts today. For a complete list of the improvements, you can check out the company’s official release (see the summary in the second half).

The upgrades are largely divided between those that appeal to advanced publishers and those that appeal to novice consumers. The API Developer Kit, which we covered just a little while ago but is still considered as part of this release, certainly appeals to the technically advanced by allowing them to access KickApps’ architecture directly. More sophisticated network activity reporting will also appeal to advanced users who need to track the “performance” of their online communities.

In the other camp, we have new tools that help non-technical people build social networks with KickApps. As the press release puts it, “anyone can launch a full-featured social media community in minutes.” This was always true with KickApps, strictly speaking, but until now the company has never made it easy for people lacking HTML and CSS skills to make attractive, non-standard sites.

Now the platform provides not only a selection of site themes but also a WYSIWYG Site Styler that lays on top of your site and lets you point and click your way to a new look. The Affiliate Center (KickApps’s term for a site’s control panel) has also been redesigned to hold the hands of novice users a bit more. If you haven’t created a video, added a forum, or loaded a profile picture, it will suggest you take these steps to foster your community. A new Flash-based widget studio, announced in beta today but not yet available publicly, will also make the creation of advanced widgets more feasible for regular consumers.

KickApps has always differentiated itself from competitor Ning by focusing on content publishers and media companies. While Ning appeals to individuals who want to easily set up social networks for their various interests, KickApps appeals more to organizations who are looking for ways to publish and market their content online through social media. KickApps insists that its new tools are targeted at its own long tail, not Ning’s; that is to say, intended for smaller yet still serious content publishers. However, the more accessible KickApps makes its product – and this release is predominantly about making it more accessible – the more it will overlap with Ning and compete directly with that company.