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Webjam offers Apple-like simplicity for site building

Want to build a site or your own social network? Check out Webjam.

Earlier today I had a great demo with Webjam, a do-it-all publishing service that launched at the Le Web conference in late 2006. In many ways it was ahead of its time with a platform that lets you create your own social network, blog, online shop, or iGoogle alternative.

Like Ning (which picked up $60 million in funding last month), it lets users build pages out of various components without needing to know any coding. The twist is that if you come across someone else's design of modules that you dig, you can copy the entire thing to your own page and make it your own. The same goes for individual modules, which can be ported over to any of your Webjam pages, complete with whatever feeds or standalone content they contain.

Like someone else's Webjam? Just grab it and make it your own. If you've created something special you can also set it to private so other users can't take it and make it their own. (click to enlarge) CNET Networks

Co-founder and CEO Yann Motte, formerly of Yahoo Europe thinks his platform's got what it takes to rise above the noise of other platform services, social networks, and blogging tools because it can do nearly all of those things nonexclusively. "[Users] don't have to split their activities between several Web sites," he says. "It works for you and me, and other people in this industry, but it does not scale for the average user." Does that mean he wants people to give up their Facebook profiles? No, but Motte believes that Webjam offers the average user more possible combinations to post and discover quality content than the competition.

The service has already seen accelerating growth in the U.S. over the past few months. Motte says the site has been growing 10 percent a week and is seeing users spend more than 12 minutes on the site (according to Compete), something I think is due to the page creation tool, which is really well done. If you've ever used Netvibes or Pageflakes it uses the same system; you simply have a bunch of different boxes you can drop down onto a blank editing canvas, which can be skinned and re-arranged to your liking. Motte says that in many ways his system is like Facebook's except more open because you get more control over the privacy controls of each box, as well as the data that goes with it.

These extensive privacy settings might be one of the most complex bits of the service. Each module has its own settings for viewership and editing. Users who visit your creation can become members, and in some cases co-contributors to the content that gets pushed out for others to read. Motte's example was to show me a page where a Webjam user had two different versions of a blog--one for everyone in the world to see, and a member's-only version.

Add new content to your site with little modules. There are tons to choose from, you can even drop in ads. (click to enlarge) CNET Networks

One thing I'm not sold on is that people would pick Webjam as a blogging platform over a more established service like WordPress or Blogger. Motte acknowledges that Webjam's blog editor does not offer as many tools or the same level of community interaction, but comes back to say that if you decide to change the focus of your site later on it's not limited to being just a blog, and that's not a freedom most users are used to having. One service that took that idea and ran with it was Tumblr, which lets people change course if they get tired of writing things, and simply lets them republish photos, videos, audio, and IM conversations.

When it comes down to it, I found Webjam's creation tools and skinning to be far easier to use than the ones that come with Ning. I think the results looked a little better too, at least with some of the themes you can apply which are on par with some of the really simple and beautiful ones on iGoogle. What's not as established as Ning is the business model, which for now is simple text ads. The good news for power users looking to potentially get a little cash off of the hosted sites is that the service is rolling out a premium plan in July, which is currently being offered for free until then. Premium members get all the usual perks of services like this, with domain mapping and the option to remove or place banner ads.

To see some examples of popular Webjam pages you can go here. You can also check out a quick demo of the site maker in action after the break.