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Mainstream social-networking sites such as MySpace and LiveJournal have long given users the ability to create and join specialized groups. More than 5,000 people belong to the black-and-white photography group on MySpace, for example. But Ning's custom social networks come with communications tools such as live chat rooms that aren't available on LiveJournal and other platforms. And Ning's networks seem to occupy a previously unfilled niche in the social-computing ecosystem: they provide an outlet for expression and communication that's more social than a solo blog yet less cacophonous than the forums afforded by the giant social-networking sites.