me.jpgIt’s hard to believe, but new companies are still emerging to offer you free social networking tools.

Me.com, the latest, is a bit tardy to the game. The San Jose, Calif. Company wants to compete with Ning and others, by offering you all the tools you need to set up your own social network.

Stoked with $1.5 million in financial backing from Silicon Valley real-estate developer Kimball Small, Me.com does offer some advantages.

First, it lets you share half of the revenue it gets from placing Google ads on your network. Ning doesn’t let you share in any ad revenue it gets from your site (unless you pay it $19.99 per month to run your own ads). Second, Me.com has a few more default features than Ning offers. Me.com offers people search, photos, blogs, polls, events listings, groups, forums, chat rooms, IM, and– for those inclined towards such things–a “Hot or Not” page.

Ning lets developers do more with its code, but for the lay-person, such customization is difficult. (See previous coverage of Ning here.) Me.com is also one of the first adopters of the Google AdSense API. A deal with Google allows Me.com to search for ways to optimize the campaign for you, refining the types of ads that get displayed, based on your content, and determining the best place on your site to put them.

Until now, Me.com‘s platform, which is two years old, was only available for $199/month for medium-sized businesses and $10K/month to larger brands.So far, Me.com has around 60 paying customers – though it does not specify how much money it is getting. Those 60+ networks, from the Orthodox Christian network to a site for raw foodies, see about 400,000 users in total – which is not that great.

Me.com also landed their first “seven figure deal” with Batanga, a somewhat popular entertainment and online radio site for Latinos, to build out its social network, called MyBatanga .

The free version of Me.com requires you to host your site at (XYZ).me.com. This is less flexible than its fee-based offerings.

You can choose from a number of templates for your network’s landing page, and once you’re up and running, Me.com makes it a cinch to control the content that users encounter when they first sign on.

As mentioned, Ning lets you use your own CSS and HTML to control the look and feel of your network. But it lacks chat room and IM functionality and does not give you as many options for your landing page. On the other hand, Ning has a big head-start and some serious momentum, claiming 57,000 social networks created, half of those in the last seven weeks.

Now that it is free Me.com, it will no doubt get some users. The question remains, just how significant the trend toward more social network building is, and whether Me.com has what it takes to become a leader.

dashboard1.JPG