Computer technology moves quickly, and particularly so in the case of the internet. Eight years ago, Facebook didn’t exist. Today, more than a quarter of web users have an account with the social network – around 600 million in total – and the site’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, is a billionaire.

Facebook wasn’t the first social-networking website to launch, but it popularised online interaction like no other. Here, we show you how you can host your own social network with many of the same features as Facebook.

A number of platforms provide social-networking functionality. Jcow perhaps most closely emulates Facebook. It even offers a theme that makes the site look uncannily like the popular network.

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Up until its latest iteration, version 5.0, Jcow has been offered for free. It is now a paid-for product. However, you can still get hold of the final dot release of version 4.x, which is very powerful and entirely free to use.

To participate in this tutorial, you’ll need a web server capable of running PHP scripting and SQL databases. The majority of ISPs offer this functionality with even the most basic hosting package. Alternatively, you could run these services locally to test ideas or customise themes.

A Jcow site is very lightweight – the basic code for all the scripting and themes requires a few megabytes. Note, though, that once the site becomes active and users post comments and media the content database is likely to grow significantly.

Here, we’ll guide you through how to download and install Jcow, either by using your ISP’s control panel or manually. We’ll then explain which settings can help you tailor the site to your needs.

Jcow won’t make you a billionaire like Zuckerberg overnight (if, indeed, at all), but it will provide something a little different to a forum or simple blog comments stream and give your website a modern, networked approach to communication.

Create a social network with Jcow

Step 1. If your ISP has a control panel that incorporates the Softaculous script installer or equivalent, setting up Jcow will require only a few clicks. Choose the domain and directory, give your site a name and description, then add an Admin username, password and email address. Click Install.

Jcow network step 1

Step 2. If your ISP doesn’t provide this functionality, your first job will be to set up an SQL database. The control panel for your web space should provide a wizard for this, which enables you to create a database name, then a username and password to administrate it. Be sure to afford this account all privileges.

Jcow network step 2