Could Facebook Be the New Ning?

Earlier this week something interesting happened in the world of social networking: Verizon, which this week became America's largest mobile carrier after moving to acquire Alltel, moved its branded social network to Facebook. The company announced a plan to shut down its Verizon Community site -- a moderately popular corporate social network -- in favor of its 18,000 member strong Facebook fan page. Right now, Facebook Pages can't be considered full social networks, but could they ever be the best place to center your social media strategy?
Verizon said the move was part of an "ongoing effort to provide our users with the most dynamic and feature rich community experience," and invited users to copy over blogs, photos, friends list, and posts to the Facebook group -- which won't be easy since Facebook's Pages don't support all of those things. Justin Smith of Inside Facebook says that social networking company is planning a major upgrade to Pages to make them "more compelling for businesses to build a deep presence on Facebook."
Right now, Facebook Pages can't be considered a complete social networking solution like Ning -- the feature set is just too limited and constricting, plus only businesses, brands/products, and artists can have them. But it is easy to see why Facebook Pages could be attractive to social media marketers. They're easy to set up and manage, and they come with access to a built in audience.
However, even if the coming changes noted by Smith add features to make Pages more complete mini-social networks, there are a lot of reasons why Facebook should not be looked at by companies as a Ning-alternative (or an alternative to any full branded social network provider). First and foremost, even though Facebook has shown some indications recently of being more open, they're still a very closed platform. Verizon may be making a mistake by putting all its eggs in one basket.
Facebook Pages should certainly be part of a social media strategy for businesses, brands, and artists, but it certainly shouldn't be the only part. Facebook's most popular Page, that of US presidential candidate Barack Obama, provides a good example of a complete social media strategy done right. In addition to his 900,000 strong Facebook Page, Obama has a presence on more than 10 other top social media sites including MySpace, Digg, Flickr, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter. He also runs his own branded social network Obama's complete strategy has helped him to raise record amounts of money online during this campaign cycle and build awareness among the younger, Internet-centric demographic.
Unless Facebook transforms Pages into a Ning-like platform for hosting external branded social networks that hook into the Facebook social graph (which seems unlikely given Facebook's clear reluctance to open its walled garden, though it would be a very interesting twist -- and might actually be a Ning-killer), there's really no reason to follow Verizon's lead and use the site in place of a branded social network.