Local community networks with Ning

I’ve always been a little uncertain of Ning, the service that allows you to create your own social networks. I’m not sure why: possibly a comination of them looking rather samey (certainly in the early days), and being – to me – a little unintuitive to use. Plus there’s always been the fact that you share a service with a bunch of porn barons.

However, recent uses of the platform have made me rethink my position. Firstly, there is Tim DaviesUKYouthOnline network, started as a way of communicating with people attending the upcoming unconference, but now developing into something rather bigger than that. Tim’s customisation of his network turned it into a really nice looking site, and while I still have reservations about having blogs and a forum on one site, it doesn’t look too busy.

Next up, a Sunday tweet from Steph alerted me to a Ning network that had been created for his local area, Beckenham. Originally put together to discuss issues around parking in the area, people are using blogs to raise and chat about other topics, too. I had never really thought about Ning for local networks, to be honest, always thinking that a reporting style blog, and use of common tags, would be the best way to go about things. But with Ning, you can allow people to upload stuff directly, or aggregate it from other places, whether through built in services or just by hooking up to the RSS feed.

For a local residents’ network, then, Ning is pretty good. One issue is that I haven’t tested it out on legacy browsers, like ancient version of Internet Explorer which could still be residing on people’s computers. It’s certainly made be reconsider some of the stuff in my plan for building local online communities though.

A couple of pieces of advice though, if you are planning to use Ning:

  • Think carefully about the functionality you enable. Forums, blogs, chat, notes… do you really need them all? What you don’t want to happen is for someone who wants to post something getting frustrated because they don’t know which is the best medium
  • It might be a good idea to pay to get rid of the ads – Ning seems to throw up a lot for online dating, etc, which might not be the right thing for your community’s image.

One issue I still have with Ning though: when am I logged in and not logged in? If I log in at ning.com, I still have to re-enter my credentials to get into individual networks. And sometimes I have to enter a master key, and sometimes not. It’s confusing!

4 thoughts on “Local community networks with Ning”

  1. Hey Dave

    I’ve certainly found that whilst ning isn’t the perfect platform (lots of quirks and slightly too many options for simple conversations – although I’ve left them on for UK Youth Online as a sort of ‘training space’ for people getting to grips with social networking in general) – it is very easy to set something up in – and seems curiously intuitive for many people starting out with online networking…

    Perhaps at the UK Youth Online event we might do a bit of an evaluation of different options for online networks – particularly for different groups such as: professionals in an organisation, local communities, young people etc.

  2. Ning gets my typical comment: nice idea, terrible execution. If you’re not using one of the major web browsers on a full-power electricity-hungry unsecured computer, forget it. It also doesn’t really seem to integrate other sites/services properly, so you can’t use it to build a real community – only a group of ningers.

  3. A couple of the councillors from around my way have set up sites using Ning and I can see the attraction for them.

    It’s sufficiently different to a blog or a Facebook group to feel like a community resource (rather than something owned entirely by the webmaster), but perhaps with slightly more control.

    Early days, but I suspect that like any attempt at community conversation it’ll require a fair amount of input for it to get a life of its own.

    Here’s a link to one of them should you be intersted.


  4. Hi Dave

    I’ve been testing Ning sites out with work and they seem an easy (ish) forum to be able (as a novice but more expereinced than colleagues) to set something up to be able to discuss and share information. I like the way you can upload links easy enough, can make it look professional add photos etc. I think that for colleagues (public sector)it is more removed and different from facebook, myspace etc. and therefore are more likely to try it. I’ve seen some great community sites (particularly education) where it is being used for all sorts of information sharing discussion etc. Will try and look out a few.

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