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 Davies‘ UKYouthOnline 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!