This weekend saw our eager-beaver engineering and operations teams roll out another release of the Ning Playground. The front-end differences are fairly small this time, but there are quite a few of them: for example, the Ningbar’s easier to get around with “Back” button support and a dedicated user search on the “People” panel. Other bits of user interface have been tightened up: you can now remove people from your friends list without blocking, and the “Compose Message” form is smarter too.
We also have some nifty goodies for developers: the new logical OR operator gives more power to your Content Store queries, as does the ability to use a friends list as a filter. Best of all, apps can now receive email and process photos and movies from MMS messages. For first sight of docs and examples for these features, subscribe to our Tech Blog if you haven’t already. Not only do we post the latest developer info there, it’s a constant source of tips and wisdom on all aspects of Ning App development – so dive in!
What makes it a little different from most web apps, however, is the way in which you add to it. If you want to create your own subject timeline to mix in with the others, you don’t use the Timeliner app itself. Instead, you hit “Get Your Own!” and clone the Timeliner app to create a new timeline, which you can tweak to your heart’s desire. The
main Timeliner app acts as an aggregator that queries across the whole of Ning for any timeline events and displays them all together. By providing extra context for historical events, timelines are great for showing the value of layering data from different sources.
It’s a new way to build apps, made possible by the “Get Your Own!” button. On Wednesday, during his keynote speech at the O’Reilly Open Source Convention, Tim O’Reilly talked about Ning – specifically, what we bring to the sphere of web application development with the concept of cloning. By coincidence, I gave a talk on this very topic the day before Tim’s: you can watch a seven-minute Flash version of the talk here.
One of the reasons I created Timeliner was to demonstrate a new model for web apps. Building apps for cloning allows each user to take control of their own app interface and features while still joining in with everyone else. People can further clone from each others improvements, which means that the app features collaboratively evolve. Ning is among the first platforms to take this new model and apply it to web applications, and our Playground’s a great place to explore it.
Since 2002, Amy’s Robot has been essential reading for those in the know. The blog provides a compelling stream of news, celebrity gossip and political opinion, addictively flavored with their own brand of wit and snark. They’ve now expanded their efforts into a number of single-topic blogs such as ScaryNY, Bad Love and The Ledger.
ADM and Amy
Alongside, there’s a barrage of web links compiled using Linkit, their social linkblogging service descended from our own Bookmarks. Linkit is not only one of the oldest Ning apps, it’s consistently one of the most popular – yet more proof of Amy’s Robot’s ever-expanding fanbase. The team behind it, however, are fairly reclusive in the face of internet fame; so I’m proud to have coaxed them into discussing their various blogs, favorite celebs, and the secrets of their success…
On September 30th, the Farm Aid musical charity celebrates its 21st year of raising support and awareness for family farms with another spectacular concert. The booking office opens this Saturday; if you’re thinking of going you’d better not hang around, as those tickets sure won’t. While you’re at it, I highly recommend entering Top Of The Haystack – the competition to find the ultimate Farm Aid fan. Prizes include gift bags, t-shirts, Chipotle dinners, an autographed Farm Aid guitar and, best of all, two front-row tickets to the gig. Those will go to the fan with the most votes, and the earlier you enter, the more you’ll earn – so get moving!
You’ve probably already looked at the Message Center in your user panel – that’s the one labeled with your username and icon. It’s basically a mailbox, and we figure that you already know how to use one of those. You can send any Ning user a message through the “Send a Message” link on their profile, or by clicking the little envelope you’ll sometimes see on the right of their user icon.
One of the advantages here is that you don’t need to know a user’s email address to contact them. This is particularly useful when it comes to communication between the owners and users of Ning Apps. By clicking on the “Popular” tab you can not only see who owns the current App but send them a message right there. And if you’re an App owner, you easily chat with any of your users and even send a broadcast message to all of them (from the “Manage” tab).
This is a super-speedy way to invite a large number of people into your contact list, which makes it easier to send them App invites or add them as friends. Click “Import Addresses” in your Message Center, and you’ll see the interface above. In a few seconds you can pull in all the contacts from your webmail account. (Don’t worry: the process doesn’t automatically send anything to those contacts, and we don’t store your webmail password anywhere.) Once the contacts have been imported, you can browse the list and see which people have Ning accounts already, so it’s even smoother to add them as friends.
The interfaces shown above are available in any App that sports the Ningbar. If you’re a developer and want more control, both the sending of messages and the importing of contacts can be done programmatically through our REST API, using the new JSON operations. Ease of use and 100% programmability – that’s us!
As the Ning train keeps rolling, we’re proud to introduce our collaboration with FX Networks on the new season of Morgan Spurlock’s 30 Days. You might remember Morgan from his McDonald’s documentary Super Size Me, and this show extends that concept by having people immerse themselves in a variety of unfamiliar situations for a 30-day period. Check out the 30 Days Experience app to see what other people would be willing to do for a month
Sam Mbale (pictured right) is the owner of Truly Zambian, a Group clone which gathers Zambian nationals scattered around the world. Sam is based in London and runs MappiBiz, a web hosting company. His colleague Susan Mwape is based in Lusaka, the Zambian capital.
What brought you to Ning, and what do you use it for?
Sam: I came across Ning while I was researching “Web 2.0″ and open source business applications. My Ning applications are focused on community issues or business interests. I try to promote collaborative activities and encourage innovative and creative ideas.
Another feature of the Ningbar is App Search. Every Ning App gets a powerful built-in search engine for free. The search box lives at the top of the screen. Enter some text, and it’ll search through the content of the current App, as well as across all Ning Apps in one go – 15,000 Apps and rising. All of the public content is searchable from the start and the private content stays private.
But if you want more control over how your App Search works, you’ve got it. As we said, everything in your Ning App is 100% programmable – and that includes what the search engine does.
If you want to limit the search results to the content in your App, you can. If you want to change the way the search is done, or the way it’s displayed, you can do that too. You can take the search interface in the Ningbar and redirect it to your own custom code. We’ve used this trick in some of our Apps, such as the Developer Discussion Board, to provide custom search results that use the App’s own features.
So you’re looking at our whizzy new Ningbar and the new friends list features and all the other fun stuff, and you’re thinking, “Well, that’s all very lovely, but how’s this thing going to help me create and run my Apps? And more importantly, what if I want it to just go away?”
If you want the Ningbar gone, it’s gone. But it’s so useful to App owners, you’ll probably want to keep it around. Let me explain…
We’ve put a whole load of work into making the experience of creating and maintaining your App as smooth and easy as possible. As an example, check out the Get Your Own! button – the new interface to App cloning. (You’ll see it in Apps that aren’t yours.) When you find an App you really like and say, “I want one of those,” it’s now smoother than ever to get one for yourself. Thanks to this button, the process of naming, customizing and running your own Apps is wonderfully hassle-free and even more fun to play with.
Now you’ve got your App, it’s running and people are using it; how does the Ningbar help you now? Check out the Manage panel. From the first click you’ve got an instant view of your App stats and a bunch of your App’s busiest users – plus, you can send a broadcast message in a couple of clicks. If you dive into the “Appearance” section you can play with your App’s color scheme and tweak it until it’s just right. You can also jump to your App’s settings and to the content manager, which has been neatened up and made snappier.
And that’s just the stuff you get by default. You want to chop up the Ningbar, add your own custom panels and tweak the search? Be my guest. And don’t forget all the nifty features it gives your users – letting them sign in, make new friends from interactions in your App, check their messages and more. Like I said, you can get rid of the whole thing if you like – but why would you want to?