Monthly Archives: June 2007

Bathroom Graffiti Project

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Some social networks are beautiful in their simplicity and focus. The Bathroom Graffiti Project might just be one such network.

They are using one of the many themes we offer to quickly and easily make your network interesting, which I think makes it look pretty darn clean without any work. They don’t really need fancy design. The photo slideshow speaks for itself:


Find more photos like this on Bathroom Graffiti Project

I discovered The Bathroom Graffiti Project looking at the growing list of social networks on Ning taking advantage of Facebook integration. In fact, I just added The Bathroom Graffiti Project photo slideshow to my Facebook profile. Good think I’m not looking for a job.

Flexibility vs. Ease of Use

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True software platforms serve many different constituencies. That’s the point of creating a platform. They are programmable. Anyone can use them to create exactly what they want. As a result, programmable platforms can be used successfully by companies, start-ups, and individuals alike.

Ning is a software platform for creating social networks for anything. We view our mission as bringing “enterprise” flexibility, scalability, performance, and customization to everyone, including companies and other start-ups.

I’ve started to see in a few places the contention that because Ning is easy to use, we must not be flexible or programmable enough. While we’re happy we’ve successfully made Ning incredibly easy to use, it has never been at the expense of freedom, flexibility, or control by companies or individuals.

Enabling freedom at every level is hard. Making it easy for anyone to use is next to impossible. We’ve done both successfully. As you can tell, we like challenges :-)

To recreate what we’ve built:

  1. Start with a platform architecture and its requirements, including OS features, programmability, and horizontal scalability.
  2. Recruit a world-class systems software team capable of building a new operating system.
  3. Quietly commit 2 ½ years to R&D.
  4. Write half a million lines of code.
  5. Launch a programmable platform. Host it.
  6. Layer on top of the platform a “killer app” that can be used by anyone to create their own social networks for anything.
  7. Rapidly iterate with developers and Network Creators to understand what you want along 3 types of customization: point and click options, appearance changes, and logic (or code) changes.
  8. Rapidly release new features on 2-week release cycles.
  9. Ensure performance at scale for large, high volume social networks. Then add a lot of them.

When you peel back the layers, Ning is a software platform that can scale any application running on it to millions of members and page views. (Almost) every aspect of social networks on Ning is customizable. More uniquely, you can create entirely new social web applications on the Ning Platform with the documentation that we make readily available to anyone.

There is nothing cookie cutter about that.

Wakefirst: The Wakeboard Capital of the Internet

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Wakefirst.com is the self-described the wakeboard capital of the Internet. From playing around on it, I certainly believe them.

Nick Murto and crew have done an outstanding job creating a phenomenal experience for wakeboarders and the people who love them. They have great focus and have done a really nice job integrating their branding throughout, including using their own domain name, adding their own favicon, and selling merchandise.

Their branded photo slideshow enables anyone to take a little piece of the wakeboarding capital of the Internet with you wherever you go.

And for those of you who are not familiar with the video, photo, and music players on social networks on Ning, note the Wakefirst logo. Not only is it consistent throughout the network, if you click on it above, you’ll be automatically taken back to Wakefirst. That’s viral distribution in action.

They should definitely add Facebook integration, given their topic, but that’s something that’s easy enough to do when they are ready.

All of these features are there for any Network Creator to take advantage of at any time. It’s our own little way of leaving the light on for you.

Ask Ning: Can You Scale My Network?

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Network Creators love to ask us whether the Ning Platform can scale a social network on Ning to millions of people and page views. It’s a great question.

The short answer is absolutely. That’s why we’re here. Our general approach is to quietly earn your trust on this front by simply being up and, well, awesome. As your network continues to grow and grow and grow, it should just work. You shouldn’t even have to think about it.

The longer answer is that creating a platform that works smoothly and speedily at high volume is a challenge. We love challenges. It’s an area that we have taken seriously from the start and a place where we’ve put our money where our mouth is.

Stuff will always happen, but we’ve taken significant measures to ensure that your social network on Ning can be as successful as you want it to be. Behind the scenes, here are a few of the things we’ve done to ensure in your network can achieve world domination:

  • Horizontal scalability. We have designed our systems so increasing capacity is easy. We just add machines.
  • The Ning Platform is built using the best technology for the job: We’ve got Java in the back and PHP in the front.
  • Abstracted Content Store: No need to worry about scaling SQL databases.
  • Extra capacity: We have maintained the environment to sustain levels significantly higher than our average level of traffic, and we constantly increase capacity as the average grows to maintain this goal. Additionally, we continually analyze the performance and systems and optimize them to squeeze more of our existing systems.
  • Built-in, transparent Akamai edge distribution: For large media files (videos, photos, etc) we support transparent serving through Akamai, to provide the best experience possible no matter where you are in the world.
  • Proven: Our traffic has grown tenfold in the last six months, while performance and uptime have increased. As you think about partners for creating social networks, it’s probably not a bad idea to ask yourself what kind of volume that company handles across the networks on it. I would argue that you want a platform that has proven it can scale.

A lot of thought, effort, iteration, and real world experience has gone into enabling your social network on Ning to scale successfully without you ever having to think about it. Think of it as a reverse mullet. It may be a party in the front, but it’s all business in the back.

Above The Line

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AboveTheLine.TV is awesome. It is a social community for music video directors, the music video production community at large, and music video fans. The site was created in association with the reality show, “Above The Line: The Search For America’s Next Music Video Director.”

Here’s a fantastic video introduction, (note the branded video player):

A few other things I really like about AboveTheLine.TV:

  • This is clearly a passionate, authentic community. If there is one overriding success factor to social networks, it’s authenticity. Alot of the networks on Ning have it and AboveTheLive.TV is a great example.
  • It’s domain mapped to a branded URL. They aren’t just creating AboveTheLine, but AboveTheLine.TV. The branded widgets are key to reinforcing the brand.
  • They’ve used their own logo and one of the themes to create a visual look and feel that is uniquely theirs.
  • It feels fresh and unique. This is partially achieved by using multiple text boxes and rss feeds, the unsung heroes of simple content feeds and visual differentiation on your network.

Definitely have a look!

How Many Are Too Many?

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It is an accepted view among many Internet pundits that there are simply too many social networks out there today.

To underscore my point, The Times UK Monday reported a study that people using one-size-fits-all social networks exhibit “chronic unfaithfulness” with respect to these networks.

No kidding. What did you expect?

That’s like saying people were unfaithful to AOL when they started to use the Internet. When you give people the freedom to create the exact right perfect thing for them, they flock to those places. They experiment. They discover. They explore. That’s why freedom wins. That’s why platforms win.

So, how many social networks are too many?

I would argue that there can never be too many social networks as long as they are authentic, unique, and populated by at least a small core group of passionate people who make them a dynamic, authentic slice of the Internet.

I would also predict that the numbers, types, and very definitions of social networks will continue to grow dramatically.

There are 1.3 billion people online today. Less than 15% of them are currently using social networks. If you think that the market for social networking can support more than 15% of the total internet population, then, even in the most conservative case, the number – and use – of social networks will grow.

Taken from another angle, there are 70 million blogs today. There are blogs for every conceivable interest, topic, location, language, you name it. In many cases, blogs are currently being used for purposes that might be better served by social networks. Even if only a small percentage of blogs become social networks, we’re still going to see an explosion in the number of quality social networks in the world.

That’s the freedom to create. And that’s a very good thing.

Now, my bullish musings about a future with millions of social networks does have a few caveats.

I do believe there will be a limit to the number of generic, one-size-fits-all social networks that are created to compete feature-for-feature with MySpace and Facebook, but that’s not really a surprise. There were plenty of people who tried – and failed – to topple AOL. These MeTooSpaces are still about you joining their generic world, not creating your own unique one.

If you are starting a new social network today, not only is “chronic unfaithfulness” great for you, you should build it into your plan.

Embrace it. Use it to your advantage. Get the word out about your network on MySpace and blogs. Promote your network’s photos, videos, and music on Facebook. Leverage these one-size-fits-all networks to drive people into a new social network that is yours alone to make the exact right perfect thing for you and your members.

The most important thing is that your own social network stands for something. It’s differentiated, not by features necessarily, but by your brand, your focus, and your members.

The world is your oyster.

Tu Diabetes

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Tu Diabetes is a social network for those people touched by diabetes. I think that they might have the best tagline on Ning:

“It’s like ‘MySpace’ on insulin…” – Scott Johnson

Manny Hernandez, the creator of Tu Diabetes, has done a beautiful job with the design of the network and the conversations, videos, and blog posts on the network are outstanding.

Another brilliant move is there is a separate forum category for conversations in Spanish. This is using just the standard Category feature in the Discussion Forum, but the result is that a whole new set of members can participate in Tu Diabetes in the language in which they are the most comfortable.

I also like the use of Groups to create conversations and relationships between people in different geographic areas. I’d love to see some fun images for the Group icons instead of the gray default ones, but I’m sure that’s coming.

Overall, this is a great example of a specialized social network around a compelling topic. I definitely encourage other Network Creators to have a look at it for a bit of inspiration :-)

Alpha Mom’s Baby Names

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This morning the Wall Street Journal had a feature article on baby names (subscription required). I didn’t realize how intense the whole baby naming business had become.

Good thing there is Alpha Mom.

Alpha Mom is an online and video-on-demand media channel for mothers. Last week, it launched its own Baby Name resource which is really nicely done. Unsurprisingly, it was created on Ning :-)

Developed by Alpha Mom as an entirely new application on the Ning Platform, it makes it easy to search 25,000+ baby names, add new names, and create a short list of favorite names as you make your baby name decision. It’s fully integrated into the main Alpha Mom site and is masked with an Alpha Mom URL (babynames.alphamom.com). Overall, it is executed beautifully from both a design and development perspective.

For my own edification, I took a look around at the other pastel-o-riffic baby name resources online and I can say with confidence that Alpha Mom’s Baby Names has by far the cleanest design and more names to choose from. Do the comparison yourself and you’ll see what I mean.

Anatomy of a Profile Page

No other element or feature of a social network elicits as much venom or praise as the member profile page. Why? It’s simple:

Profile pages on social networks represent the very heart of freedom, self-expression, and the ability to make something uniquely your own.

A profile page is all mine to do (almost) anything I want with it.

Profile Page Features

So, this is my profile page on Ning’s Network Creators:

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By default, my profile page comes with the following features:

  • A Profile Photo that I have the option to add and can change at will.
  • A Profile Section on the right column whose questions are customized by the Network Creator and presented to every new member who joins. Network Creators can make these questions required or optional.
  • A Simple URL that always takes the same structure. You can find me on any network on which I am a member by adding “/profile/gina” to the end of any profile URL, including domain masked ones. This means if you’re on We Live Here [Uploaded], you can find my profile by typing in http://welivehere.fineliving.com/profile/gina.
  • A Blog.
  • A Comment Wall where other people can leave messages for me.
  • My Friends and notifications when I have new friend requests.
  • The option for other members to request to be my friend or send me a message.
  • The ability to completely change every aspect of my page via the Edit the Appearance link in the upper right of the page. I can choose from themes or use my own CSS and HTML. I haven’t changed the appearance of my page yet in this example.

Beyond these basics, for each feature you, as the Network Creator, add to your social network, each feature shows up on every member’s profile page as well.

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