Monthly Archives: January 2008

Planning for Earth Day… One Member At A Time

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Earth Day comes around every year on April 22. But this year, in addition to riding your bike to work and turning off the water while you brush your teeth, you can join the Earth Day Network’s new official social network, created to help promote the observance of Earth Day.

We interviewed Joshua Forgotson, the network creator for the Earth Day social network. He is the International Programs Director at EDN and he shared with us his motivations to develop a social network using Ning.

Joshua also made use of the domain mapping premium service, which allows network creators to use their own domain name. This allowed him to direct his members to network.earthday.net.

You can also stay current about Earth Day news through the news feeds that the Earth Day social network has included on their home page in four different languages, taking advantage of the RSS feeds feature. This is one of the many ways in which the Earth Day social network reaches out to people from all over the world as Earth Day approaches.

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Blog365: The Ultimate Blogging Challenge

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Blog365 is a network with one rule, and only one rule: write at least one blog post every day for a year. That’s it.

Okay, so there are a few other rules – February 29th is a free day, length doesn’t matter, a post can even be a photo or video – but the challenge lies in the simple act of posting every day for “365 days, 52 weeks, 12 months, and 1 lap around the sun!”

Taking cues from NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo, both annual writing events for the duration of November, Network Creator Kamen Lee decided to extend the challenge for the whole of 2008.

The network’s already nearly 1300 members strong and still growing. Members have created over 150 groups. Many of these have active forums, like “Dork Bloggers” and “Bloggers who have no idea what got into them, or why they have joined this insanely impossible Blog365 mission”. There are also over 12,000 photos so far!

Kamen is thoroughly enjoying the experience. “There is nothing better than being in a group that is kept fresh and new by continually updating the information and content being delivered,” Kamen told us. “I have found that many of the Blog365 members are very interactive and doing things to support and extend that only makes the network better.”

Check out the massive feed of daily blogs on the network. You might even decide to stick around for a while and join – if you’re up to the challenge!

TV Cocina

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TV Cocina is yet another beautiful network that has taken advantage of the option to change the entire language of a network using the language editor.

TV Cocina prides itself on being “a website that has successfully combined social networking, video networking and forums to create a website that allows Spanish speaking chefs and cooking enthusiasts the opportunity to share and learn new recipes.” They are targeting an audience that comes from Spain, Latin America, Europe and USA, people that speak Spanish and love food.

My Spanish is rusty, but I love food, and the videos offered on TV Cocina provide some recipes not easily found on other food networks. The videos are particularly clear for those of us who may need visual aids to help recreate a recipe!


Encuentra más vídeos como este en TvCocina

Google Analytics: Some Valuable Things It Can Teach You About Your Network – Part 1

You’ve read about Google Analytics. Perhaps you have gone through the FAQs about Google Analytics on our Help Center (if you haven’t, you should!). But you may still be wondering: what is the big deal about using Google Analytics in your network? Hopefully, by the end of this post you will no longer wonder, and you’ll want dive right into the seas of data that are available to you with Google Analytics.

First off, as a Network Creator you should realize the importance of analytics, metrics, traffic data or however you call them. Analytics empower you to make good decisions about your network because they tell you what your members, as well as visitors who are not members yet, are doing while they are spending time on your network.

But Google Analytics tells you so much more. In this post we’ll talk about four areas in Google Analytics that should help you go a long way.

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CAN 08: Africa’s Soccer

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La CAN 2008 is a network all about the African Cup of Nations. Running from January 20th to February 10th, the African Cup of Nations is the football championship of Africa.

As a network that centers around an event, the Network Creators are making sure to update frequently. This morning, the main page was displaying post-match play-by-play from the Morocco-Guinea game (Guinea won 1 to nil with a goal by Feindouno in the 11th minute). Currently, it is featuring a video.

With members from all over the globe, this network is kicking on all cylinders. Members are uploading photos of their favorite footballers, having fiery discussions about the tournament and using their blogs to post their match-up analysis. Not only have the Network Creators added all the scheduled matches, but it’s another great example of a network using the one of our fantastic translations.

So get your boots on and head over to La CAN 2008 for up-to-date info on 26th edition of the African Cup of Nations!

January Product Roadmap – What’s Next

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When you last saw us, we were telling you about our general product priorities. Now let’s dive into what specific things we’re getting out the door in the next release.

How We Create Our Product Roadmap

As Phil mentions on Network Creators, we work against a 3-month plan of projects that fit into any one of our three main priorities: (1) performance, stability, and scalability, (2) making your network more viral, and (3) improving the social networking software itself.

The 3-month plan is updated often and projects are moved, added, or removed, based on their priority, difficulty, the resources available for implementing them, and dependencies on other projects. Specifically, there are some features that we want to build directly into the Ning Platform itself and those create dependencies to which we need to pay attention.

Some features that aren’t in the 3-month plan are ‘On Deck’ which means that we’ll implement them opportunistically in the next 3 months when it’s feasible for us to do so. The only features which are absolutely guaranteed to go into a release are the ones in the release that’s currently being developed. Right now that release is scheduled for February 10th.

The benefits of this planning style are well-documented. It means that we can be extremely agile and take full advantage of our resources and opportunities. The challenge is that we can’t give you a 100% accurate view into our product roadmap beyond the next few releases. That isn’t to say that we don’t keep careful track of feature requests. We do. We also have a longer term plan for major projects we want to release this year. The dates for our longer term plan are moving targets. For this reason, we don’t put it out publicly.

Since we launched the social network 11 months ago, we have had 33 releases of the social network codebase; more than 12 of these have been major releases which contained new features. These features have been directly driven by feedback from Network Creators.

So, What’s Next?

As I mentioned above, our next release is planned for February 10th, give or take a few days and assuming that nothing major pops up between now and then.

Here’s what we’re releasing:

  • Mass Uploader for Photos, Videos, and Music/Podcasts. You and your members will now be able to upload up to 100 photos, 30 videos or 100 songs/podcasts in one fell swoop. That’s not to say that adding all of this stuff won’t take forever, but go grab a beer or five and you’ll be all set.
  • Blog Improvements – Round 1. We’ve replaced the fancy yet buggy rich text editor with our standard text editor which has the added benefit of working in Safari. We also added blog tags, previous/next links, and pinging of 3rd-party update services. We’ll have additional changes to the blog in our next release as well.
  • A Music Player Facelift. Improvements include the ability to feature tracks on the Main page (for admins), pop up the player in a new window, loop playback, shuffle tracks and the option for NCs to disable the “download mp3″ option across the network. The player is also now semi- transparent so that the entire player changes color rather than just the border. It’s sweet.
  • The Option to Feature Members on the Main Page of your Network. This will work the same way it does today for photos, videos, discussions, and blog posts.
  • Higher Video Quality. We’re updating the video player to set on a fixed size which will result in better-looking videos, albeit eliminate the options to have small and medium size videos. We think the trade-off will be well-worth it.
  • Video and Photo Slideshow Widgets Work in RSS Feed Readers. This means that when you pull an RSS feed into your network and that feed has a video or photo slideshow in it, it will work.
  • Easier Member Management for Network Creators and Admins. In this release, you’ll be able to start searching and sorting members from your Manage Member page.

Additionally, there is a ton of small stuff as well (continue reading…)

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Keeping Our Priorities Straight

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So, how do we here at Ning approach product decisions? There is in fact is a method to the madness. We have high level priorities and are continually iterating our current product roadmap against them. They are:

1. Performance, Stability, and Scalability

These are critical to your network. Especially as the service continues to double in size every few weeks, your social network needs to not only be up but it needs to be fast. With over 99% uptime per month, we take this work and the commitment we’ve made to provide a phenomenal social network to you – a social network that is uniquely yours – very seriously.

2. Ensure Your Network is Viral as Possible

One of the beautiful things about social networks is that combined with the right focus, brand, idea, and people, a network can spread like wildfire. We’re constantly implementing new features and improvements to existing features that “grease the skids” of getting new people into your social networks. Some examples of our work on virality are the new Invite page and contact importing feature we released before the holidays, the completely streamlined and branded profile creation process, and the branded widgets that come automatically with your network when you create it for free on Ning.

This work has had a significant impact on the growth of individual networks as well as the growth of total social networks across Ning. While this work is primarily focused on getting people to a network, the more people on a social network, the more likely it is that the network will be dynamic and, well, more fun.

3. Create the Absolute Best Social Networking Software. Then Ensure People Can Make It Their Own.

The best and worse thing about creating software is that you’re never done. I love the fact that we’re able to constantly and rapidly react to new feature ideas and roll out improvements that are important to us and our Network Creators. You hold us to incredibly high standards and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sometimes, we knock it out of the park. Other times, specific feature requests take longer than any of us would like.

We want to continue to make Your Own Social Network for Anything a product of which we’re incredibly proud. We are maniacal users (and very credible critics) of Your Own Social Network for Anything. We know the warts. We know the features that are going to make it sing. And if we could do it all tomorrow, we would. That’s our goal.

What We’ve Been Up To

We’ve spend the last three months focused primarily on projects in the Performance and Virality buckets and the results have been significant.

By driving incremental seconds and then milliseconds out of page load times while making it even easier to invite, join, and create profiles on any of the social networks on the Ning Platform, we have seen networks become bigger more quickly and the amount of activity across networks skyrocket. Normally I’m not inclined to hyperbole, but, seriously, skyrocket here is an understatement.

While we can see the results of big infrastructure or virality changes across the 155,000 social networks on Ning, they are mostly invisible to individual Network Creators and their members. Sometimes the result is that your network is simply available as we scale to twice the number of page views we did the week before. To you, your network is available. No big deal. To us, we just pulled off a major feat of engineering and operations. And, by the way, you should expect nothing less of any Internet service you use.

To make room for these projects it sometimes means that a feature that is critical to a particular network or set of networks gets put off for a release…or six. That has certainly happened in the past three months. And, fortunately or unfortunately, we’d make the same decisions over again. We believe these are the right priorities for our service and our Network Creators.

Now that we’re seeing significant viral growth across increasingly speedy networks, we’re shifting our focus back to new features. It still won’t mean that we’ll get to everything that we want as fast as we want, but it does mean that there are more tangible and shiny new things coming down the pipe.

And, in our next installment, we’ll tell you all about them :-)

WheeledOnes.com: Giving Wheelers A Place To Connect

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Normally, when you do something as simple as lifting a soda can, you don’t even think about it. But Jeff, the Network Creator of WheeledOnes.com, does. He has Spinal Muscular Atrophy (type 2), a genetic neuromuscular disease that causes severe general body weakness. Because of this, he is a wheelchair user.

Chatting with us, he shared: “I found many, many disparate sites and communities focused on various specific disabilities.” So Jeff started WheeledOnes.com to give wheelchair users a single community where they could interact and become friends with each other.

WheeledOnes.com is a great example of a network taking advantage of the features available.

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Verifying your network for Google Webmaster Tools

Update (7/12/09): We’ve now built a way to verify your Ning Network with Google Webmaster Tools right into your Ning Network. Check out this Help Center FAQ for instructions.

Want to take control of traffic coming from Google searches to your network on Ning? Read on to learn how to harness the power of Google Webmaster Tools to help boost your network’s rank in Google searches.

Setting up Webmaster Tools will gives you a wide range of tools that you can use to both improve the experience of your members and increase the number of visits to your network. If you use any analytics software or gather data on how your members learned about your network, you’ll notice that many people come to your network after using a search engine.

But what if the first result when someone finds your network in a Google search is an old forum thread or a random member-uploaded video — not the best welcome for a first-time visitor! Or what if potential members are searching for a social network for football players, but your network is named “Pigskin Central”? It’s possible search engines could be missing the connection, if the word “football” isn’t actually used in your network’s title or description.

That’s where Webmaster Tools can help, by providing a number of features to allow you to master Search Engine Optimization. But before you can really take advantage of Google’s tools, Google has to verify that you are the site owner. Learn how after the jump…

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