Apply the 4-Second Rule to your Ning Network

4 Seconds. That’s how long you have to wow people on your Ning Network (and any other website), according to multiple studies. Any longer than that, and you’ve lost your chance to win over a new member. With such a brief window to grab someone’s attention, the last thing you want is for your Ning Network to still be loading after 4 seconds.

As the gateway to the rest of your Ning Network, your Main Page needs to be particularly trim and speedy. A slow-loading Main Page means that people will abandon your Ning Network without discovering all the great content it has to offer. Based on the early data we’ve gathered so far, it’s clear that if you put too much stuff on your Main Page, you’re hurting the growth of your Ning Network. The trend that we’re seeing looks something like this (we’ll have some more detailed case studies soon):

BW-performance

Put simply, it’s the 4-Second Rule in effect. The good news is that there’s plenty you can do to limit the amount of content on your Main Page and focus on the things that count. We’ve put together a few basic guidelines that will kick your Ning Network into high gear.

Pick your favorite 3 or 4 embedded widgets and lose the rest.

An embedded widget is any piece of content loaded from somewhere else. These include YouTube videos, flash games, Twitter feeds, advertisements, PollDaddy widgets, and just about anything else you can think of.

While embedded widgets can add flavor to your Ning Network, try limiting the number to 3 or 4 on your Main Page if you’re looking to attract new members. Here’s why:

  1. Your Main Page will only load as fast as your slowest embedded widget. An embed that is slow or unavailable can block or severely delay the rest of your Main Page from loading. And when you’re pulling content from another website into your Ning Network, loading these foreign objects can take a lot of time.
  2. Embedded widgets are like small applications. If your embeds are not well-written, they will quickly use up the limited resources in your browser. This noticeably slows things down and can even cause your browser to crash.
  3. Even beautifully written embedded widgets can be heavy. A single flash player (SWF) will slow down your Main Page, even if it is a music player, video player, or photo slideshow built by Ning. Limit the number of SWFs you display on the Main Page.

For every embed on your Main Page, you should ask yourself how much value it adds to the member experience. If it’s critical, great. But if it is just nice to have, consider removing it if you’re looking to draw in more members. You can always keep a healthy rotation to keep things fresh. Another trick is to take a screenshot of an embedded widget, and hyperlink the screenshot to the widget itself on a separate page. This keeps things visually interesting without dragging down your Main Page.

Don’t forget — you have 4 seconds to impress your visitors. You’re going to do that by having a few great pieces of content — not by overwhelming them.

Choose the right display options for your features.

Limiting the number of embeds will go a long way, but you should also control the display options for your Ning features that appear on the Main Page. While we’re doing everything on our end to optimize the performance of your Main Page, the laws of physics dictate that if you go all-out with 20 features, your Ning Network will get slower.

Pick your favorite RSS and display it in Title view. One way to speed things up is to simply have fewer RSS boxes on the Main Page. Another way is to click the “Edit” button on the RSS box and choose Titles Only instead of Detail View in the “Display” drop-down menu. This is a great option when your RSS feed is media-rich and is pulling in photos or videos from an outside website.

Don’t go all-out with blog posts. Media-rich blog posts that contain photos, flash players, and custom widgets will hamper performance in the same way that embeds in text boxes do. Try displaying 5 or 10 blog posts, and consider displaying Featured blog posts only. That way, you have tight control over what blog posts will show up on the Main Page. And just like with RSS, you can choose to display Titles Only instead of Detail View to achieve the speediest results.

Think about what you’re putting inside your text boxes. Though you can currently add up to 10 text boxes to your Main Page, try keeping this number down to 2-3. In these text boxes, try putting the most lightweight code to show awesome custom content while keeping your Main Page speedy.

Building these best practices into the Ning Platform

Making your Ning Network speedy is a partnership. A large part of the job is ours and our engineering team is constantly at work shaving off milliseconds of load-time on your Ning Network. We also offer a lot of flexibility and choices in your Ning Network which do have the opportunity, when taken together, to get in the way of your maximum success. We’re addressing this by building some of the best practices outlined above directly into your Ning Network. These limits won’t be noticeable to folks unless your Ning Network loads in more than 10 seconds today and include:

  • Changing the maximum number of text boxes and RSS feeds from 10 to 5 on the Main Page.
  • Setting a total Main Page feature module limit to somewhere between 20-25 features, including text boxes and RSS feeds.
  • Limiting the number of embedded widgets you can add to a note, blog post, text box, and RSS feed on your Ning Network’s Main Page to 1 per entry. We do this today with blog entries and will expand it from there.

We will put these in place for new Ning Networks and when you edit an existing social network on Ning. Each of these changes is inspired by the 4-Second Rule, which will dramatically help your members discover and enjoy more great things on your Ning Network. We’re always going to err on the side of ensuring success over offering choices that, when used together, may get in your way. That said, if these limits don’t work for your Ning Network we’ll be happy to work with you in the Ning Help Center.

We’ll have more details on these built-in upper limits as we get closer to releasing them. Currently, they’re scheduled for the end of July.

About the Author:

Nick Barr – who has written posts on Ning's Official Blog on Social Networking Sites.


  • THL Admin

    Im not sure if I understand what you are saying here… are you saying that Ning is going to limit text boxes and RSS feeds from 10 to 5 and Setting a total Main Page feature module limit to somewhere between 20-25 features, including text boxes and RSS feeds and Limiting the number of embedded widgets you can add to a note, blog post, text box, and RSS feed on your Ning Network’s Main Page to 1 per entry. We do this today with blog entries and will expand it from there.

    What about those of us that are using all of these features now with a healthy vibrant community? Will our content just disappear?

  • http://www.ning.com Nick

    Hi,

    We’ll be building these upper limits for new Ning Networks and for when you edit an existing social network on Ning. If your Ning Network exceeds any of these limits today, don’t worry — you won’t lose any of your content. Instead, you’ll just be prompted to make whatever adjustments are needed to keep your Ning Network from exceeding the 4-Second Rule.

    We’ll post more details on this soon, but let us know if you have any questions. Again, we appreciate that these limits won’t work for every Ning Network, and we’ll be happy to work with you in the Ning Help Center if that’s the case with yours.

    Thanks,
    Nick

  • Thiago Santos de Moraes

    I have a growing network (http://apologetica.ning.com/) and, I think, this network is now perfect without following this rules. It have to be a sugestion, not an imposition. I trust in the promise of Ning that old networks will not lose content.

  • http://www.swapsavers.com/ Swap Savers

    Interesting article. My only suggestion is that I wish I had known about the text boxes before this rule went into effect (I removed some that I now want to use). Also I would love it if you could name some Ning Networks that you feel display good qualities of the 4 second rule and demonstrate other aspects of this article so I can make necessary changes. Thanks!

  • http://cooperative.ning.com Peter Matthews

    It would be nice if Ning could provide a Test App that allows Creators to run their site through a set of browsers on computers maintained by Ning, and get an automatic report as feedback on how the site loads on those various browsers, and how common those browsers are worldwide.

    I am also mystified aboutthe significance of the 4 second rule.

    How can I have the Ning video player on my site but not on the top page? It would be great if we could put features on other places other than the top page, so that we can follow the 4 second rule AND give access to those features.

    Please advise!