Monthly Archives: January 2010

Capturing sidewalk art from around the world

When I first moved to San Francisco’s Mission District three years ago, I couldn’t believe how much art and expression I saw on buildings, store fronts, and sidewalks — especially sidewalks. They are known for being boring and bland, but here, they have personality. Back on the east coast, the only thing type of art on a sidewalk I would see is hopscotch.

Since 2007, I’ve been on a mission to carry my camera with me everywhere I go, in case I see something new on the sidewalk. Flickr was a great place for me to store my images, but I couldn’t share them, and build a community around them.

I got a job working at Ning in 2009, and I’ve always wanted to build a huge Ning Network; something that would capture the interests and passions of others while still documenting all of the sidewalk art in the world. Welcome to Sidewalk Stalker.

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My goal is to capture every sidewalk drawing, street stencil and curb crochet around the world. So far, this network only has a handful of members, but they stretch many latitudes. Sidewalk Stalker has members in Mexico, Australia, Vietnam, British Columbia, as well as contributors from all across the United States. Someone from Chile has even uploaded a photo of a drawing in the sand. Whatever sidewalk art means to you, I want to see it on my Ning Network.

Andrew is a web developer on the product and design team at Ning, slicing Photoshop files, inspecting the DOM, and crafting CSS selectors.

Technology, infrastructure and the future of Haiti

Haiti Rewired

Donations continue to pour in to the Red Cross, Wylef’s Yele and other organizations to help in relief efforts in Haiti. As rubble is cleared out of the way and rebuilding Port au Prince begins, there’s a need to think and plan strategically. Haiti Rewired, a Ning Network created by Wired magazine, is a place to do just that. From their mission statement:

Will foreign aid to Haiti fail this time? Or will the tragedy bring with it a chance to reboot one of the world’s poorest countries — and rethink the the traditional ways of delivering aid and development? Port-au-Prince may be effectively razed and rebuilt from the ground up, and many other communities will be starting over from scratch.

Paradoxically, the disaster may prove to be a unique chance for an architectural and communications reboot of an entire country.

That’s why we’ve created this community, Haiti Rewired. We believe that better answers to the difficult questions could be created through the collaboration of technologists, researchers, geographers, infrastructure specialists, aid groups and others. Our writers and editors can aggregate information, report new stories and add to the discussion, but the focus of this effort is squarely on the thoughts, plans and actions of our contributors.

One of the largest needs is to rebuild housing that destroyed in the earthquake. But how to make housing that won’t be destroyed in a future quake? Members are offering up their suggestions. For example, one member shared that floating houses are inexpensive and durable in hurricanes and quakes. Another suggested an organization, BuildChange, that’s shown it can design earthquake-resistant houses. Yet another wrote about the potential uses of open-source waste-to-power technology.

The issues Haiti is facing are significant; the potential to make a difference is great. Join in the conversation at Haiti Rewired.

Continue the conversation from the World Economic Forum

World Economic Forum

Each year, the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting is held in Davos, Switzerland. While invites to the meeting of leaders in government, finance, tech and entertainment are hard to come by, today it’s easier than ever to follow along from home, thanks to the World Economic Forum Ning Network. It acts not only as a hub for their other social media channels (YouTube, Twitter, etc), but also gives members an opportunity to discuss the same topics as forum attendees are discussing.

This morning, Ning CEO Gina Bianchini was part of a discussion on the growth of social networks, along with representatives of MySpace, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington has a nice wrap-up that includes video, but most of us weren’t lucky enough to be in the room when the discussion occurred. Luckily, it doesn’t take being a CEO of a company or other VIP to engage with this topic — any member of the World Economic Forum Ning Network can contribute on the discussion forum.

One great reply in the forum came from the Network Creator of Business Fights Poverty:

Ning and the other platforms out there have suddenly brought the cost of connecting and collaborating down to virtually zero, and have thus enabled us to now travel as far as our imaginations can take us.

The discussions in Davos will continue through the 30th, but there’s no reason why we can’t be engaging and grappling with important topics year-round on the World Economic Forum Ning Network.

Using your Ning Network as a Twitter photo or video service

If you’re an active Twitter user (Tweeter?) you’ve likely wanted to share a photo or video with your followers. And if you’ve found yourself in this situation you’ll know that you can’t upload to Twitter directly. Instead, you need to use another photo or video service where you can upload your content, and then add a link back to the photo or video in your tweet. On a phone, this can be something of a tedious process.

One of the new features we released last Thursday allows you to simplify this process by having photos and videos you send to your network via the Add By Phone feature automatically post to your Twitter account. To recap, the Add By Phone feature assigns each member of your network a unique email address that can be used to send in photos and videos directly from a mobile device that supports email. Content you send to this address will be uploaded directly to your Ning Network and appear just like a photo or video that you upload from your browser. When submitting mobile content, the subject of your email will become the title, and the body of the message will be the description.

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The new hotness that we’ve added is a setting that allows your mobile uploads to automatically generate a tweet posted to your linked Twitter account, which will link back to the content on your Ning Network. The text of your tweet will consist of the title of your content (aka, the subject of your email) and a short ning.it link back to the photo or video on your network. This allows you to easily submit content to your network and generate a tweet publicizing said content, all in one step, all while on the go! And it removes the tedious step of uploading your content to a third party website, then going back to tweet it out.

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To get this new feature working on your network you’ll need to make sure that Twitter integration is enabled and that your Twitter account is linked to your profile. After that, head to your Settings page where you can click on the check box that enables you to automatically post Add by Phone content to Twitter. More info on sharing content and posting your status updates to Twitter can be found in the Ning Help Center, here.

Brad, a community advocate at Ning, is on a mission to high-five members of other teams.

Music for Relief raises $100,000 for Haiti relief efforts

Music for Relief is a Linkin Park-founded Ning Network devoted specifically to raising funds for disaster relief and mitigation. Its members include artists, music industry professionals and fans who work together to create positive change. After learning of the Haitian earthquake, Music for Relief quickly mobilized to help. What they did was create an exclusive compilation of previously un-released music by artists including Linkin Park, Dave Matthews Band, The All-American Rejects, Enrique Iglesias and Lupe Fiasco, and put it up on a splash page that all visitors see before accessing the Ning Network, with a request to donate money to relief efforts.

The results? More than $100,000 has been raised for Haiti relief efforts. The widget that includes the songs has been embedded 31,000 times. And what’s really amazing is that it’s free to download the compilation — and yet the average donation is just over $16. To learn more, download the compilation and donate to support ongoing relief efforts, head to Music for Relief.

Wrap Up of MIDEM Keynote

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(Photo courtesy of MIDEM(Net))

Greetings from France! We had a great session on Saturday with Pete Wentz of Fallout Boy and Friends or Enemies here at MIDEM(Net). The MIDEM(Net) Blog has a good write up of the session and, if you are a Network Creator on Ning, there were a few highlights worth taking a closer look at:

Authenticity is becoming even more valuable as more people embrace social media. As we’ve said from the beginning, authenticity is critical to creating vibrant social experiences. However, as more people spend more time in social networks (3x more time in 2009, according to Nielsen) to connect with their friends, professional colleagues, and meet new people who share their interests and passions, they smell fakery a mile away and ignore it. There are too many other real connections that are more interesting and instantaneously available, no matter how much you like a topic or artist. Until you establish an authentic relationship with your members with your own voice and actions, you can’t delegate it to others, unless they are authentic and interesting people all on their own. This applies to both artist-driven Ning Networks and those active and amazing Ning Networks organically created by someone with a great idea and fantastic execution.

If done well, unique social experiences are inherently more popular and more engaging than blogs, websites or just using Facebook or Twitter alone. When people are genuinely engaged by the type of rich, immersive social experiences that Network Creators have created on Ning, by definition it creates more page views, time spent and ultimately engagement than if you don’t have the hub of a dedicated social experience at the core of your effort. This is only going to get more pronounced from here as people seek to differentiate themselves and their brands with cohesive and compelling social strategies that enable fans and members to dive deeper.

The relationship between Creator and member is evolving rapidly into something deeper and more collaborative. We have seen through both data and examples that a Ning Network needs a strong and active Network Creator and founding team to build momentum and membership initially. However, especially for artists and any Ning Network that has passionate members, it’s the collaboration between Creator and member that separates an active Ning Network from those that never quite get off the ground. This is something that you as Network Creators have known since the beginning. That’s why you started Ning Networks in the first place. The rest of the world is now catching up to the fact that fans and members are becoming patrons, collaborators and curators to artists and Network Creators in entirely new ways because of the unique, immersive social experiences now possible online.

I agree with Music Ally that Pete had the best quote of the talk:

“It’s a good time to be in music, and a horrible time to be in music. A lot of things can go wrong, but it’s like the Wild West – as long as you’ve got a pistol and you’re ready to shoot somebody, you’re going to be okay.”

While I think of Ning as an instrument of creation rather than destruction, the analogy feels more rock and roll than anything I’d come up with on my own, so I’m going with it.

I love representing Ning when it means I can share your stories of innovation and awesomeness with the rest of the world. Let me know what you think I’m missing from this list of highlights. You’re living it everyday as much as we are.

Ning headed to MIDEM for a chat with Pete Wentz

While most of Ning is working on new features in our Palo Alto office, our CEO Gina Bianchini is in Cannes, France, for MIDEM, the world’s largest music conference. She’ll be joined on stage tomorrow by Grammy nominated musician, activist and entrepreneur Pete Wentz to discuss “Social Media Strategies for Fan Engagement,” with Billboard Magazine’s International Bureau Chief Mark Sutherland moderating. Their keynote conversation at MIDEM will take a look at best practices and provide an in-depth look at what’s next for artists and their fans in social media.

If you’ve explored Ning.com’s discovery feature, or spent time reading the Ning Blog, you already know that Ning Networks focused on music, whether that be a band, group, or label, have always been something we’ve been proud to be part of.  From This is 50, to Enrique Iglesias (in Spanish and English), to Friends or Enemies (which offers a place to connect with Wentz’s own group, Fall Out Boy), the types of musicians we’ve seen make an online home on Ning truly span all genres.

Talks and keynotes from the conference will be posted on the MIDEMNet website, if you want to follow along. A full conference schedule can be found here (pdf).

In the meantime — what’s your favorite Ning Network about music?

Guest Post: Creating a community for a community

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Ed note: Today’s post comes from Becca Martin, the creator of Live Here Oak Park, a Ning Network dedicated to the Chicago, Ill suburb of Oak Park.  When she’s not Ninging it up, Becca enjoys meeting her members around town and discovering new local businesses and restaurants to write about. If you’d like to write a guest post, please let us know in the comments below!

Many of us probably remember the song sung by the beloved, sweater-wearing children’s show host, Mr. Rogers where he asked “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” Well, as I’ve discovered, creating a Ning Network for the community where you live can be a great way to find that out.

Eight months ago, I started Live Here Oak Park with the hope of creating a virtual community for the residents of one of the most vibrant, diverse and well-known Chicago suburbs.  Along the way, I’ve been lucky enough to learn a thing or two about some of the unique ways to develop a growing neighborhood network.

Getting the word out

When I first launched the site, I discovered that as a Network Creator with a local twist, I had access to several useful websites I could use to help attract new members, share my content across the web and get Google-friendly inbound links.

First, I submitted my network’s blog RSS to Outside.in a city-specific news aggregation site.  As a result, the blog post headlines would automatically appear along with other articles about my town. Readers were then directed back to my Ning Network to read the full stories. Second, I joined Placeblogger, a location-specific blog directory that allows members to provide a short description of their blog and submit their RSS feed to the site.

Making connections

I knew it wasn’t enough to just put my content out on the web. I needed to start connecting with folks and invite them to check out the blogs, discussions, events and photo albums on the site.  At the same time, I also needed to keep them engaged once they became members.

In the beginning, I used location-specific Twitter search sites such as LocalTweeps, Twellow and Monitter to find Oak Park people to follow. Today, 90 percent of all of my tweets direct people to content on my network and Twitter is my second highest source of traffic.

I also created a Facebook Fan page for my network. I added the Facebook logo to my front page and also ran a very low budget (I’m talking twenty bucks) ad campaign on Facebook. The Facebook ads allowed me reach people within my immediate area, maximizing the likelihood that I’d be able to convert fans to active network members.

In addition to Twitter and Facebook, I used the broadcast e-mail feature on my network to send monthly “What You May Have Missed” messages to my existing members to highlight some of the most popular discussions or events and give those who may have become inactive a reason to come back.

Going low tech

The beauty of having a local Ning network is that I could also apply some low-tech tactics to build awareness and engage members.

For me, this included putting flyers up in local businesses. I also created a jazzy T-shirt for my network that I wore to local events, the gym and any place people would be staring at my back for more than a few seconds.

Because my members all live within 10 minutes of each other, we’ve used the Events feature on the network to organize several meetups at a local coffee shop.  Not only does it strengthen members’ connection to the each other because they’re no longer talking to strangers, but it helps generate buzz about the network as members discuss plans for attendance or talk about how much they enjoyed the event.  To continue the fun, we typically take photos at our meetups and post them on the site along with a recap of the event.

Enjoying the rewards

Creating a Ning network for my town has been an awesome experience.  Members have thanked me for creating the site and giving them a place to connect with other residents. And I have to admit that it’s done the same thing for me too.  Not only have I learned more about my community and become more involved, but I’ve met a bunch of very cool people along the way.

A new welcome email (and post to Twitter by phone)

Update: This release is now live on your Ning Network.

Two new features we’re announcing today will help bring new members to your Ning Network, encourage them to stick around and make it easy to add content to both your Ning Network (and Twitter) from anywhere. Starting tomorrow, members will:

  • See a new welcome email when they join a Ning Network that outlines ways to get involved
  • Be able to post a photo or video to your Ning Network from their phone and have it automatically post to Twitter

A new welcome email

Today, the email that members receive when they join a new Ning Network is very simple; it welcomes them to your Ning Network and includes a link where they can sign in. However, we heard requests for better tips to help out new members, so we’ve revamped the email:
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Members will be encouraged to invite friends, add content and post to Twitter about your Ning Network (if you have Twitter integration turned on). If they haven’t uploaded a photo, they’ll be prompted to do that, too. And if you’ve turned off Twitter integration off and they’ve already uploaded a profile photo, they’ll be prompted to set up their profile page.

Many Network Creators have already customized their welcome emails, and those Ning Networks’ welcome messages won’t be changed by this release. If you decide you want to add some of these new features to your already-customized welcome email, or edit it in the future, just search for “welcome email” in the Language Editor.

Automatically post mobile content to Twitter

Since we’ve launched Ning Networks, you’ve been able to post photos and videos directly from your phone (or any device with the ability to send email) to your Ning Network. That feature is about to get a whole lot more useful, as we’re adding the ability to automatically have that content posted to Twitter as well.

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To set this up,  connect your profile on your Ning Network to Twitter. Then, head to your Settings page. There, you’ll see a new checkbox that allows you to automatically send photos or videos you’ve added via email to Twitter:

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Once the box is checked, you’re all set. Just save the email address above the check box to your phone, and the next time you’re away from your computer and snapping a photo (or recording a video), email it in to your Ning Network! It will be posted to your Ning Network as before, but the subject line of your email will be posted as text on Twitter, with a link to your photo.

Keep in mind that if your Ning Networks uses a custom domain, you’ll need to work with your registrar in order to get the email in photos and videos feature set up.

Evan, a product manager, is looking for more Potrero Hill residents to join his neighborhood Ning Network.

2 Million Ning Networks!

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While we haven’t posted about our total Ning Networks created in quite a bit, the new Ning Networks created keep rolling in. We just passed 2 MILLION Ning Networks created on the Ning Platform. This means we’ve doubled the number of Ning Networks created in eight months.

Why do we track and post the number of new Ning Networks created? New Ning Networks are the leading indicator of growth across the rest of our success metrics including active Ning Networks, new members and pageviews. Plus, it’s what we started counting when we first launched Ning Networks and it’s sort of fun to see how far we’ve come.

As we approach the next one million Ning Networks, we’re focused on the need for speed, releasing fantastic features and providing you with the best ways to share your Ning Network with the world.

Thank you for your continued support. We couldn’t do this without you.