Monthly Archives: May 2010

The Ning Infrastructure Roadmap

The Ning infrastructure runs all Ning Networks. It consists of thousands of machines with software that scales to millions of users. We have consistently delivered high uptime with our platform. As the usage characteristics change, the behavior of our infrastructure changes as well. We keep working on a number of projects that are designed to evolve our infrastructure and make the platform even more stable. As I promised last week, I wanted to provide details of the infrastructure projects we are currently working on. They’re not visible to Network Creators and are all low-level “plumbing” work, but they will enable higher uptime for all Ning Networks.

The first major project is Project Bacon (note: I am a vegetarian). Project Bacon will be the next generation “Content Store” and will give us much better fault isolation and stability for all the content on Ning Networks like comments, forum posts, blog posts, etc. Let me go over some details so you have context. The Content Store is the most heavily taxed component in our platform. It holds photos, blog posts, comments, and other information for your social network. We currently have two different back-ends for the content store, called Rocky and Coco. Rocky is optimized for our largest networks and Coco for our smaller networks. While running both has been good in terms of optimizing the solutions for different problems, it has not been so good in that it means double the work for adding features, and a much larger surface area for bugs to creep into. Taking what we have learned about building these (and they are the third and fourth generations of the Content Store), we are re-unifying the back-end with Project Bacon. While most of Bacon is an evolutionary step in terms or organizing and accessing data, a key component is much better fail-over and fault isolation in cases where we do see issues in its constituent components.

A second big project we have underway is revisiting how we store user-to-user messages and invitations. For efficiency reasons we have kept all of these in one big storage pool, but the fragility of this approach has started to outweigh its efficiency benefits. If you think of the single large pool as a window with a single pane of glass, a rock hitting the pane can shatter the whole thing. On the other hand if you have a window with many small panes of glass, a rock hitting one is not going to hurt the rest of the window.

Another major undertaking is supporting much better automation in our system, from development through to production. We’ve just started this but expect to see incremental fruit from it very quickly. Jim Gray discovered 25 years ago that the largest causes of failure in a system (about 42%) are operator error, misconfiguration, and system maintenance. Automating away the human-intensive (and therefore error prone) steps here have outsized returns, so we are revisiting our environment build-out, deployment, and configuration systems to remove room for errors.

Finally, we are finishing a long process of transitioning our caching infrastructure away from a more sophisticated and cluster-aware solution onto memcached. While memcached offers fewer features, it is also inherently more stable and predictable. This has been a long process to see all the way through as it meant reworking some components which relied on features not available in memcached. On the other hand, memcached’s architecture leads to better predictability and performance at large scale.

Overall, in these projects and others, our goals are:

• Simpler internal systems
• Removing components which add more problems than value
• Isolating failures to as few networks or users as possible
• Limiting failure duration to as short as we can

A Criminally Good Ning Network of Readers and Writers

CrimeSpace Main Page

If you enjoy reading, writing, watching, or simply discussing crime fiction, then CrimeSpace is a Ning Network you’ll want to focus your magnifying glass on. Over 2,800 members gather here to share their passion for the crime fiction genre.

CrimeSpace is teeming with content. As you might expect, it’s got a lively section where you can discuss your latest read, but there’s really something for everyone on this network, including a bookstore where you can find the latest crime novels from your favorite authors.

The level of discourse and participation on CrimeSpace is impressive. Recent discussions have centered around everything from e-books vs. pulp fiction to taking the temperature of the community on the upcoming Hawaii Five-O TV series remake.

Perhaps most impressive of all is the amount of blogging that goes on. As of today, there are 8,665 blog posts on CrimeSpace. That’s over three blog posts per member! The posts can be quite good and full of variety, from helpful writing tips to thoughtful stories that aren’t always about murder and mayhem. ( Mom Replaced by Free Download.)

All of this participation and sharing of great content provides the perfect motive for the crime fiction fan to get involved.

Dispatches From The Clinton Global Initiative

Last week, Ning had the exciting opportunity to attend the Clinton Global Initiative’s (CGI) mid-year meeting in New York City.

Getting a chance to see President Clinton present his vision for CGI and share the stories of how the different action groups are working for positive change around the globe was inspiring. The passion to make the world a better place and to have real and meaningful impact was clear in the stories from the many companies, non-profits, government agencies and opinion leaders that make up CGI.

How did Ning end up attending the meeting? We were invited to participate in the Social Action Committee meeting — getting to discuss first how the social web is critical to connecting CGI members to their causes’ activist bases, and then as a way to help power the work they do in the world. Because President Clinton’s vision for CGI is truly a global effort and people want to collaborate and connect across borders, there are huge opportunities to leverage the power and reach of social technologies like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Ning, mobilizing, engaging, and fostering deep collaboration between passionate and active people. The group focused not on the tools available, but on the philosophy, the challenges and the opportunities to enact global change using the social web. To that end, we were able to participate deeply in the conversation and hear from some of the eminent strategists and practitioners in social media today.

Our meetings also drove home the well-known fact that mobile technologies (a.k.a. mini personal computers) are going to be critical to any strategy in developing nations and many entrepreneurs and leaders in this world are working to figure out ways to bring more mobile devices to the poor and to others who are in need of mobile devices.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out the great work that the Clinton Global Initiative is doing, make sure you take a look.

We hope that this meeting was only the beginning of our relationship with CGI and we plan to work closely with CGI and its members over the coming months to develop interesting and innovative projects using the Ning Platform.

Now Live: Pick and Choose Your Viral Features

As a Network Creator, you want  to be able to choose the functionality, look and the design of your Ning Network. In the past, that’s only been achievable by adding special CSS or Javascript codes — something that is slow, less effective and has the potential to conflict with future Ning updates.

Today, we’re making it much easier to turn off social sharing and viral features that you don’t feel belong on your Ning Network.

Member Controls - Outdoor Music Festivals

Starting immediately, Network Creators and administrators have the new ability to turn off the following features:

  • Invitations. Ordinary members will no longer be able to send out invitations, and the “Invite” links will be removed from your Ning Network. And when creating a group or event, members will only be able to invite their friends on the network.
  • Facebook sharing. Remove the “Facebook” links and checkbox that were added to your Ning Network in March, preventing your members from posting directly to Facebook.
  • Twitter sharing. Remove the “Twitter” links and checkbox that were added to your Ning Network in January, preventing your members from posting directly to Twitter.
  • “Share” links. Hide the “Share” links on your Ning Network that appear at the bottom of content and on profile pages. This will also hide the “Share” links in media players, which will prevent members from seeing embed codes.

These features are all still on by default, so if you want to update what viral tools are available on your Ning Network, head to the Manage tab and select Member Controls. Are there are more features you don’t feel are right for your Ning Network? Let us know, and we’ll look at making it possible to turn other features off as well.

Details on Last Week’s Ning Platform Instability

We have always prided ourselves on our uptime record. In March, we had 99.999% uptime. However, Ning Networks experienced slowness last week and brief downtime on Thursday evening. I wanted to take a few moments to walk you through what happened last week and what we’re working on to improve on situations like this going forward.

Starting Tuesday morning we saw sporadic instability in our servers, resulting in slowness that many of you experienced. Our operations and engineering teams investigated a variety of potential causes for the instability including a back-end release that was pushed out on Monday. We rolled the release back as part of our investigation and continued to look for the root cause.

On Thursday morning we believe we identified and addressed the primary cause of the instability: we had started testing a prototype to deliver real-time information to Ning Networks on Monday. We stopped the test and continued to monitor the platform. At around 8pm that day a cluster of cache servers that had become slightly unstable during the investigation started failing. At this point, we began an unplanned maintenance to restart them and it took about 70 minutes to complete the restarts and go live.

Whenever there’s an issue on the Ning Platform, we pursue the following protocol: First, our on-call engineers begin investigating what might be causing the issue. Then, for larger issues like this week, we escalate it to all-hands on deck. We also strive to get information out to you as fast as possible through several channels including the Ning Status Blog, Creators Ning Network and Ning Status Twitter account. Longer-term, we are working on an NC landing page with an announcement bar for important messages and a separate, lightweight “Report an Issue” link, which will allow NCs to quickly and simply report an issue they may be experiencing.

Following this incident, I wanted to highlight two specific areas we have identified for improvement:

  1. It took longer than we’d like to identify and fix the problem: To address this, we are continuing our work on a series of projects that will simplify the platform and improve our ability to identify problems quickly when they happen. I will share more details with you early next week.
  2. We were not as effective as we could have been in communicating both the state of the platform and what we were working on: To address this, we are reviewing our internal and external communication processes to ensure that we can give you the most accurate and timely information on what is happening.

Keeping your Ning Network online and speedy is our top priority. Thanks again for all of your patience. As always we appreciate your feedback, so please let us know if you experience any problems on your Ning Network or have ideas for how we can improve the service.

TuDiabetes launches TuAnalyze with a Custom Ning App

TuAnalyze - TuDiabetes

Thanks to a new custom Ning App, TuAnalyze, members of TuDiabetes can submit a key health metric known as Hemoglobin A1C as part of a massive data donation drive. Network Creator Manny Hernandez partnered with Children’s Hospital Boston in the creation and launch of the new Ning App. TuDiabetes is a Ning Network, more than 14,000 members strong, that connects people touched by diabetes and raises diabetes awareness. EsTuDiabetes is a companion Ning Network for Spanish speakers.

Hemoglobin A1C, or A1c, is a health metric used to measure diabetes control over a prolonged period of time. Physicians recommend that people with diabetes measure their Hemoglobin A1C two to four times a year and the American Diabetes Association recommends a goal A1c value of below 7 percent.

The information submitted by members will be displayed in a map of the United States on TuDiabetes, with states lighting up according to the aggregate A1c data. And when enough members have submitted their A1c range, the state’s color will reflect whether the average A1c submitted is within the range recommended by physicians.

For developers interested in creating a custom Ning App, all the information needed is available on the Developer Ning Network.

Now Live: 3 New Ways to Stop Spam on Ning

It just got a whole lot easier to ensure that only the right people are joining your Ning Network.

As mentioned on this blog two weeks ago, we’ve added three new ways to stop spam and verify your new members. All Network Creators can now take advantage of:

  • A sign-up quiz, which new members must correctly answer to join (read more)
  • Email verification for all new sign ups
  • Increased CAPTCHA enforcement for new sign ups

As the first two features are opt-in — meaning they are off by default — we encourage you to take advantage of them. For Network Creators who have member approval turned on, this should be a big help in cutting down the amount of time you spend vetting and approving new members.

A Place to Discuss What’s Going on in The Nation

The Nation Social Network

The Tea Party, economic democracy, Arizona’s immigration reform efforts — there’s plenty to discuss on The Nation Social Network, an online community for reader and associate of The Nation magazine.

If it’s on the pages of the magazine, or in the news elsewhere, it’s being discussed in the forum discussion. No topic is off limits, which means members discuss everything from SCOTUS nominees to baseball (hint: some think there should be a salary cap). For a discussion that’s indicative of the intense debate that regularly occurs amongst readers of The Nation, make sure to read through this discussion on the pros and cons of a national ID card.

For both new and long-time readers of The Nation, their social network provides an outlet to explore topics, connect with other readers and engage in some healthy and vigorous debate.

The Crunchiest, Cheesiest Ning Network in Colombia

Cheesetris - Cheesetris

Crunchy, cheesy and full of rock and roll: that’s the promise of Cheese Tris, a snack offering from Frito Lay. To get Colombians excited about Cheese Tris (and the possibility of becoming a rock star), they’ve created a new Ning Network, Cheese Tris Rockero. At the heart of Cheese Tris Rockero is a contest to discover the next great rock and roll star in Colombia.

To enter the contest, members need to upload a video or song and then get their friends to vote for their submission. The top 20 vote-getters receive prizes. You can check out some of the submissions on the video and audio pages.

Cheese Tris Rockero is just the most recent example of how brands are using Ning to reach out to their most passionate customers. For more examples of how this is done, check out the brand spotlight page, where you can learn about how other companies are Ning Networks.

Exploring and engaging through TEDx

The TED conference is an invite-only event held annually in Long Beach, Calif. The theme of TED is “ideas worth spreading,” and speakers have included everyone from Jamie Oliver to Urgent Evoke Network Creator Jane McGonigal. Inspired by the talks and ideas at TED, communities around the world are creating their own TED events, called TEDx. From the TED website: “TEDx is a new program that enables local communities such as schools, businesses, libraries, neighborhoods or just groups of friends to organize, design and host their own independent, TED-like events.” Many TEDx events are using Ning to organize attendees, post information and continue the conversation, even after the conference is over.

TEDx (NL)

In the Netherlands, the TEDx Ning Network is active on a daily basis, despite the fact that their next event isn’t being held until November. Members are already planning details about the Nov. 10 event, which will be held in Amsterdam. Not to be out-shown by their countrymen, thought leaders in The Hague are planning their own TEDx event. Leading up to the official event is a series of interactive salons featuring speakers on a variety of interesting topics. The next salon — this weekend — is all about science.

TEDx Kigali - Overcoming Obstacles !

Around the globe in Rwanda, plans are in the works for TEDx Kigali. Being held on May 22, the event is bringing together leaders from nonprofit, political, cultural and social organizations. A list of who will be attending the one-day conference is also available on TEDx Kigali.