Monthly Archives: June 2010

Expanding on Ning Mini: a Few New Details Added by Request

We’re getting closer to the launch of our new pricing plans on July 20th, and I’d like to take a few minutes to provide Network Creators with several additional details about the transition process for those of you who are interested in purchasing the Ning Mini plan.

We’ve heard a lot of feedback from Network Creators over the last two months. A number of you who are planning on choosing the Ning Mini plan expressed concern about what will happen to your customized CSS and Text Boxes, as well as what you should do if your membership level is currently above the 150 Ning Mini limit. We’ve been listening diligently, and based on your feedback have made a few adjustments to the Ning Mini plan that I think many of you will be happy to hear:

  • If you currently have between 151 and 400 members, you will still be able to choose the Ning Mini plan. However, you won’t be able to approve additional members until your membership level drops below 150. Your Members page will show the most recent 150 members. Note, if you have more than 400 members, you won’t be able to purchase Ning Mini. You will need to reduce your Ning Network to 400 members before selecting Ning Mini.
  • If you have customized your current network with CSS, JavaScript, or by making changes to the Language Editor, these changes will remain in place. However, since the Advanced Appearance Box, Analytics Box, and the Language Editor won’t be available to Ning Mini subscribers, you won’t be able to make further edits. You will be able to erase the CSS or JavaScript, or you can simply revert to the defaults built-in to the Language Editor, if you so choose.
  • Similarly, if you currently have more than three Text Boxes or one RSS feed on your Main Page, these will remain in place. However, you won’t be able to make edits until you have reduced the number of Main Page Text Boxes to three or RSS feeds to one.
  • Finally, we’d like Ning Mini subscribers to have the ability to install Ning Apps like our recently well-received revenue-generating apps. To help out on that front, Ning Mini subscribers will be able to install up to two Ning Apps.

Stay tuned to the Announcement Page for updates, and let us know if we can help you choose the right plan. You can email us with your questions about the plans at planquestions@ning.com.

Ning Plus & Ning Pro: Relaxing Limits, Strengthening Email Reliability

For the launch of Ning Mini, Ning Plus, and Ning Pro coming up on July 20, we’ve been revisiting every limit that’s currently in place on your Ning Network today. And for each of these limits, we’ve been asking: Does it make sense?

We’ve shared many updates on our FAQ page in the past two months, but I wanted to dive in a little deeper here and explain why we’ll be removing limits that don’t make sense anymore and introducing a few additional limits that will ultimately improve the member experience.

As Diego mentioned in the recent Product Roadmap blog post, we’re focusing on Network Creators’ control with our upcoming features. To that point, we’re going to remove and relax a number of limits on the Ning Plus and Ning Pro plans. Here are the highlights of what we’ve already changed:

  • Place up to 50 tabs in your Ning Network’s navigation (up from 14)
  • Include up to 25 Text Boxes, 25 RSS feeds, and 50 total features on your Main Page
  • Include up to 100,000 characters of CSS in your Advanced Appearance (up from 15,000)
  • Include up to 20,000 characters of JavaScript in your Analytics box (up from 2,000)

While you’ll have a lot more room to include all kinds of additional widgets with these relaxed limits, you’ll want to think about performance before overloading your Ning Network with every widget you can find. We’ve written before about the 4-second rule and the importance of keeping your Ning Network speedy, and we’ll continue to suggest that you stay well under these limits. But we also want to give you the creative control and customization you’ve been asking for on the Ning Plus and Ning Pro plans.

On the flip side of things, we’ve identified a key area where we need to build in some limits: invitations. Today, there’s essentially no limit to the number of invitations you and your members can send out. That’s not okay for a few  reasons:

  1. Potential for abuse: A spammer might join, add a blog post, and share it with thousands of email addresses.
  2. It hurts Ning’s email delivery reputation when any single Ning Network sends out millions of invitations. Ning’s email delivery reputation is what decides whether something like a Broadcast message reaches your members’ inbox or their spam folder.

To uphold a superior email delivery reputation, we’ll be allowing Ning Plus Creators and Admins to send up to 5,000 invitations per month. Ning Pro Creators and Admins will be able to send up to 10,000 invitations per month. (Any invitations that aren’t pending — that get accepted — won’t be calculated in these limits.)

Members will be able to send up to 50 invitations per day on Ning Plus and Ning Pro networks. As for uploading lists, we’ve seen more spam abuse and fewer conversions when members upload their own CSV files, so we’ll be removing that option for members — but keeping it available for Creators and their Admins.

There are a lot more things we’ll be doing to improve email delivery (including digests!), but placing reasonable limits on invitations is an obvious place to start. If you’ll be on the Ning Plus or Ning Pro plan, we invite you to contact us directly if you’re looking to send out invitations beyond these limits; we’ll work with you to arrive at the best solution.

Pearson to provide Ning Mini for free to educators

When we recently announced our new pricing plans (which launch July 20th, 2010), we heard from many of you who were concerned about the future of education-focused Ning Networks. Ning Networks have become a valuable complement to many schools and other educational institutions by helping teachers, parents and students supplement class curriculums; allowing educators and administrators to share best practices; and by helping all these groups bring the vitality and vibrancy of their institutions online.

Today, we’re excited to let you know about the work we’ve been doing with Pearson, a global leader in online and offline education for pre-K through college, to develop a program that will help educators keep their Ning Networks running for free. We’re proud to announce that Pearson will sponsor Ning Mini plans for free for all K-12 and Higher Education networks in North America. We think Ning Mini is a great solution for education-based networks, with an ability to include up to 150 members and a whole set of online collaboration tools such as blogs, photos and forums.

The Pearson sponsorship is an “opt-in” program. Here’s how to join:
1. Visit the Pearson sign-up page and complete the registration form.
2. Ning and Pearson will review your Ning Network and confirm your participation in the program.
3. After Ning Mini launches on July 20, 2010, your network will automatically transition to a Pearson-sponsored Ning Mini plan.*

Educators can apply at their leisure, but there’s no reason to wait until Ning Mini launches on July 20th. If you’re already running a North American Ning Network for education purposes, or are in the process of creating a new Ning Network, submit your application now!

* Pearson-sponsored Ning Mini plans will include subtle Pearson branding on the network as part of participation. For more information visit the Pearson sign-up page.

Smart Girls at the Party: Change the World by Being Yourself

Here at Ning, we are always excited to spotlight people who are using technology to help change the world. This is exactly what Amy Poehler, Meredith Walker, and Amy Miles are doing with Smart Girls at the Party. Their online video series highlights girls who are changing the world by being themselves.

This Ning Network’s videos are a series of interviews. My personal favorite is one with Ruby, a 7-year old singer, actor, musician, feminist, and skateboarder. Amy interviews her and gets her thoughts on feminism. The episode is authentic and hilarious — and sends a message.

<i>Smart Girls at the Party have both silly and insightful things to say</i>

Smart Girls at the Party have both silly and insightful things to say

The Smart Girls Team uses Ning to help foster discussions around empowering young women. Beyond that, they need a platform with built-in tools to easily share their video content on Facebook and Twitter, which is key to spreading their message. Their message has been spreading fast and garnering lots of attention. Recently, Amy accepted a Webby award for her work with Smart Girls at the Party. (Check out her five-word acceptance speech!)

Get caught up now with Season 1 of Smart Girls at the Party because new episodes are starting to launch for Season 2. Be sure to check out the dance parties at the end of each episode, and keep a close eye out for special celebrity guests.

Start Making Money With 3 New Ning Apps

One of the most common questions I hear from Network Creators is, “How can I make money?” Or, “How can I make this a full-time job?” Lately, many of you are also asking, “How can I cover the cost of a Ning Network?”

We’ve come up with a solution… well, actually four solutions. And we’re working on more. Open a storefront, provide pay-to-play games, collect donations, and advertise are all options we’re spotlighting on our Revenue Generation page. Some of you are already using these solutions to make money. However, in the past it has sometimes been difficult for Network Creators to integrate these solutions into their Ning Network and provide a great member experience. To make it easier, we’ve been focusing on cutting favorable deals for you with our partners, making installation as easy as possible through new Ning Apps, and helping you better integrate the new apps into your Ning Network (including on your Main Page).

I’m most excited about the new CafePress App. It’s simple to set up, create branded merchandise, and begin earning 10% on every sale. And it’s a great way for your members to show their support – and wear your swag with pride! Even better, we cut a special deal with CafePress to help you cover your Ning subscription fees. Sell just 4 t-shirts (earn $8 in commissions) and get Ning Mini for a full year. Sell 40 t-shirts, or earn $80 in commissions on any type of CafePress merchandise, and get Ning Plus for a full year. That’s 60% off the annual price for Mini or Plus! Install the CafePress App on your Ning Network or learn more about the special deal.

If you choose to fund your Ning subscription through CafePress, your app will include a personalized appeal to your members and a progress meter to encourage purchases. Here’s an example of the Main Page app for a Network Creator earning his Ning Mini subscription:

cp image v2

Of course, it’s also dead-simple to set up a storefront to make money and create custom designs. After setting up their CafePress Shop, Duke City Fix sold more than 40 items in a span of less than three weeks! (Read their story on Ning Creators)

Get creative. Or better yet, have your members get creative. Hold a design contest and sell merchandise designed by the winner. Hold a photo contest once a month, ask your members to vote, and feature the winning photo on merchandise in your CafePress store.

We’ll keep on working on more ways for you to help you cover your costs, make money, and maybe even turn your Ning Network into a full-time job. We also would like to learn from you – please comment with your ideas and money-making success stories on Ning Creators!

Our Product Roadmap

One area that we have been focusing on recently has been in increasing visibility for Network Creators on upcoming features. This post is the first of many (from myself and others in the product team) where we will preview what we are working on and what you can expect from us. Before that, however, I wanted to spend a minute covering how we will be approaching product changes in the future.

Going forward, we will aim for:

  • Transparency and clarity. We will strive to provide you with advance information on the features we are working on and roughly when you can expect them to be available. You will notice that in this post I won’t go into specific dates for features — that will change over time, particularly after we launch our three new products in July. Sometimes software development takes longer than anticipated, unexpected roadblocks appear, etc. When that happens, we will let you know as soon as we know.
  • Obtaining feedback from you early and often. We have been improving in this area through the Creators Network, NC Council, as well as in-person meetings and conference calls. Over time, we will be increasing our use of these channels as well as others, like surveys, polls, and online user testing of planned new features and changes. Note: In this vein, we are currently running a product survey, and I’d encourage you to spend a few minutes filling it out; your answers will help us prioritize development of upcoming features, many of which are mentioned in this post.
  • Focus on NC control. We will strive to add member-facing features in a way that lets you choose if and when they are appropriate for your community (in the rare case when, for technical reasons, this isn’t possible, we will give you plenty of advance notice). We will also be increasing level of control and ease of management of existing features.
  • A balance between NC and Member features. As a Network Creator, both areas are critical. You should expect to see easier access to information about your network and network controls, more stats, and more control mechanisms to configure your Ning Network exactly how you want it.
  • A balance between usability and features for engagement and monetization. Again, both areas are critical. While we have some work to do specifically on the latter, we will not stop improving and innovating on features that your members want and need.
  • Improving the extensibility and programmability of networks. Today, it is possible to extensively customize a Ning Network through either theme updates and Ning Apps, but in some cases not as straightforward as it should be. We’re making this easier and giving you more options to enlist third parties to help you in this regard.

These are clearly a lot of (sometimes competing) priorities to juggle for a small team like ours, but we are confident that, with your help, we can succeed in achieving all of them. Before we go into some details of our future product plans, let’s spend a moment looking at recent releases.

A look back…

For the last several weeks we have been furiously at work getting everything ready for the launch of Ning Mini, Plus and Pro in July. In parallel, we have been rolling out new features and better controls that preview the kinds of things we will be doing more of in the future. Here’s a recap of major releases in the last few weeks:

In addition to these, we have also been fixing bugs and improving performance both in our backend and frontend systems, and continue to work on simplifying the platform to further enhance stability and be able to release new features faster.

The pace of user-facing releases will slow down a bit over the next few weeks as we gear up for the Mini/Plus/Pro launch, but as we get closer to that we have already begun to plan the projects that we will be tackling next.

…and a look ahead

So, what can you expect after the new products are launched? We have a lot of good stuff planned, and it’s divided into four major areas: Network Creator Features, Member Features, Monetization, and 3rd Party Development/APIs. What follows is an overview of the major projects we have planned for development and release over the next few months. As I mentioned above, we will be providing more details, including target dates, as we make progress on them.

Network Creator Features

These are features that you as a network creator interact with everyday and help you manage and grow your Ning Network. In this area, we have planned:

  • “My Network” dashboard. This feature will replace the current “Manage” page/tab on your Network. It will provide a quick view of vital network stats as well as a completely revamped user interface to make it easy for you to access your network’s information and controls.
  • Network statistics, including storage and bandwidth use. This feature will complement other stats systems (like Google Analytics) with social stats and other information that is exclusive to your Ning Network.
  • NC leaderboards. Tied closely with network stats, the NC leaderboards will use a new system to track and analyze engagement that will let you quickly discover cool content, identify top users, and much more.
  • More member controls. While we have made some progress in this area in recent releases, there are more elements of the experience that you have told us you want to customize, including fine-grained controls over member contributions (e.g., how many photos a member can post), the ability to edit the content that your members create, and more.
  • More payment mechanisms, receipts, annual billing and more. We are currently completely revamping our billing system to support the needs that you have communicated to us over the last several months.
  • Language filter. For networks that run advertising, this will give you the ability to filter out words that would affect your advertising rates.
  • Individual Network ID & sign in. With the launch of the new products in July, members will only create a profile on your network, and will no longer have a cross-network profile.
  • A Network Creator iPhone app. To view and manage your network through your iPhone.

Member Features

These are features that increase member engagement and improve their experience, make it easier to sign up and stay on your network, and provide integration with external services critical in today’s online social experience. The features in this area are:

  • Login via Facebook/Twitter/Yahoo/others. This feature needs no introduction. It will allow members to sign up and sign in to your networks using their credentials from other systems.
  • Support for ‘Like’. We will roll out a feature to support ‘Like’ actions on your network, which can lead to greater user engagement and faster surfacing of great content. This will be only for your network, not related to Facebook’s ‘Like’. That said, we are also considering how to support Facebook’s recently rolled out ‘Like’ feature.
  • Member leaderboards. This will be a member-facing view of the leaderboards that we will initially release for NCs only — a long-requested feature that can increase the quality and quantity of member engagement and member-contributed content. (Note: as in other cases, it will be an option for you as a Network Creator to enable this feature).
  • Ning Apps on member profiles. Just like we are enabling Ning Apps on Network Homepages, we will also give you the option to enable them for member profiles, giving you the ability to allow members to install third-party Ning Apps on their profile pages.

Monetization

This is an area that we plan to do a lot of work on. In addition to mechanisms you will have at launch (e.g., running advertising, soliciting donations) we plan to integrate new ways to monetize your network and content that you have long asked for, including:

  • Paid membership. This feature will give you the ability to request payment for joining your network, including support for membership tiers.
  • Paid content access. With this feature, you will be able to create areas of the site, or specific content (such as one video, one group, etc.) that requires members to pay before they can access it.
  • More and better ad units. These will be new areas in your site that will now be available for placing ads more easily than today, including header and footer, as well as within other content sections (e.g. in the main content pages of your network)

3rd Party Development/APIs These features will allow you to further customize both the functionality and look and feel of your network. These include three main areas that we’re working on at the moment:

  • Ning Apps V1.1 including Full Opensocial 0.8 support. OpenSocial, the standard behind Ning Apps, supports both client-side and server side APIs. We will enable server-side support, long-requested by developers, in the near future.
  • External APIs. These APIs will be available as REST endpoints to your network and will allow you to designate specific apps (from Ning or third party providers) that you want to enable to support third-party integrations that further enhance your network experience. These APIs can be used to create anything from desktop and mobile apps to integration with other systems, such as blogs, other authentication systems, and more.
  • A New Theme System. We will be completely revamping the way themes are created and edited on Ning Networks, providing both deeper and easier controls for non-technical NCs as well as a much more powerful and modern theme system for designers.

Note: While this is a long list of features, we are aware that this doesn’t cover every request we’ve heard. This roadmap only cover the next few months, so you can expect further updates as we make progress on these priorities. Once more, completing our NC Survey will help us prioritize this and the next round of features.

In closing…

Phew! That’s quite a lot for one post. As I said before, we will be talking about these features, including their release dates, in more detail in the future. In the meantime, as always, comments and feedback are welcome.

Soccer fans on Ning getting geared up for World Cup kickoff

Women_s Soccer United

The first whistle blows for the FIFA World Cup only once every four years, but Ning Networks keep their passion for soccer alive year-round. When the 32 teams from all over the globe converge in South Africa this week, people of all races, religions and genders will rally together around their favorite sport.

While the FIFA Women’s World Cup is set to take place in 2011, members of Women’s Soccer United celebrate female players and fans of the sport every day. They regularly blog about important events, players and teams in the world of women’s soccer, and they even use the Forum on their Ning Network to share news about the teams they’re currently playing for.

This week, their Ning Network is featuring a timely Group that’s dedicated to getting to know the women’s team of the World Cup’s host country.  The South Africa 2010 Group, has information on the club itself and a powerful glimpse into how important soccer has become in the lives of South African women.

Even after the World Cup draws to a close next month, Ning Networks will continue to bring soccer fans together. There are a lot of them on Ning! You can keep track of your favorite clubs, from large ones like FC Barcelona, to U.S. pro teams like the Houston Dynamo all the way down to fans of small teams like the Tampa Bay Rowdies. You can even find your next pickup game on Spoccer, the pickup soccer community.

From casual World Cup watchers to the most passionate of soccer devotees, Ning Networks have something for just about every kind of fan.

Content archive tool coming soon [Update: Now Live]

Update: This release is now live.

Since the launch of the Ning platform, Network Creators have asked us to create a way for them to download personal copies of the data on their Ning Networks, usually for back-up purposes.

Until now, providing that has been a difficult process. While you can download a basic list of your members, email addresses and profile information, there isn’t currently a way to download a backup of your content or a more comprehensive list of your members. For Network Creators who are leaving the platform, we’ve traditionally provided an archive file, but it’s a manual process that involves faxing a signed form to Ning and requires a Ning engineer to produce the file.

That’s all about to change. We’ll be releasing a tool — later this week, hopefully — that makes it easy to download an archive of your Ning Network’s members and content.

archiver-grab

Downloading the content and members for an entire Ning Network is not an easy process. To make it as easy as possible, we’ve built an application that you can download and run on your desktop.

The application is built using the Adobe Air platform, meaning that it should work just the same on Windows, Mac or Linux. You’ll need to install Adobe Air on your computer, but that’s a quick process. More than 100 million people have already installed Air.

When the Ning Network Archiver goes live, you’ll see a new “Archive Content” icon on your Manage page (in the “And More…” section). Clicking on the icon will take you to the new Archive Content Manage page, where we’ll provide an overview of the application, as well as installation instructions. Once you’ve installed the application, you simply need to enter your Network Creator credentials and network URL to kick off the download process.

ManageArchive-small

For more information, check out the FAQs in our Help Center.

New Captcha, Framebusting Rules Now Live on Your Ning Network

We’re excited to announce two new improvements and bug fixes that will make it even easier for your members to enjoy your Ning Network. Starting immediately, your Ning Network now has:

  • A revamped Captcha, including audio Captcha
  • The ability to be embedded in iframes, if you subscribe to the “Use your own domain” premium service

Revamped Captcha

To join a Ning Network, new members must fill out a Captcha, an image with two words that must be correctly identified. We’ve heard many requests to support audio Captchas, but the custom Captcha we had built for the Ning platform made this difficult.

To fix this issue, we’re adopting the standard Recaptcha widget used widely across the Internet. This Captcha won’t match your Ning Network’s theme quite like it used to, but it should be more familiar to members, and it will sport audio Captcha.

Your Sign Up page will look something like this:

captcha-small

Framebusting Changes

Web services like Digg and Facebook depend heavily on embedding Web sites in an iframe, essentially a “window” on one Web page that displays another Web page. If any page on a Ning Network is embedded in an iframe, members will see a “framebust” — the page refreshes to show only the embedded page. Network Creators see a special message:

iframe-small

This was done for a number of reasons, mainly to prevent Ning Networks from using an external domain without paying for the “Use your own domain” premium service. Also, browsing and using a Ning Network in an iframe can be a suboptimal experience.

While we still want to avoid accessing Ning Networks from an external domain without paying for premium services, we believe that it should be up to Network Creators to decide what the best experience is for their members.

As a result, now any Ning Network that purchases (or has purchased) the “Use your own domain” premium service will not “framebust.” The pages will load properly within an iframe. Ning Networks that have not purchased the premium service will continue to bust out of iframes. Note that members using a Ning Network in iframe may occasionally encounter problems — like problems signing in — but they won’t be forced to wait for the page to refresh (and bust the frame).

Eventually, Ning Networks under the Ning Mini plan will framebust, while those with Ning Plus or Ning Pro will not.