Monthly Archives: January 2011

Mobilizing for Energy Independence

Last night, T. Boone Pickens appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to share his vision – breaking America’s reliance on foreign oil imports. It’s a tall order and Pickens believes this is achievable. Pickens describes how we can tackle this problem with the Pickens Plan.

To promote his cause and mobilize grassroot support, Pickens has created a “social action network fighting for energy independence” on Ning dubbed Push.PickensPlan.com. It is the place for his supporters to discuss, collaborate, and organize grassroot activities to make the Pickens Plan a reality. The result is an enlivened community taking actions, encouraging elected officials to support policies that move America closer to energy independence.

Join Push.PickensPlan.com to get involved. You can also see T. Boone Pickens’ interview on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart here.

Introducing the Ning Product Roadmap

Many start-ups say they want to publish a public product roadmap. Few do.

There are several reasons why companies don’t do this: It might reveal too much to the competition. It might force commitments and limit flexibility. It may feel like a burden. Plus, don’t customers like to be surprised when they sign in and spot a shiny, new feature? Under-promise and over-deliver, right?

There are several ways to look at it. But there’s one extremely good reason a company like ours should publish a product roadmap: Quite simply, it will make our customers happy. Making customers happy is a core part of our business.

As our CEO put it recently, one of our big goals for 2011 is to delight our customers. To that end, we’re hoping you’ll be delighted that we’re delivering on our promise of transparency and openness and releasing the Ning Product Roadmap.

We understand that the level of communication our customers want about Ning the product are varied. Our most strident Ning Creators would like a seat at every engineering meeting (and maybe even veto power). Other Creators don’t want to be bothered with an email newsletter. We think the key to satisfying as many people as possible is two-fold: 1) Provide different options for communication so every customer can have as much or as little involvement and detail as they prefer, and 2) be as open and transparent as possible about what we’re planning.

The Ning Product Roadmap is one part of this ongoing communication, but we’ve added a few more to ring in the new year that you may or may not have noticed:

  • Beta Page: If you’re itching to try out the features that are coming soon, you might just find them on the new Beta Page of your Dashboard. We’ll release what we can for those who are curious, and you can choose to try them out. Or wait until they’re officially official. It’s up to you.
  • Ning Announcements: You don’t have to be a member of the Creators Network to stay in-the-know. We recently put a an RSS feed of our Creators Network Announcements directly on your Dashboard. Every time you sign in, you’ll have access to headlines, which you can browse and dismiss — or go check out if you’re curious.
  • Known Issues: We’ve dedicated a page on the Creators Network to tracking some of our most important bugs. Some Ning Creators have asked for more visibility into those types of technical details, so we’re providing it.

We think the benefits of being open and communicative with our customers will make us go farther and faster in the long run. We already have what many social-media-savvy businesses strive for but don’t often achieve: a thriving customer community where people are encouraged to pipe up and share their feedback, advice, and opinions. Now, to complement that, we’ve charted a public course with milestones to hit along the way. By setting product expectations, and then following through on them, we’re confident we’ll create an even more enduring customer-company partnership.

And, most importantly, we’ll make our customers happy.

We Dig This Article About Neighbors Helping Neighbors

Snowpocalypse. Flurricane. Coldtastrophe. Snowmageddon!

It seems we may be running out of clever names for extreme weather events. But we’re just getting started with applying the wonders of technology to how we respond to weather.

Witness Mr. Joseph Porcelli. This Boston resident is using his Ning Network, Neighbors for Neighbors, as a hub for Jamaica Plain residents who either need help digging out from 18 inches of snow that’s been dumped on Western Massachusetts or want to help other people dig out of this snownami.

If you’ve got a minute today, dig into this great WGBH Boston article. It’s a great read!

Coming in Beta: Daily Email Digests

Are some of your members tired of getting too many emails from their Ning Network? Soon, they’ll have a choice.

Starting today, some Ning Networks will get to try out the newest feature on the Ning Platform: Daily Email Digests for their members. This new feature will allow members to receive emails from your Ning Network in a once-a-day digest, instead of all email notifications being sent individually as they are posted as they are today.

This feature has been in a very limited testing phase for the last few months, but it will become available to thousands of Network Creators later today. (If you’ve been in this initial beta round, thank you for all of your considered feedback!)

How Daily Email Digests work

If enabled, most emails that your members receive — Forum discussion notifications, friend requests, Group activity, profile comments — will be put into the Email Digest so your members can skim them at-a-glance. A few very important emails like Broadcast Messages and private messages, as well as minor emails  (like a notification that a video has been processed) will continue to be sent instantly. But the bulk of email notifications will be sent in a convenient digest format.

Daily Email Digests should both make it easier for active members to avoid a deluge of email notifications from an active Ning Network and provide Network Creators with an alternative for members who might seek to turn off all emails completely. If there’s no activity in a given day for a member that day, they will not receive the digest for that day. If there is activity relevant to them on your network, they will. We think this will provide a welcome middle ground for those members who may not visit every day but who want to stay abreast of the ongoing activity.

Space for ads or updates

By Network Creator request, we’ve given both Network Creators and Administrators control over the header space in the daily Email Digests. On the Email Controls management page, you will find a new Text Box where you can add content that will be placed into the top of your daily Email Digests. You’ll be able to add text or basic HTML, which will provide you with a smart way to rotate in and out promotions that you may want your less active members to see.

In the screenshot above, we’ve put this space to use with some advertising. Aside from advertising, Network Creators could use this space for:

  • Messages you don’t want to put into a broadcast
  • Branding imagery or text
  • Calls to action (e.g., to encourage members to send invitations)
  • Top content of the day
  • Contest promotions

This will give you a lot of new options, and I encourage you to use this space as a more targeted way to reach your members. For the moment, adding content in this area is manual. In the future, we hope to make it easy to automatically include specific types of content of your choice from your network without any additional work.

How we’re rolling it out — and rolling out future beta features

An important and exciting detail that will be included in this release is a new Beta Features page that we’ve added to your Dashboard. This will allow eager Network Creators to try out upcoming features that aren’t quite ready for public launch and may need additional work.

On this Beta Features page, you’ll see features that are ready for you to test. This will likely become an extensive list over time based on our desire to both expand our beta testing to more people and provide Network Creators with additional info about upcoming features. To minimize infrastructure impact and gather feedback, the Email Digest feature will initially show up on the Beta Features page for only a few thousand Ning Networks. As we do additional testing over the coming days and weeks, more and more Ning Networks will begin see it on their Beta Features pages. You may also see the option to enable a beta feature on a related administrative page. For example, for the Daily Digests feature you may see a prompt to try it out on the  Email Controls page, where it will ultimately live upon its final release.

It’s an opt-in feature

Even on Ning Networks that have The Daily Digest available, this feature will be off by default. Once a Network Creator or Administrator has enabled Daily Digests, members will see a new option on their individual Email Settings page where they can switch between instant and daily emails. Email Digests will be available to Ning Plus and Ning Pro Networks, and we anticipate they will be a welcome addition for Network Creators who have asked for more options about how to message their members.

We hope to continue to improve this new Daily Digest feature based on your feedback, so let us know what you think on the Creators Network!

Ethical Fashion Forum: The Forward-Thinking Couture

If you follow the fashion design world, there’s a lot of talk right now about green being the new black. But when it comes to knowing what really makes a garment environmentally friendly, the definition is a little rough around the edges. What is sustainable fashion? While some might think that eco-friendly fashion just means clothing made with organic cotton or recycled yarns, there are many ways to have a green wardrobe; some simple, some more complicated. How can you build a wardrobe that’s truly green?

Environmentally conscious fashionistas rejoice! Just check out Ethical Fashion Forum and see the progress that’s developing in the fab and trendy eco-friendly fashion world.

The Ethical Fashion Forum is using the Ning Platform to create an industry body dedicated to a sustainable future for fashion. As a not for profit organization, EFF aims to make it easy for fashion professionals to integrate sustainability at the heart of what they do. The network promotes sustainability and knowledge through its “three programmes.” Each programme includes several essential tools which members can take advantage of to succeed in an approvingly ethical way in the fashion business.

Through its three programs of “connecting, sourcing, and excellence” the EFF reaches its goals of collaboration toward a sustainable future for fashion across every industry sector while also striving to “transform the livelihoods and opportunities for thousands of vulnerable individuals and communities in the fashion industry supply chains through their source directory.” The network also hosts Ethical Fashion Socials that take place all over the world, which are an opportunity to connect in person with other network members and ethical fashion pioneers. Even cooler are their seminars, master classes, online resources, and tailored networking sessions that are focused on helping businesses excel in both commercial and ethical terms. And, their members get discounted or preferential access to special events.

EFF is where sustainability meets profitability. They are an inspiring effort of network building and collaboration while refreshing perspectives, improving lives and upgrading your wardrobe!

Constant Contact and Ning Together Make for a More Social Web Experience

At Constant Contact, we’ve been heavily focused on integrating the power of social media into our suite of products. We know it’s increasingly important for our small-business customers to have a robust social media marketing strategy in place, one that will deliver results. That last part is key: How can an organization use social media in a way that delivers something tangible to its holistic online marketing efforts? Well, we are happy to say that we have an answer — the integration of Ning with Constant Contact. We are simply delighted to partner with the pioneer and leader in social websites.

Ning is an incredible tool for creating your own social media hub that can be used to raise awareness, solicit donations, and organize powerful groups of like-minded people for a cause. With the integration of Constant Contact, Ning Creators can now simply and effectively reach out to their network with newsletters, sales promotions, event invitations, and more. Conversely, Constant Contact customers can now create a Ning Network, instantly adding a social experience for conversation between customers and enabling sharing content across all major social networking platforms.

Ning Creators looking to start using Constant Contact can find a lot of helpful information, webinars, and other resources for getting started on our website. I’d like to share a few of my personal favorite best practices for using our Email and Event Marketing products:

  1. Create and send interesting content. This can be a piece of news from your organization, a case study from a customer, or a valuable offer. Remember, your communication is only valuable to you if someone opens and reads it.
  2. Carefully maintain your list. Email marketing only works when you have a completely permission-based community. You should always make sure to have a clear place to unsubscribe, which, if you provide the valuable content discussed above, will rarely be used.
  3. Integrate social media with event marketing for optimal event management. While social tools let you communicate throughout the event, our Event Marketing product lets you create an event homepage, send personalized invitations, effectively manage the guest list, encourage attendees to share your event, and drive better attendance.

We’re excited to hear your success stories using Ning with Constant Contact, and we encourage you to share them with the Constant Contact community.

— Steve Johnson, Vice President, Constant Contact

Your Cup Runneth Over with Choices for Beer

Here in the Bay Area, beer aficionados are gearing up for San Francisco Beer Week in February, one of many craft beer festivals that take place across the country. Beer fans who take their passion for potables online come in all shapes and sizes.

Take, for example, The Aleuminati, founded in 2008 by Sean Connelly, a writer for Beer Connoisseur magazine. The Aleuminati are dedicated to spreading the love of craft beer and homebrewing worldwide. Their network allows beer geeks and homebrewers to discuss techniques, review craft beers, swap recipes, and exchange hard-to-find brews. Unlike other beer review sites, The Aleuminati’s strength lies in the daily interactions members cultivate with each other and the constant multimedia sharing through which they show their love for beer, including some great videos and podcasts. Sign up for this “not so secret society of beer drinkers” to join in the discussion.

Beer for Chicks aims to popularize a passion for pints in the hearts of women everywhere, and provides beer expertise from a female perspective.

Run by Christina Perozzi, a seasoned beer sommelier and the co-author of The Naked Pint, Beer For Chicks is a hub for beer bloggers to learn share and discuss craft beers, beer and food pairings, and tasty recipes made with beer. The network showcases recipes like Pumpkin Pie with a Kick, French Onion Beer Soup, and a heavenly imperial stout-based whip cream infusion. Visit Beer for Chicks to experience Christina’s efforts to dispel the myths women have about beer and bring it to the forefront of modern dining.

Finally, The Beer Army aims to cultivate the appreciation of quality beer as well as to help develop a robust craft beer scene in its home base of Eastern North Carolina. Their network sponsors several real-world meet-ups and craft beer events that shine the spotlight on local and regional breweries. Their next project is their very own beer festival. The Beer Army is a great place for beer fans to discuss trends in craft brewing and the beer industry, such as nanobreweries and the green brewing revolution.

These beer fans find an online haven in Ning Networks as their preferred place to celebrate the suds.

Goodbye Ning ID, hello Custom Network ID

For some time now, we’ve been talking about the progress of our project to replace the existing cross-Ning ID system — used to sign up and sign in across all Ning Networks — with Custom Network IDs. We’re happy to announce that we’re planning on releasing the final piece of this project tomorrow!

The new Custom Network IDs will mean much more control over your brand and your Ning Network’s sign up experience. This also resolves the sign up issues some new members have been experiencing. And, as a bonus, it will allow us to add a slew of new features that we previously could not — like giving Ning Creators the ability to delete members and letting new members sign up via Twitter.

Continue reading

EU Safe Harbor Certified

Here at Ning, we take your privacy very seriously and are committed to maintaining high standards of data privacy. We recognize that privacy expectations (and regulations) can get complicated as data travels around the world, so we’re eager to make things simpler for Ning Creators. We’re happy to announce that Ning is now part of the European Union (EU) Data Privacy Safe Harbor.

As background, the European Community has established a data protection regime that regulates the transfer of personal data of individuals in the EU to non-EU nations that don’t meet certain “adequacy” standards for privacy protection. The EU Safe Harbor provides a method for U.S. companies to comply with these European privacy laws and efficiently transmit data across U.S. and EU borders.

This is good news, especially for our Ning Creators in the EU! For more details regarding the EU Safe Harbor Framework, take a look at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s website.

Welcome to 2011. Welcome to the Custom Social Revolution!

The year 2010 will go down in history as a breakthrough year in which Social Media went truly mainstream, as over 75 percent of the online audience used some form of social Web technology. The year 2011 promises to be even more transformative as consumers increasingly expect and demand that every experience they have on the Web will have social features built in from the ground up rather than simply being bolted on. We’re calling this trend the Custom Social Revolution, and we’re excited to be playing a part in it along with all of you, our Ning Creators!

Last year was a similarly transformative year for Ning as we started the year by making some tough but essential decisions to focus 100 percent of our company on our Premium Ning Creators. In the summer, we launched Ning Mini, Plus, and Pro, which represented the next chapter in Ning’s history. We haven’t taken our foot off the gas since. By the end of December we had released over 20 new features for your Ning Networks including Social Sign In, a Ning Creator iPhone App, the Ning Everywhere Platform API, a new Text Editor, and — most recently, — the removal of Ning ID.

We finished 2010 over 80,000 customers strong, and I wanted to take a moment to say thank you to the tens of thousands of you who made the transition to Mini, Plus, and Pro with us, as well as the tens of thousands of you who have joined us since July. Your creativity, your passion, your dedication to what you do, and your continuous product feedback inspires us and helps make Ning such an awesome place to work. So, thank you and please keep it coming!

As we start 2011, we are already heads down and cranking on pushing the innovation envelope and delivering the capabilities you need to make sure that your Ning Network plays a formative role in the Custom Social Revolution. Some of the things that we’re already working on and will deliver in the first half of 2011 include:

  • A new Theming System to empower you to create stunning designs that reflect the identity of your community. Key features include one- and two-column layout options, header and footer control, and a whole new set of gorgeous looking themes
  • The Ning “Like” button, which will provide more engagement opportunities on your Ning Network, feed into your Leaderboards, and integrate with Facebook Like
  • Paid Access, which will let you charge for access to and content on your Ning Network
  • New, improved spam controls
  • A richer, cooler, more interactive Activity Feed to increase engagement and activity on your Ning Network as well as integrate with other leading social services
  • A completely new, totally awesomeified mobile Web interface
  • And a few more surprises that we’re not ready to talk about just yet!

We’ve heard consistently from our Ning Creators that you want greater visibility into what we’re doing, and by the end of January we’ll be launching a regularly updated Road Map page on Creators. It’s the simple reality of software development that we can’t deliver every feature that everyone asks for exactly when they want it, but we can do a better job of communicating to you what we are working on, and that’s exactly what this new Creators page will do.

Another big area of focus for us this year is to strive to delight every single one of our customers. We know this is a tall order and something that requires a huge amount of work and dedication. I’m here to tell you today that this is something to which we are committed! As we made the transition to a subscription service, your expectations around the level of help and support we provide understandably increased substantially. From September through December, we significantly expanded our Advocacy and Support team in order to more quickly respond to your requests, and by the end of the year we were answering just about every request within 24 hours for Pro customers and 48 hours for Plus customers. We are sending out regular post-contact surveys to get your direct feedback on how we can continue to improve. We’ve also invested in expanding help resources, including expanded Best Practices content with Ning Creator interviews, screencasts to go along with our new Get Started page for new Ning Creators, and regular Ning Talks on topics such as advertising and customization. We know these improvements are just the tip of the iceberg. We’ll continue to expand and enhance our help and support capabilities throughout the year. As a first step, beginning later this week we’ll be posting and updating the list of recently fixed and open bugs on Creators that we’re actively working on to save you the trouble of having to track these down yourself.

As a Ning Creator, you are part of an elite group of people who are on the vanguard of the coming Custom Social Revolution, and we’re excited to be your partner in these exciting times. To all of you we say Welcome to 2011 and Viva La Revolucion!