Monthly Archives: July 2011

Ning Tech Talk: Mobile First with Luke Wroblewski

Every few weeks, we host open meetups called Ning Tech Talks at our headquarters in downtown Palo Alto, Ca. Our meetups cover a variety of engineering and technical topics as they relate to the Ning Platform, and more generally, to the development of web and social technology used by millions of people everyday.

Next week, we have our first guest speaker, Luke Wroblewski, highlighting the key reasons to consider mobile first when designing and developing applications and Web products. Luke is currently Chief Product Officer and co-founder of Bagcheck Inc, and most recently he was an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) at Benchmark Capital and Chief Design Architect (VP) at Yahoo!, where he worked on product alignment and forward-looking integrated customer experiences on the Web, mobile, TV, and beyond. He has presented in over 50 cities across the world, and we couldn’t be more excited to have Luke speak with us at Ning HQ.

We invite you to join us by RSVPing to Luke’s Tech Talk on the Ning Tech Talks Meetup page. Be sure to RSVP early, as space is limited! Things kick off at 6 PM (Pacific) on Wednesday, August 3 at Ning HQ. We’ll be serving food and refreshments, and you’ll have time to mingle before and after Luke’s presentation. We look forward to seeing a lot of new faces at Ning HQ for this Tech Talk.

We’re also planning to broadcast Luke’s Tech Talk through our partnership with Ustream, so if you can’t make it, tune in online. We’ll post more details here on Wednesday.

Local Spin: The Tour de France and Cycling from Down Under

Adelaide Cyclists Jersey. Photo Credit: Smudge Monkees16 000 km away from Saturday’s finale of the Tour de France, Adelaide Cyclists were celebrating a win for their country’s very own Cadel Evans. “With the Tour de France,” Adelaide Cyclists Ning Creator Angus Kingston highlights, “a member found a cinema to watch a big stage and got 50 members of Adelaide Cyclists there to watch [the race].” The Ning Network, a 1,600-strong cyclist community, serves as an ultra-local hub for riders Down Under in the country’s fifth largest city.

Though members’ excitement for Evans’ Tour de France win is the hot topic at the moment, the Aussie community’s main focus is promoting cycling advocacy, friendships, environmentalism, and road/cycling safety by being the main hub for all things concerning 2-wheeled riders in South Australia. “I get emails of appreciation all the time from members who are happy they’ve found new friends, motivation to ride, lost weight because they’ve started cycling and been encouraged by others,” said Kingston. “A post ‘How much weight have you lost this summer?‘ was one of the biggest discussions.”

From finding a riding buddy, learning about upcoming competitions, hearing words of encouragement and support, or buying the latest racing gear, Adelaide Cyclists is a real life example of die-hard bikers coming together in an online space to share experiences, successes and a true excitement for the sport. “I think members like that 98% of other members are from the same city and experience the same experiences,” notes Kingston. “We all know the same roads, bends, climbs, black spots. Members can share and advocate and find a willing supportive audience.”

Grow Your Ning Network with Competitive Spirit and Creative Juices

If you’ve ever watched Project Runway, The Devil Wears Prada, or have been to a Barneys sample sale, you know that for many people around the world, fashion is king. Couple this passion with the dream of getting your 15 minutes of fame, and you’ve got yourself a competition that’s sure to cause a flurry of activity and drive engagement on your Ning Network.

On Ning Creators, we learned about Milagros Baerga and her Ning Network, Festiva, a Puerto Rican-based online magazine focused on being the go-to source for all things party-related. The magazine covers catering services, equipment rentals, party-planning specialists, industry professionals, and fashion resources.

Festiva is holding a contest, searching for the new Quinceañera cover girl for an upcoming Festiva issue. Since the contest launched, more than 3,000 new members joined in just 10 days to vote and Like their favorite photos from more than 80 girls vying for the cover!

Based on Festiva’s success and growth, and the wisdom from Ning Creators with similar contest success stories, here are 3 tips for creating a contest to increase activity and engagement, and to get new people coming to your Ning Network:

  1. Give incentive to members for spreading the word and encouraging friends to sign up for the contest. Providing exclusive content to or inviting your members to new sections of your Ning Network is a sure-fire way to get people recruiting their friends to join and sharing with them. If you have Twitter and Facebook sharing turned on, members can share the contest across their social graph and publicize your Ning Network for you in just one click!
  2. Highlight your contest everywhere on your Ning Network, making it easy for people to learn about the contest and get involved. Adding a “slider” to your Main page, or adding the call to action in an instant ad or text box takes just a few minutes to set up, and ensures your members will see it when they visit your Ning Network.
  3. Featuring members is a fun way to turn up the competitive dial and lets you easily show your appreciation for your members. A featured member will appear at the top of the Members page, and if you have the Members box appearing on the Main page, you can set it so that only featured members appear. You can use the Language Editor to customize the text relating to featuring members. When a member is featured, they’re notified via email, if they have email notifications turned on. You can also feature various types of content, such as photos, videos and blog posts.

Congratulations to Festiva! Have you seen growth like this on your Ning Network or run any contests? Share your success on Ning Creators – we’d love to hear from you!

Set custom URLs for your content

Earlier this month, we announced the ability to customize the URL of a Page on your Ning Network. Later today, we’re bringing that same functionality to other types of content, like photos and discussions.

As before, URLs will be automatically based on the title you give to the content you’ve added. But now, Network Creators and administrators will be able to customize the URL to display the text of their choice.

In addition to Pages and Groups, which already have the ability to define custom URLs, Network Creators and administrators can now customize the URLs for all types of content members can add, specifically:

  • Discussions
  • Group discussions
  • Events
  • Photos
  • Videos
  • Blog posts

This change should allow Network Creators and administrators to improve their search engine optimization by tailoring URLs after specific keywords or sets of keywords.

Custom URLs will also mean a better user experience for your members. Previously, every time a title was changed on a piece of content, the URL changed with it, meaning that old links no longer worked. Now, after content has been added and the URL has been set for the first time, URLs will no longer change automatically when the title is changed or tweaked. The old URL will be preserved unless it is changed manually.

After collecting feedback from Network Creators, we decided that access to this functionality should be limited to Network Creators and administrators, to avoid any misuse by members.

Building Outside The Frame: Aviary Ning Extension Allows For Integrated Photo Editing

Today, we’re excited to unveil the Aviary Ning Extension, a tool that can increase member engagement and inject fun and utility into Ning social websites using photos feature.

The Big Picture

Photo sharing continues to be one of the most popular features on Ning, second only to the inbox/forum. By working closely with Aviary (www.aviary.com), a leading provider of creative web and mobile tools, we make photo sharing even more powerful and fun for your community through the Ning API.

Our priority is to provide the best social experience for Ning Creators; we’re constantly pushing the innovation envelope through product development and partnerships. By strategically partnering with the best-in-class providers and services, like we’ve done with Aviary today, and uStream and SoundCloud earlier this year, we can roll-out new functionality even faster.

The new Aviary extension lets Ning Plus and Pro Creators and members easily edit photos directly in a Ning Network. It’s easy to make useful tweaks like cropping and red-eye reduction; editing the contrast, brightness and colors; adding text to photos; and — if you’re feeling creative and playful — placing “stickers” like mustaches, hats and sunglasses directly onto the images of people and objects in your photos.

As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Aviary’s Ning Extension gives people the freedom to make these changes on the fly, meaning these creative tweaks happen directly within Ning Networks and lets you speak volumes, such as on PetBrags.com:

How it Works

Ning Creators and members have always been free to express themselves, and now, our partnership with Aviary opens the floodgates for letting them do so in a new, unique and fun way. Aviary’s suite can be applied across Ning Networks and even integrates with making changes to member profile photos — now, it’s never been easier to show off your personality!

Once Aviary is up and running, simply hover your mouse over a photo you want to edit and you’ll see a “Photo Stickers & Effects” option. This will start up Aviary’s editor and encourage you to apply updates, transformations and filters to your photo. Once the changes you want to make are complete, click on “Save” and the modified photo will be saved back to the Ning Network.

To activate the Aviary Ning Extension, just head to your network dashboard and visit the Ning Extensions page (under Tools). Once there, click “Activate” to turn it on. For troubleshooting visit this Ning Help Center article.

Teens: Pushing the Migration to Mobile

This is the second in a two-part series by Ning’s Marketing intern, Nicholas O’Farrell, on teen mobile use. You can check out his earlier post on the basics of mobile in the teenage world.

To understand teen mobile use is to understand the teen mobile market. As a group, the teen sector is unique – while most mobile markets change as technology advances, the teen market depends on and transforms with the ever-changing interests of its teenage consumers. We typically hear about new things to check out from each other, and we’re less likely to sign up for a service or purchase something without having heard about it from a trusted friend. The endorsement of a mobile product by a peer is infinitely more valuable than advertisements on the Internet or TV. This is responsible for the perception that trends in the teen mobile market are so quick to emerge and expire – the transient nature of what is in high school vogue results in a market that is constantly transforming to keep up with its teen consumers.

Switching gears, as we hear talk of a shift to a “Post-PC world” and the mass migration from traditional computers to mobile devices like tablets and smartphones and the cloud, I’ve begun to consider the fact that teens may in part be driving this migration. While still pricey, tablets and smartphones, like the iPad and Android devices, do offer less expensive alternatives to computers and laptops for teens, a group that, as a whole, is not yet financially independent. These devices are more portable and convenient, and oftentimes easier to use than traditional PCs – think back to the teenagers and accessibility concept I highlight in the first part of this post.

As I see it, today’s most advanced mobile devices are so developed that they can serve as practical and realistic substitutes for the conventional computer. I use my iPhone 4 more than any other device – for communication, entertainment, school – anything and everything – and my use is more the norm than the exception. In truth, mobile is the future of consumer technology, and the fact that teenagers are so attracted to mobile’s accessibility, popularity, and connectivity may very well be a driving force behind the migration away from the traditional computer.

Post by Nicholas O’Farrell. Nicholas is a Marketing intern at Ning. Over the summer, he’s worked on a variety of projects with us, spanning from online community building for political organizations to working with Ning’s legal team and blogging for the company. A triplet and citizen of three countries, Nicholas enjoys reading, writing, traveling, skiing, and exploring new cultures and languages.

Interested in working at Ning? Learn more at join.ning.com!

“Generation Z” or “Generation Mobile”?

This is the first in a two-part series by Ning’s Marketing intern, Nicholas O’Farrell, on teenage mobile use. Stay tuned for his Friday post about the teen mobile market and their role in the migration to mobile.

In many ways, “mobile” is a teenage concept. From its beginnings in the 1970s to the 3G and 4G networks used today by the likes of Verizon, AT&T, Vodafone, Vivo, Orange and T-Mobile, it has experienced much of the same physical and conceptual growth that teenagers undergo to become adults. In fact, mobile’s foundation was laid with the introduction of earlier mobile technology in 1991 – coincidentally the year today’s oldest teenagers, now 19, were born – and the technology has boomed ever since. Growing alongside today’s teens, mobile has become one of the defining technologies of Generation Z (people born between 1991-2010), so much so that the generation – my generation – might be more aptly named Generation Mobile.

While teen mobile use appears complex, it boils down to 3 vital characteristics. A service that incorporates all 3 of these attributes into its mobile product is more likely to have a large teen base:

  1. Accessibility: If it’s not easy and fast to use, teenagers will not use it.
  2. The most important motivation for teens to use and continue using a mobile service is ease of use. It’s one of the reasons for the massive popularity among teenagers of Facebook’s mobile app and texting – communication services like these are quick to learn, easy to use, and offer instant gratification.

  3. Popularity: If it’s not popular, there will be a limited teenage use base.
  4. It’s no surprise that the percentage of teens owning cell phones increased 15 times between 2000 and 2010 (from 5% of the teenage population owning in 2000 to 75% of teens owning in 2010. Mobile use amongst teens, like many other things in middle and high school, is driven by the notion that “if everybody else has it, you have to have it too.” No, it’s not traditional peer pressure – it’s the feeling that if you don’t have something, you’re missing out!

  5. Connectivity: If it can build on established online connections, it’s even more appealing.
  6. Having come of age during the era of social networking and online sharing, many of us now look for mobile services integrating with the many accounts we already use, such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Zynga. We want mobile apps that allow us to chat with our Facebook friends, our AIM buddies, and friends still tied to SMS. Mogwee takes this idea and merges its interactive social tools to create a fun and quirky multi-platform group communication mobile service. Now I can use one app to interact and connect with my friends, all from the palm of my hand — it’s this all-in-one mobile connectivity that teenagers crave.

Check the Ning Blog on Friday for the second half as Nicholas discusses the teen mobile market and teens’ role in the migration to mobile.

Post by Nicholas O’Farrell. Nicholas is a Marketing intern at Ning. Over the summer, he’s worked on a variety of projects with us, spanning from online community building for political organizations to working with Ning’s legal team and blogging for the company. A triplet and citizen of three countries, Nicholas enjoys reading, writing, traveling, skiing, and exploring new cultures and languages.

Interested in working at Ning? Learn more at join.ning.com!

Updates to Pages

Today, we’re making the Pages feature a lot more powerful for Plus and Pro networks. Pages have always been a great way to add useful content to your network like a list of resources, community guidelines, or an embedded third-party application. Following on from the privacy and design updates we made a couple of weeks ago, we’ve added the ability for you to customize URLs, directly control the title and metadata for SEO purposes, and inject custom Javascript and CSS into the <head> tag on individual Pages.

From today, when you create or edit a Page, you’ll see a field for specifying its URL address. New Pages you create will automatically have a URL like /pages/here-is-the-title. You can modify this and change the value after /pages/ if you wish. Even better, you can choose a completely custom URL if you prefer. If you’ve created an “About Us” Page that tells people all about your network, for example, you can now choose to have it appear at yournetwork.com/about. This will make it both more memorable and more findable by visitors and search engines. The best part is that if you already have an “About Us” page like this on your network and it has a URL like /page/about-1, you can now point it to /about. Anyone who visits the original URL will automatically be redirected to the new one. You can have up to 50 Pages with root-level custom URLs (example.com/something) on your network.

If Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is important to you, you’ll be happy to hear that each Page now has an option for you to manage the title and meta tags of that Page manually. The title and meta description for a Page are determined automatically based on its content; in most cases, this provides good results when it comes to SEO. If you are an advanced user and want more control, you can now specify the contents of the title tag and the meta description tag directly. If you’re trying to improve your network’s search engine rankings and organic search traffic, this will surely be an indispensable tool.

Finally, we’ve made some updates to the Tab Manager, now called Tabs & Pages in the Admin menu, to simplify it and make it easier for you to connect tabs to existing features and Pages. You can try it out (and view all of these Page changes) by navigating to the Tabs & Pages section of your Dashboard, creating a new tab, and selecting the option to create a new Page.

We’re excited to see how you’ll use these powerful new options on your network!

Celebrating July 4th With Mogwee

The July 4th holiday weekend here in the United States often involves a lot of outdoor activity, runs to the grocery store, impromptu meetups and great photo opportunities. To help keep your friends and family close this weekend, we humbly suggest that you give Mogwee a try.

If you’re not familiar with Mogwee, it’s a new product we launched at the end of February, and it’s designed to let you chat, plan, play and share with your friends and family no matter where you are. No existing accounts are required, and you can start using it on your iPhone, iPod touch, iPad or Android phone in seconds. We even offer a web version for people that want to follow along from their computers.

Check out our video:

Since we launched, we’ve been adding all sorts of new features and improvements, with many more on deck in the coming weeks. Here are a few suggestions on how to use Mogwee for the 4th:

  • Create a Hangout for the people you’ll be spending time with over the weekend. Coordinate meetup spots, grocery pickup lists and more.
  • Create another Hangout for people you won’t see in person (your extended family, for example). Share real-time photos of the action.
  • Post YouTube videos of classic fireworks shows and other patriotic material. May we suggest this gem?
  • Celebrate America’s independence by sending a zombie sheep to your best friend. Let’s be honest, it’s what the founding fathers would want.

Team Mogwee wishes everyone a fun (and safe) holiday weekend!