Author Archives: Gina Bianchini

Wrap Up of MIDEM Keynote

Midem
(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.

2 Million Ning Networks!

2million

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.

A new Ning.com

Today, we’re rolling out a new Ning.com design with a new Ning Network discovery feature. Here’s the new Ning homepage:

Homepage

This new design strives for a clean, simple and elegant design with pops of beautiful images to represent the diverse interests and passions across the Ning Platform. You’ll see these new visual changes across Ning, including the Creators, Developer, the Ning Help Center and here on the Ning Blog. Our new logo will also replace our old logo in the Ningbar you see at the top of your Ning Network. Here’s the new Ning About page:

about

Most importantly, as we mentioned back in November, when we simplified Ning.com and removed search and our cross-Ning activity feed, we are launching a new Ning Network discovery feature today. Here’s a snapshot:

Ning | Create and discover Ning Social Networks for your interests and passions.-1

The categories are based on our most popular across Ning and, within each category, related Ning Networks are recommended based on the overlap between members. Our goal with this feature is to provide an easy – and interesting – way to surface popular and compelling Ning Networks to people based on the things they care about. We’ll use this new Ning Network discovery feature as a foundation for further recommendations and ultimately search across the Ning Platform.

Looking forward to your feedback!

Happy New Year to our 1.9 Million Ning Networks!

2010

2009 has been quite a year for us at Ning. We released new features that we were especially excited about such as Ning Apps and Virtual Gifts. This year also saw the launch of Ning Creators, a Ning Network exclusively for Network Creators that has grown to more than 4,000 members in under two months.

We end 2009 with just under 2 million Ning Networks created on the Ning Platform around hundreds of thousands of unique interests and passions. That’s a 3x increase in the number of Ning Networks created in a single year. It seems like it was only a few months ago that we celebrated our 1 millionth Ning Network! (though that was actually back in April). We also end 2009 with just over 40 million registered users. To put that number in perspective, if Ning was a country, we’d be about the same size as Argentina, which is particularly fitting given our affinity here at Ning for the country.

All in all, we are incredibly thankful for the amazing growth we’ve seen, stories we’ve heard and Network Creators we’ve met in 2009. We’re looking forward to making your Ning Network even faster and full of the features you are looking to add as we head in to 2010.

Happy New Year!

Changes to Ning.com – a Rationale

Answers

As promised, here’s a bit more color on the changes to Ning.com we launched on Monday.

We redesigned Ning.com to focus on Ning Networks and your settings across Ning Networks. Now on Ning.com, you have full access to your list of Ning Networks created and joined as well as Settings across Ning Networks, which is super handy when you want to, for example, update your photo across your Ning Networks or change what types of email notifications you receive from all of your Ning Networks at one time.

As part of redesign, we removed the view into cross-Ning Network activity feed, Ningwide profiles, as well as cross-Ning friends.

Why did we make these changes to Ning.com?

Continue reading

Small changes with a big punch coming next week

Update: This release is live as of 11/16. Thanks!

punch yellow

One of the more interesting challenges of growing a social platform with a base of passionate Network Creators is how to communicate the less visible success factors that make a Ning Network a hit. In the case of performance, the data is black and white: if your Ning Network is light and fast, you will grow. If it loads slowly, it won’t.

Performance optimization is also one of those funny things that require trust and a close partnership between you and us. Namely, we must make your Ning Network as fast as possible while still balancing giving you as the Network Creator the flexibility to add all the things that make your Ning Network the exact right social network for your interest or passion. These include third-party widgets, videos, images and especially your own design.

Layer on top of this the fact that Ning Networks exist for every purpose under the sun from lightweight entertainment to support, business networking and professional content across the globe and whatever change we make will be disruptive for someone, even if the feature is used by a small number of people.

For example, the limits to the number of text boxes and types of content you could add to your Main Page this summer weren’t designed to limit your creativity, but to ensure that you could grow your Ning Network into everything you wanted it to become. Speed is the secret component to making this a reality. Any great product needs to be fast or it is not great. And we want your Ning Network to be great.

To this end, over the past month, we’ve identified a set of small changes to the experience on your Ning Network that will pack a huge punch on making your Ning Network fast for members around the world.

Here’s what we’re changing this Monday, November 16th:

Content visible to “Friends Only” won’t show up in Main Page Latest Activity. You’ll still be able to see this content if you click through to your friend’s My Page, but it won’t be an option on the Main Page Latest Activity.

You’ll see a “Send a Message” link instead of an “Add as Friend” link on the detail pages for content. If you click “Send a Message” when the person isn’t already your friend, you’ll be prompted to add them as your friend first.

Pagination is changing to “Previous” and “Next”. When you’re checking out photos or another feature with more than one page of content, you’ll see buttons for “First,” “Previous,” “Next,” and “Last” rather than a button for a particular page like “19.”

Strange as it seems, this set of small changes will pack a punch from a performance perspective. As we get data on the improvements we’re seeing after these changes, we’ll look to share them here on the Ning Blog for all to see. In the meantime, as we get close to the final date of launch, we’ll post it here.

Thanks!

Updating the ads we run on Ning Networks

Today, we run Google Ads on the right-hand side of Ning Networks that don’t have the Go Ad-Free premium service.

Starting this Wednesday November 4, you may notice some changes to the ads that display in this right-hand column. We will start mixing in display ads, along with the contextual text ads that you currently see. We will also start targeting ads separately to Network Creators and members, so you may begin soon to see ads that only you as the Network Creator are seeing from Ning.

While these display ads may not be as targeted as the Google Ads you are used to seeing on your Ning Network, this is a first step in our experimentation with driving highly targeted ads of multiple types – image, text or more dynamic types – later. As we experiment with new ads in this real estate and closely monitor the data we collect, we’ll keep you updated with what to expect.

And as always, you can remove the ads and even run your own by purchasing the Go Ad-Free premium service, which you can do from your Manage page by choosing the Premium Service link. Thanks!

Update 4:15, Pacific, Nov. 4: We’ve heard from some of you that the ads you were seeing displayed on your Ning Network were either un-targeted or not appropriate. We’ve removed the display ads while we research how to better target ads to the topic and content of your Ning Network. We’ll update this blog post — and add a new one, too — when we have new information on changes to default ads.

Update 5:15, Pacific, Nov. 10: We’re going to begin testing out display ads on a batch of Ning Networks on Nov. 11.

New Network Creators Network Coming November 9th

Sparkles

In April, we moved our Ning Network Creators Network to Get Satisfaction in an effort to address what we thought was a desire for people to have an independent place to share best practices around creating successful Ning Networks without our meddling.

While Get Satisfaction is a great service, we miss the Network Creators Network for immediate, candid feedback, the opportunity to talk through releases before they go live and, most importantly, a centralized place for us and Network Creators to help other Network Creators get the most out of Ning.

As we’ve been talking to you all, we’ve been thrilled to find out that you’ve missed it too. As a result of this serendipity, we’re bringing it back.

Especially as we are beginning the design and development of the next generation of Ning Networks – which we’re planning on launching three years to the day of our original launch in 2007 – we couldn’t imagine doing it without a Network Creator Network and your fantastic experience as Network Creators, observations and incredibly high standards of us and your Ning Network.

More importantly, we didn’t want to launch a new Network Creators Network without addressing in parallel what we’ve heard from you as the greatest pain points today in your Ning Network. If we did that, we’d end up spending all of our time talking about those and we have too many other things to do together to get the most out of this partnership.

So, here’s what you can expect from us between now and the end of the year:

  • A new public Network Creators Network launching November 9th with articles, blog posts, screencasts, updates on new releases and a staffed forum designed to help you get the most out of your Ning Network.
  • A redesigned Ning.com focused on new Ning Network discovery, Ning Network management and no default Ning-wide profiles.
  • Prioritizing the work to make existing features easier-to-use and address long-standing idiosyncrasies on Ning Networks rapidly in two-week intervals over entirely new features.
  • At least 24 hours advanced notice for small releases and 5 days advanced notice for large releases on the new Network Creators Network.
  • A detailed change list for both large and small releases on the Network Creators Network.
  • An bi-weekly email with links to the best of the new Network Creators Network and news from Ning.
  • Platform uptime goals of over 99.9% and continued performance optimization of your Ning Network.
  • Solicitation of early feedback and input into our next generation Ning Network on the Network Creator Network.
  • A revamp of our Ning Help Center to drive public, transparent responses and even more effective troubleshooting.
  • A better definition and ongoing conversation about what it means to be a premium Ning Network. Much of the criticism we see from Network Creators is a direct result of the gray area that exists between what we offer and what you want from us when you purchase the premium services on your Ning Network.

There’s no question that when we’re moving as fast as we can to innovate and deliver an ever increasingly awesome product, we are going to do things that, with hindsight, we’d do differently. While we’ll never be perfect, we certainly look to learn from experience, building upon a stronger foundation of what’s working with a new set of things that only makes it better.

From Tupperware to Ning: a look at Viral Loop

viral loop cover

What do Tupperware parties, the popular Hot or Not Web site, eBay and Ning have in common? They are all companies built to grow naturally through viral loops.

Last year, Adam Penenberg researched and composed a cover story about Ning for Fast Company, which ultimately sparked an idea for a book. Viral Loop provides an overview of the history of viral loops, how to grow a massive audience, and how to make a successful, sustainable business using viral loops.

When we built Ning, we designed it to spread exponentially, with a viral loop at the foundation, and while we built the Ning Platform this way intentionally, we certainly weren’t the first company to benefit from a viral loop. Viral loops evolved from the Tupperware parties of the 1950s, which company executives found to be much more effective than offering Tupperware in department stores, and a much more trusted way to buy for consumers to buy the product. Some of the most iconic Web companies — Hotmail, eBay, PayPal, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, Digg, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, and RockYou — are also viral loop businesses. Some of them happened by mistake, or as an afterthought, while others, like Ning, were built from the ground up with a viral loop at the core.

Viral Loop is the first book to analyze this powerful phenomenon. It tells the stories of entrepreneurs who have used viral loops to create successful companies and even household names. It also illustrates how the smallest start-ups or nonprofits to the biggest corporations can unleash the power of viral loops.

Ning is an effective viral loop because each Network Creator invites members to their Ning Network, and members then invite their friends and contacts to become new members of that Ning Network. Also, what Adam likes to call a “double viral loop,” explains the power of the Ning Platform; after joining a Ning Network, a member will often set up his or her own Ning Network on a different topic.

Ultimately, as Adam explains, a viral loop is only the first step to a successful company. The viral loop not only needs to be inherent to the product, but the product must also add value, be easy-to-use, work well and fast, and it must be an experience people want to share with others.

In reading Viral Loop, it occurred to me that this book is a great resource for those of you who want to leverage the Ning viral loop to grow your own Ning Networks. Each Ning Network could actually be considered a “stackable viral network” that is layered over the viral network of the Ning Platform, helping both Ning and your Ning Network grow. And for  application developers — those of you who have made, or are in the process of making Ning Apps — this book would be a helpful tool if you are starting or trying to grow your own viral loop product by learning from the best viral loop examples and experiments.

You can pre-order Viral Loop before Oct. 13 and receive a 25% discount off the list price along with a private invitation to join the Viral Loop Ning Network, complete with exclusive content, including interviews with the founders of Ning (me and Marc), Flickr, MySpace, RockYou, and many others.