Category Archives: Ning Voices

Business Fights Poverty: A Community With a Cause

Business Fights Poverty - A social impact community built on the Ning PlatformBusiness Fights Poverty was established in March of 2008 to pioneer new ways of fighting poverty utilizing economic and business opportunities by groups and individuals. Founder and Director, Zahid Torres-Rahman discovered and implemented the perfect platform for his idea through a chance conversation and a day’s worth of work. “A technology guru friend of mine first told me about Ning over breakfast, and by dinner I had set up the community.” Since its creation, the community has continued to evolve and expand its public profile. Business Fights Poverty has bloomed from 1,000 members after one year to more than 10,000 members today.

Openness, community, professionalism, respect, and integrity are the five core values that drive this vibrant network of business professionals, academics, philanthropists, and non-government organizations – all of whom share a passion for fighting poverty through business. Business Fights Poverty utilizes inspiring blogs from members, face-to-face events, and a powerful resource hub to captivate potential members and engage current ones. Their community also serves as the central station for public outreach via social outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin. All these components have come together to make it the largest organization of its kind and a vital resource in the fight against poverty.

Zahid Torres-Rahman

We reached out to Zahid Torres-Rahman to get the inside scoop on how his community has grown and helped created a brand with public impact:

What made you start your Ning community?

All around the world exceptional people are finding new ways to fight poverty – by creating new jobs and economic opportunities in low-income communities.   The challenge we set ourselves back in 2008 was to help turn these individual acts of inspiration into a broader movement for change.   We wanted to build a sense of community by connecting these intense, but often dispersed pockets of energy.  We wanted people to be able to find, engage with, learn from and be inspired by like-minded peers.  Ning made this all possible for us – by offering an affordable and easy way to build an online community.

Have you achieved this original objective?  How else has your community helped you and your business, brand or mission?

I think we have come a long way. We’re now the largest community of our kind, with a brand that is steadily growing in profile.  We publish a great story every day, and pretty much all of these come from community members.  We are increasingly active in the real world too, with face-to-face events and publications.  At the same time, I feel that we are only at the beginning of an exciting journey.   We are constantly trying to learn and improve.  We recently hired FeverBee, following a Ning webinar (which you can watch again here), and they have been giving us some great advice on enhancing our member engagement.

If you had to pick one measure of the success or impact of your community, what would it be?

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We track all the usual metrics about visits and member engagement, but for me nothing beats the personal stories that I hear from members about howthe community has helped them – whether to find a new job; connect with potential project partners; or just to be inspired by what others are doing.  I enjoy reading what our Members of the Week say they hope to get out of being part of the community.

How long did it take your community to reach critical mass?

It took us a year to reach 1,000 and four more to reach 10,000.  But one thing we have come to appreciate is that it’s the number of actively engaged members that matters, and that’s where our energy is now focused.  The great thing about Ning is that by massively bringing down the costs of organizing online, it has made it possible to create successful, small, specialist communities.

What tactics drove the most growth and activity in your community?

We have focused our energy on three areas. The first has been on building the community brand.  We worked with professional graphic designers to develop a strong look and feel for the site, and we invest in great photography to illustrate stories on the site. The second area is around content.  We have put a lot of energy into our editorial calendar – to build up a strong flow of timely, high quality and interesting content, primarily from our own members.  We drive traffic to this content through our weeklSocial Mediay broadcast messages, and we are also very active on Twitter (@FightPoverty) and other social media sites. The third area is around member engagement. Every year, we have an active programme of face-to-face and online events, such as webinars.  Through our “Member of Week” and “Star Member” initiatives, we profile our most active members.  We have high hopes for our new member’s Forum, and have other ideas in the pipeline to encourage member interaction.

What feature(s) are most important to your members?

Right now, our blog is the most popular feature on our site, followed by our events.  Over the next few months, we are looking to grow our forum as a way to generate more member-to-member engagement. We’ll also be more closely integrating our offline and online activities – so for example, we’ll be running online discussions linked to our face-to-face events. Following member feedback, we’ll also be launching a jobs board.

Do you have any advice for other people building online communities?

We recognized early on that community management is a full-time and professional activity!  Continuous investment of time and effort is needed to encourage member activity and network growth. On top of that, listening and responding to what your members want is critical.   Recognizing when things are not working is important too! For us, we have been on a continuous learning journey, and are constantly looking to improve the site. I am a fan of the Ning Creators Network – and have picked up many great tips there.

What’s the craziest story you have about your community?

The craziest story is from our first day. A technology guru friend of mine first told me about Ning over breakfast, and by dinner I had set up the community. I was the first member and my wife was the second. I remember telling the third member – a colleague of mine who was working for a charity at the time, “I know you are only member number 3, but I promise that one day there will be many more of us!”

There is an African proverb that has been an inspiration to me: if you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together.  For me that is at the heart of what the global Business Fights Poverty community is about, and I am excited about what the future holds.  I believe that for all the amazing things we are doing individually, if we can do more together – as part of a movement for change, the possibilities are limitless.

Flood Relief in Pakistan: How You Can Help

Music for Relief

There’s not a lot you can do to quickly solve big problems. They often require little solutions — lots of them.

Such is the case with the recent floods in Pakistan. Massive monsoons have led to floods that are covering one-fifth of Pakistan, land that regularly hosts about 10 million people. That’s a lot of people. By most accounts, these are the worst floods in 80 years. That’s a long time. All that extra water leads to a whole lot less clean, drinkable, uncontaminated H2O — which leads to disease and death. It’s a big disaster, no doubt about it.

And yet, financial support for these victims has lagged behind recent, high-profile relief efforts aimed at victims of earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis. Whatever the reason for this slow response, it’s clear that this crisis won’t be solved by a few big humanitarian organizations or a handful of committed nations. While the U.S. government kicked off the effort with $200 million in aid, it’s going to take a lot of smaller initiatives to get the level of response up to where it needs to be.

These smaller efforts are starting to add up. The Canadian government is impressively matching its citizens’ donations. (A fabulous idea that the U.S. should adopt!) Iran has reportedly delivered 500 tons of supplies. Everyday people are starting their own grassroots aid groups. Everyone’s helping, even Pakistan’s bitter rival India. But there’s a lot more that needs doing.

We wanted to take a few minutes out of our day to salute a group that is doing its part. Music for Relief, a grassroots effort led by musicians, music industry professionals, and dedicated fans is collecting donations with the goal of reaching and serving 560,000 survivors. They’ve made great progress already, but they still need one very important person to participate. You.

Consider making a small donation. Or, pass the word along to other people and ask them to do a little bit, too.


More about Pakistan on Ning Networks:

5 Shocking Facts About The Pakistan Floods on Nerd Fighters.

How Can Overseas Pakistanis Help in Post-Floods Reconstruction? on PakAlumni Worldwide.

Disastrous Flood in Pakistan – Dropping of the Indo-Australian Plate? on Earth Changes and the Pole Shift.

Climate of the World Is Changing on the Earth Day Network.


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.

VeloReviews Uses Social Media Smarts to Build Participation

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I’m in the market for a bicycle. I have a new job, which requires a bit of a commute. Why not keep in shape and weave through San Francisco city traffic faster than most cars?

Unfortunately, I have no idea what kind of bike I need. Bikes are way more complicated and sophisticated than they were even ten years ago. While stumbling through Google looking for reliable reviews on bikes, I happened upon a site with some great bike reviews. What’s interesting about this site, VeloReviews, is that they have a way of identifying legitimate customer reviews and weeding out any that appear to be fake or posted by anyone who might have a stake in gaming a review system. Simply put, they have a way to bring more reliable customer reviews to people like me, and that’s very valuable.

The bike reviews were only part of the site’s appeal, though. They have a real community of bikers sharing information and advice about all the finer points of two-wheeled life — and they’re using Ning as their focal point. I dug into the site more and was surprised at how social-media savvy these Network Creators are. If you are a Ning Network Creator and want a model to follow for making your Ning Network more “social,” you can probably learn a thing or two from how they’ve done it.

Here’s a few smart things they’ve done:

  • Connect & share: They link out to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube — you name it. They’re covering all the social-media bases.
  • Contest with a twist: They’ve started a unique photo caption contest. They put up a photo and entrust their members with the fun job of coming up with a witty, pithy caption. Then, they send the winner a print of the actual high-quality photo. The winner gets more than just bragging rights.
  • Clever use of widgets: They use a PollDaddy widget for polls. They provide a Page for members to plan their own bike outing via a MapMyRide widget. They pull in a customized Daily Cycling News feed on a separate Page with a widget from rssinclude.com. They even use a Wibiya widget that appears as a strip at the bottom of the page, which allows for numerous sharing options, including a way for members to Digg VeloReviews.
  • Striving for a big audience: They have an ongoing Friday night chat sessions, and they started recording a podcast, which was recently featured as a New Release on the iTunes Store. They also actively ask for feedback and participation from members about what to spotlight and talk about in the podcast.

All of these details undoubtedly foster a ton of participation. They’re trying out all kinds of new and different ways to reach people via social media channels who share their passion for biking. Some techniques will probably work better than others. What’s great about the Ning Platform is that you can easily try new techniques — install apps and widgets and experiment with new content — and then stick with the strategies that work best.

One other thing they do, which doesn’t require any fancy tech skills and can be done by anyone who’s running a Ning Network: They’ve created a clear, compelling mission statement that invites people in. Here’s an excerpt from their About page:

VeloReviews’ mission is to help cyclists of all levels find the best products for YOUR needs, meet people who share YOUR passion, and discover places and events to enjoy YOUR Sport.

Notice the focus on the members. I like the fact that VeloReviews is all about YOU. They clearly care. That detail especially made me want to join their Ning Network. So I did.

VeloReviews seems to be doing everything right, and they’re doing it with Ning as the hub of their online activity. Well done! I’ll let you know when I’ve found the right bike. I’ll even write a review.

Celebrating Safer Internet Day

Safer and more responsible Internet use, especially amongst children and young people, are the goals of Safer Internet Day, a global awareness day held annually since 2004 in a growing number of countries.  Here at Ning, we’re celebrating Safer Internet Day by continuing our commitment to ensure that Ning remains safe and fun for everyone who creates or joins a Ning Network.  An important aspect of this commitment is the protection of our members’ privacy and the education of parents and teens on how to most effectively ensure they are staying safe online.  As part of this, we’re dedicated to promoting digital citizenship on the part of our members: civil, ethical and mindful participation in Ning Networks.

mouse_globe_jpgWe take Internet safety very seriously and have dedicated significant resources towards promoting awareness and education of online safety issues. From the beginning, we built in comprehensive privacy and safety features to allow you to protect and control your privacy and safety at every level, and empowering you to keep yourself — and your members — safe. We also have a comprehensive set of Safety Tips and Resources that provide information on best practices for online safety and educate members about how to utilize the many privacy and safety controls available  on Ning. We encourage you to take a look!

Our work in Internet safety goes beyond our doors. Last year, I was appointed by the U.S. Department of Commerce to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration new Online Safety and Technology Working Group (OSTWG). OSTWG was established under the “Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act” and is dedicated to keeping children safe on the Internet.  A group of 35 members from Internet companies, academia, non-profits and government were appointed to serve 15-month terms to evaluate industry efforts to promote online safety through education, best practices among industry leaders, the market for parental control technology, and assistance to law enforcement in cases of online child abuse. The U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Education, the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission all have delegates serving on the working group.

I recently returned from attending and appearing on a panel at the fourth meeting of the OSTWG last week in Washington D.C., which concluded our final day of subcommittee meetings and we will now begin work on preparing our report and recommendations due to Congress by June 2010. I am honored to be serving on this working group and am excited about the collaboration to date among the OSTWG members and the various panel participants to really evaluate these issues.

Additionally, Ning serves on the Board of the Family Online Safety Institute, and regularly meets with a number of other organizations, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and ConnectSafely, to review our existing safety resources that we provide to our members, develop new material and seek advice on general safety best practices on an ongoing basis.

To celebrate Safer Internet Day, I encourage every Network Creator to read our Safety Tips and Resources and pass them along to their members.

Jill, Ning’s VP and Chief Policy Officer, leads all global policy matters for Ning, including privacy protection, DMCA, content regulation and child online safety and oversees all partnerships with NGOs and government.

Capturing sidewalk art from around the world

When I first moved to San Francisco’s Mission District three years ago, I couldn’t believe how much art and expression I saw on buildings, store fronts, and sidewalks — especially sidewalks. They are known for being boring and bland, but here, they have personality. Back on the east coast, the only thing type of art on a sidewalk I would see is hopscotch.

Since 2007, I’ve been on a mission to carry my camera with me everywhere I go, in case I see something new on the sidewalk. Flickr was a great place for me to store my images, but I couldn’t share them, and build a community around them.

I got a job working at Ning in 2009, and I’ve always wanted to build a huge Ning Network; something that would capture the interests and passions of others while still documenting all of the sidewalk art in the world. Welcome to Sidewalk Stalker.

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My goal is to capture every sidewalk drawing, street stencil and curb crochet around the world. So far, this network only has a handful of members, but they stretch many latitudes. Sidewalk Stalker has members in Mexico, Australia, Vietnam, British Columbia, as well as contributors from all across the United States. Someone from Chile has even uploaded a photo of a drawing in the sand. Whatever sidewalk art means to you, I want to see it on my Ning Network.

Andrew is a web developer on the product and design team at Ning, slicing Photoshop files, inspecting the DOM, and crafting CSS selectors.

Helping Haiti

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The reports out of Haiti are devastating. As the world scrambles to funnel resources, aide and money into the region, we wanted to make sure that our community knew how they can get involved today to help with the relief efforts. Below are some links that will take you to organizations that are helping to make a difference on the ground — please do everything that you can to spread the word.

You can also use your mobile device to donate – here are two options:

  • Text “Yele” to 501501 to donate $5 to the Yele Haiti Earthquake Fund (it will be charged to your cell phone bill) or you can visit Yele Haiti and click Donate.
  • You can also text “HAITI” to “90999″ and $10 will be given automatically to the Red Cross, charged to your cell phone bill.

Wyclef Jean has been a longtime advocate for Haiti. Since the earthquake hit, he’s been tirelessly working on raising money and donations to help aid disaster relief. His Ning Network, ClefZone, launches today and is a great resource for getting involved and learning more.

If you want to connect to others who are working to aid relief efforts in Haiti, make sure to check out these KnowYour Haiti Relief, Hands Across Haiti and Radio Telel Ginen.

Peter Slutsky, Ning’s Manager of Strategic Relations, just donated to the Red Cross.

Orientation starts early for incoming college students

Albright College

Only a half-dozen years ago, incoming college students first saw their classmates in a “facebook,” a collection of headshot photos, which was mailed to incoming students. And they likely didn’t talk to their fellow incoming students until new-student orientation began after they arrived on campus.

Times have changed, and Ning is fast becoming an important step in how college students meet their classmates, make friends and learn the ins and outs of their campus before they even set foot in their dorm room. In the first half of this tech decade, even as incoming students went online droves, tools for social networking were hard to come by. My own University of Pennsylvania even went to the point of engineering a social network from scratch in 2004.

Ning has made it incredibly simple for colleges and universities to set up a Ning Network for incoming students, and many schools are taking advantage. Alfred University has been using Ning for years now, and Albright College has done the same with it’s “Faces” Ning Network.

Anderson University has combined its Ning Network with a “getting started” guide for its incoming class. Humboldt State has a very popular Ning Network, as does Immaculata University.

As opposed to Facebook, where it can be daunting to track down your soon-to-be classmates and daunting to start up conversations with them, setting up a Ning Networks has allowed these colleges to create safe, friendly, focused — and even private — environments where everyone is there for the same reason: To get to know their classmates and share tips on college life.

The trend has become so popular that we’ve even seen a few schools take it one step farther: Providence College and the armed forces both have Ning Networks where prospective — not only admitted — students can meet each other. As early applicants in the class of 2014 will start receiving their letters of acceptance this month, a new crop of Ning Networks will likely be springing up soon.

A few months ago, we spoke to three of the creators of three Ning Networks for incoming students, to hear about their experience running and setting up a Ning Network, and to get their advice for colleges that want to do the same.

Evan Goldin, a product manager, is going to convince the University of Pennsylvania to ditch their custom-built social network for a more powerful and easy-to-use Ning Network.

The method behind the madness: Agile development

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Over the past month, we’ve released dozens of new features and improvements, everything from new RSS feeds, to exportable event lists, to Network Creator exclusive gifts to better ways to manage email notifications.

It’s been exciting for us, and hopefully exciting for you, too. Instead of taking months to work on and release a new feature (as longtime Ning Network Creators may remember us doing), we’ve been focusing on small, frequent releases instead. The method behind the madness is called agile development, and I wanted to provide some background here to the software development philosophy that’s guiding us today.

Our philosophy is that when it comes to web development, small and frequent changes are better than big, bundled releases. The logic behind this is that you, Network Creators and members, receive immediate value. You don’t need to wait for every aspect of a new product to be perfect. Instead, you can see it live on your Ning Network, and provide feedback through Ning Creators, the Ning Help Center or here on the Ning Blog. We can use that feedback to make quick course corrections.

Previously, we’d release a huge set of new features. These features would take months to scope out and program. We’d then release them across all Ning Networks, and when we were finished, we’d move on to the next set of features we wanted to add. This process left little time for improvements because, by the time a feature was released, we needed to move on to the next big release. With agile development, we don’t need to wait until the next big release; we can get quick fixes and enhancements out the door quickly and efficiently.

For example, we released Ning Virtual Gifts in late October, and began immediately looking through the comments that Ning Network Creators were leaving on the Ning Blog (there were almost 100!). Based on the feedback we heard, we started releasing small, but significant improvements, like bulk credits and Network Creator exclusive gifts, and the ability to set your own price point for custom gifts and rename Gift categories.

Or, think about the improvements we’ve been making over the past month on the Broadcast Message feature. We first increased the character limit for messages. Then, we put the broadcast message field into a full page and added support for HTML. After that, we added a WYSIWYG toolbar. We hope to add a preview or test feature soon (suggested by Network Creators), but the important point is that we’re rolling out the features as soon as they are available, instead of waiting to make sure every aspect of each feature is built-in at launch.

We view Network Creators as a vital part of this process. A great example has been the development of the redesigned Members page. A month ago, we posted to gather thoughts on whether Network Creators preferred the old grid view or the new list view. Most of the feedback we heard was a preference for the grid view, but some Network Creators liked aspects of the newer list view. Over the next few weeks, we worked with the dozens of Network Creators who replied to build a single, updated view that incorporated the top requests we heard, such as featuring a profile question of your choice on the Members page, instead of only allowing gender and location to be shown.

This kind of constant feedback loop and the ability, on our side, to easily shift priorities or to quickly include your requests in a new feature already under development would have been much harder to do with the way we used to release new releases.

We look forward to adding more new features and improving on the ones we already have going forward. As always, we’re taking in your feedback, and using that to chart the course ahead.

Patrick Mee is a Director of  Engineering, and is responsible for all user-facing development at Ning.

How Events and RSS work on 8Asians

I work with a lot of developers in my role as a developer evangelist. If you’ve ever been on the Ning Developer Network, you’ve probably seen my profile photo once or twice in the forum.

And, like a lot of other people who work at Ning — actually, like a lot of people everywhere — I have my own set of interests and passions outside of work. A couple of years ago I started 8Asians.com, a blog that focuses on Asian American and Asian American issues; we talk about everything from activist issues to pop culture and pretty much everything in between. As the blog focuses on the Asian community, creating a Ning Network was a natural solution to allow readers of the blog to interact with each other.

One of the ways people have used my.8asians.com has been as a way to add community events; actresses have logged on to the Ning Network to post their one-woman shows, musicians have been taking advantage of the events feature to post events of future concert dates, etc. And thanks to the way Ning now handles RSS feeds for events on Ning Networks (including the addition of event date in the title), it makes sense to expose those events on my main blog, even though the blog is external.

8Asians.com

Getting the RSS for events on a Ning Network is easy, provided that it’s public. I go to my Events page, and click on the RSS icon in the lower left corner; this automatically creates an RSS feed of all events that are either currently going on, or will be happening in the near future.

Now the trick is to actually take that RSS and put it somewhere on your blog. Depending on the blog software you use, your mileage will vary: if your external blog is using WordPress.com or if you have a pre-designed blog theme that supports widget implementation, it’s as easy as customizing your RSS widget. The folks at RSS have created a video specifically for showing you how to add RSS to WordPress.com powered blogs.

And of course, this works for any RSS feed of a publicly accessible Ning Network. If you want to expose the RSS feed of a Ning Network’s forum or show the last updated photos via RSS feed, you can do that, too. Just look for the RSS logo, either on the page itself, or pick it up from your browser.

Ernie Hsiung is Ning’s Developer Evangelist. You see his photograph a lot on the front page of the Ning Developer Network, but hopefully with input from developers and Network Creators like yourself, that will change soon.