Category Archives: Your Ning Network

Our Product Roadmap

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

Going forward, we will aim for:

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

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

A look back…

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

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

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

…and a look ahead

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

Network Creator Features

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

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

Member Features

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

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

Monetization

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

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

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

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

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

In closing…

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

Introducing Ning Pro, Ning Plus and Ning Mini

I’m excited to introduce three new versions of the Ning Service that we will roll out in July. When we announced two weeks ago that we were going to refocus on paying Ning Networks and phase out our free service, we knew there would be many questions about what the new Ning would look like. Our goal with these offerings — as explained below — is to enhance the experience Network Creators have on Ning, and by extension, the experiences your members have as well.

What will we be rolling out in July? We’ll start with many of the things Network Creators have been asking for and extend the service from there. The end of Ning promotional links, leading to a more customized, branded experience for you and your members. An ad free experience and the option to run your own ads — if you like. Easy content export and back-up. The end of Ning ID and ability to add Facebook and Twitter sign-in. API access for a more integrated experience. The ability to charge for membership and accept donations. We’ve listened to your more frequent and pressing requests and combined them with our current premium services into three new product offerings — Ning Pro, Ning Plus and Ning Mini.

Ning MiniThe simplest and fastest way to set up a social network for your classroom, community group, small nonprofit or family Ning PlusThe tools and features you need to build and grow a branded social network with high engagement – an incredible value at a great price Ning ProThe ideal solution for building a comprehensive social experience, including additional features, integration, support and bandwidth
$2.95/month

or $19.95/year* (save 44%)

$19.95/month

or $199.95/year* (save 16%)

$49.95/month

or $499.95/year* (save 17%)

Up to 150 members Unlimited members Unlimited members
Full control over your branding and member experience Full control over your branding and member experience
Features include blogs, photos, forum and video embeds Full feature set including events, groups, chat, pages and Ning Apps Full feature set plus video and music uploads and branded players
Simple customization options Advanced customization options including CSS, Javascript and the Language Editor Advanced customization options, plus the API access upgrade when launched
Includes run your own ads Includes run your own ads, use your own domain and remove Ning links Includes run your own ads, use your own domain, remove Ning links and add storage and bandwidth
Community-based support Help Center support Premium support

* One-time annual pricing

For full comparison of the three plans, click here.

Our pricing plans offer incredible value relative to our current Premium Services. For example, your Ning Network currently has the option to Use Your Own Domain, Remove Create Links, and Run Your Own Ads. You can take advantage of all of these services for about $55/month right now. With Ning Plus, you’ll be able to have them all for $19.95/month. We will also offer current Network Creators a one-time annual pricing discount that provides even greater value.

We also recognize that many small non-profit, family or other small group Ning Networks have limited budgets, and we value what you’ve created on Ning. For $2.95/month or $19.95/year, Ning Mini provides a powerful set of features to continue to grow and engage with your members — ad-free or with your own ads.

We’ve also heard from many Network Creators who use Ning in the classroom as an integral part of their curriculum. I am particularly excited to announce that a major education company will be sponsoring Ning Mini Networks for educators in primary and secondary education. Ning will remain free for K-12 educators and their students. We’ll have details on this program soon!

We will roll out Ning Pro, Ning Plus and Ning mini in July. Current Network Creators will have 30 days following the roll-out to decide which plan best fits their needs.  For Ning Creators using our free service who choose to move to another service, we will offer a simple way to export all of your content.

We know there’s a lot of questions, including how to choose a plan, when you can sign up and what happens if you don’t choose an option. That’s why we’ve created a place with all the details about this new offering, including details, a timeline and FAQs (also available in Spanish, here). I look forward to your feedback, both in the comments below and on Creators.

Engaging Your Members in Three Simple Steps

Member engagement happens when your members interact with you and with each other. Interaction includes posting or commenting on a blog, forum discussion, photo or video. It may take the form of becoming friends with another member, giving a gift or adding a comment to a profile. It’s all about participation.

Why It Matters

Member engagement is more than just social networking buzzwords. It’s the difference between a successful Ning Network and a stale Web site. It’s what makes your social network, well, social. And it’s about more than simply getting people to sign up.

Members who sign up once and then never come back — they don’t help your Ning Network in any way. Nor do members who sign up and then never post, choosing instead to simply read other peoples’ contributions. It doesn’t matter if there’s 100 members or 100,000 members. What matters is the number of members who are truly engaged.

Once you’ve maximized your member engagement, it creates a feedback loop: Your members post content, contribute to discussions and invite their friends. Their friends, in turn, do the same thing. It leads to more members on your Ning Network (and less work for you).

What You Get When Members Are Engaged

Having an active member base means more pageviews for your Ning Network, with leads to more ad revenue. Want some proof? Enrique Iglesias has more pageviews, with just over 30,000 members, than several Ning Networks that have more than 10 times that membership number. Why? Because his members are continually engaged with that’s going on.

Member engagement results in more members promoting your Ning Network to their friends, contacts and Twitter followers, which brings still more awareness to your Ning Network’s cause or topic. Engaged members really do act as evangelists for your Ning Network, helping to get the word out and promote it. It also means that, as a Network Creator, all the responsibility for contributing content doesn’t fall solely on you. And when issues arise between members, you can count on your most engaged members to help moderate your community.

Ready to Get Members Involved?

Whether you’re just getting started or your Ning Network is already up and running, everyone can use a healthy dose of new ideas.

First, create a hook. Second, make your main page work for you. And third, make your members the stars.

Ready to get started? Check out the new member engagement section on Creators. And then let us know how you are engaging your members in the comments below!

Now Live! Content Flagging on Ning Networks

Flagging

If you have an active Ning Network, you know that moderating the content added to your Ning Network can be an important part of making it a welcoming place. We’re happy to announce a new feature we think Network Creators are going to be very excited about: content flagging. With the new content flagging feature, you don’t have to go it alone when it comes to moderation. You can appoint members to flag — and hide — content that might be inappropriate and then decide for yourself whether questionable content belongs on your Ning Network. The idea is simple: Use the power of crowdsourcing and make the moderation of your Ning Network more efficient for everyone involved.

Once content is flagged, it will be invisible to visitors or regular members — essentially it will be marked as private. You can choose to leave it hidden, delete it or even reverse the flag and reveal it. It’s a great way to distribute moderation capabilities beyond your inner circle of administrators, but still maintain complete control over what content is ultimately removed.

By default, all Network Creators and Administrators will have this ability to flag content. So, if you’re perfectly happy with your current approach to moderation, you won’t need to change a thing. Otherwise, you can appoint a member to be a content flagger from their profile page.

Want to know more about content flagging? You can read all about it, ask questions or provide feedback on Creators.

Ning Network Creators: 10,000 Strong Contest

When we announced the launch of Ning Network Creators in November, we knew we’d be successful. We knew that many thousands of creative and helpful NCs would sign up to share advice and tips with other NCs, but whenever you launch something new, it’s hard to know how quickly it will grow and be adopted. Creators is four months old today, and we’ll soon be welcoming our 10,000th member. We’re delighted that Creators has been so warmly received and useful to everyone who’s joined.

To celebrate, we’re running another contest! We thought it would be fun to reward our 10,000th with a stylish Ning Timbuk2 bag and 10,000 Gift credits. Plus, if you’re a member of Creators and the winner mentions you or your Ning Network when they sign up for Creators, we’ll give you an identical prize. Read all about our 10,000 Strong Contest right here.

If you’ve created a Ning Network and you’re not yet a member of Creators, join us! It’s a great way to share tips and get advice from fellow Network Creators, and who knows? With our membership growing every day, you could be the lucky 10,000th winner.

Ning Creators is Live!

We’re excited to announce the launch of Ning Creators, a new public Network Creator Network designed to help you get the most out of your Ning Network.   As we first talked about here, we are thrilled to once again have a centralized place for Network Creators and us to help other Network Creators, talk through releases before they go live, and get immediate, candid feedback.  Here’s what you can expect when you join and participate in Ning Creators:

  • Learn best practices, lessons learned, and tips & tricks from other successful Network Creators.
  • Meet and collaborate with Network Creators who are facing similar challenges and have the same questions as you.
  • Get answers to questions, help with thorny problems, or constructive feedback on your Ning Network.
  • Find the most up-to-date, comprehensive product, release and incident information.
  • Give us feedback on releases, report bugs or other issues, and suggest improvements to the Ning Platform.

Ning Creators is also a great place for you to share what you’ve learned with newer Network Creators to help them build and grow their Ning Networks.

We’ve been testing out Ning Creators with several successful Network Creators who volunteered to help guide the direction and growth of Ning Creators, so there are already a number of active forum discussions and interesting blog posts up on the network.  Sign up and begin diving in!  Here’s a sample:

In order for you to get the most out of Ning Creators, we’ll need to work together to maintain a healthy environment where we can engage in respectful, constructive discussions.  Please read the Ning Creators Network Guidelines before signing up.  We are also limiting membership to active Network Creators.  And if you have any advice or suggestions for how to improve Ning Creators, please let us know.

We look forward to meeting you on Ning Creators!

John McDonald, VP of Advocacy and Support, is looking forward to spending some time on creators.ning.com!

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.

Making it easy to see who’s online again

Update: As we mention here, online indicators still need some tweaking and we’ve temporarily disabled them again.

We’re bringing the green icons on the Members page that show who’s online back to your Ning Network next Friday, August 7. We know how valuable these online indicators are for connecting with members who are online right now, and we’re excited about reintroducing them with some under-the-hood improvements. Once they’re live again, we’ll post to the Ning Status Blog. Thanks!

Apply the 4-Second Rule to your Ning Network

4 Seconds. That’s how long you have to wow people on your Ning Network (and any other website), according to multiple studies. Any longer than that, and you’ve lost your chance to win over a new member. With such a brief window to grab someone’s attention, the last thing you want is for your Ning Network to still be loading after 4 seconds.

As the gateway to the rest of your Ning Network, your Main Page needs to be particularly trim and speedy. A slow-loading Main Page means that people will abandon your Ning Network without discovering all the great content it has to offer. Based on the early data we’ve gathered so far, it’s clear that if you put too much stuff on your Main Page, you’re hurting the growth of your Ning Network. The trend that we’re seeing looks something like this (we’ll have some more detailed case studies soon):

BW-performance

Put simply, it’s the 4-Second Rule in effect. The good news is that there’s plenty you can do to limit the amount of content on your Main Page and focus on the things that count. We’ve put together a few basic guidelines that will kick your Ning Network into high gear.

Pick your favorite 3 or 4 embedded widgets and lose the rest.

An embedded widget is any piece of content loaded from somewhere else. These include YouTube videos, flash games, Twitter feeds, advertisements, PollDaddy widgets, and just about anything else you can think of.

While embedded widgets can add flavor to your Ning Network, try limiting the number to 3 or 4 on your Main Page if you’re looking to attract new members. Here’s why:

  1. Your Main Page will only load as fast as your slowest embedded widget. An embed that is slow or unavailable can block or severely delay the rest of your Main Page from loading. And when you’re pulling content from another website into your Ning Network, loading these foreign objects can take a lot of time.
  2. Embedded widgets are like small applications. If your embeds are not well-written, they will quickly use up the limited resources in your browser. This noticeably slows things down and can even cause your browser to crash.
  3. Even beautifully written embedded widgets can be heavy. A single flash player (SWF) will slow down your Main Page, even if it is a music player, video player, or photo slideshow built by Ning. Limit the number of SWFs you display on the Main Page.

For every embed on your Main Page, you should ask yourself how much value it adds to the member experience. If it’s critical, great. But if it is just nice to have, consider removing it if you’re looking to draw in more members. You can always keep a healthy rotation to keep things fresh. Another trick is to take a screenshot of an embedded widget, and hyperlink the screenshot to the widget itself on a separate page. This keeps things visually interesting without dragging down your Main Page.

Don’t forget — you have 4 seconds to impress your visitors. You’re going to do that by having a few great pieces of content — not by overwhelming them.

Choose the right display options for your features.

Limiting the number of embeds will go a long way, but you should also control the display options for your Ning features that appear on the Main Page. While we’re doing everything on our end to optimize the performance of your Main Page, the laws of physics dictate that if you go all-out with 20 features, your Ning Network will get slower.

Continue reading

New articles in the Ning Workshop

planning

A month ago, we launched a new feature in the Ning Help Center called Ning Workshop, which is a set of tutorials to aid you in creating a successful, vibrant, active social network. Since we launched the Workshop, we’ve added more tutorials including how to Use Google Analytics to track sign ups, how to create in-network FAQ or Help Center and how to add a store to your social network.

We also enabled the ability to download as a pdf and print out the Workshop. The Workshop functions well as individual tutorials but we’d heard from a few Network Creators that they wanted a physical copy of the whole thing to highlight and take notes. To get a copy yourself, head over to the Ning Workshop and click the PDF icon.

We’ll continue to add new articles so if there’s a tutorial you’d like to see or if you have feedback, we’d love to hear from you in the Ning Help Center.