Changes to Ning.com – a Rationale

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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?

The goals of Ning.com – as a distinct hub separate from Ning Networks – are threefold:

1. Enable people to create new Ning Networks for their interests and passions.

2. Enable Network Creators and members of Ning Networks to quickly and easily see and manage their Ning Networks (from the Ning Networks tab).

3. Enable Network Creators and members to update their settings across their Ning Networks (from the Settings tab).

These were and remain the top goals of Ning.com. Last spring, we also released a simple cross-Ning Network activity feed as well as a member profile and view into friends across Ning Networks. Our goal with these features was to drive activity into Ning Networks from Ning.com.

With anything we do, we look to measure the feedback and usage around features to determine where we invest our energies to make Ning awesome.

With Ning.com’s activity feed, member profiles and friends views, we found the following:

1. These features weren’t being used. Interestingly, we had less traffic on Ning.com after making the updates than we had with the prior version. That’s going in the wrong direction and so it didn’t make sense for us to invest further.

2. In the small number of cases where they were being used, they were primarily used by people doing bad things. Like any Internet service, a small minority of people use the power of the service in a way that breaks not only the Terms of Service, but the law. No one puts baby in the corner when it comes to the law. When we saw the patterns of usage — especially in search queries — on Ning.com (as separate from Ning Networks), it was primarily to enable a small group of people to move from illegal network to illegal network. Given finding #1, it seemed unnecessary to continue to invest in these.

So, we made the difficult but important decision to remove these features and invest our energies into better discovery of popular Ning Networks by category and context on Ning.com. That’s coming soon.

What’s next for Ning.com?

The focus of Ning.com moving forward will be on Ning Network discovery that connects prospective members to popular Ning Networks that might be a good fit based on their interests and passions. We’ll be launching the first feature in this arena shortly and then expand it with new — and hopefully even more interesting and useful — ways of connecting people to Ning Networks for the things that are most important in their lives.

A note on communication…

As you guys noticed, we made the decision not to announce this redesign ahead of its launch. Our rationale for this decision was that (a) Ning.com was not core to the usage and business of Ning Networks and (b) we didn’t want to tip off the people doing bad things that this change was coming. It wasn’t an easy decision, especially after our commitment to notify you about changes to your Ning Network. This was a unique situation where there was a legitimate reason for taking this path, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

Thanks for your flexibility and support of these changes. We really appreciate it. For those of you who aren’t supportive of these changes, that’s understandable too. It always sucks when a service takes away a feature you were happily using, regardless of how few people were using it. At the very least, this hopefully this gives you a bit more background and insight behind this decision.

Thanks!

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42 thoughts on “Changes to Ning.com – a Rationale

  1. Jennie Doran

    I think you guys do a wonderful job and the site is great. I’m sure it’s tough to make everyone happy, but it seems to me you all continue to work toward maintaining a truly awesome network. Thank you!
    Jennie @ printjunkie.net

  2. Russell

    No one puts baby in the corner when it comes to the law

    ^^ LOL

    Great post.. I think ning.com’s traffic dropped sharply because of the removal of NetworkCreators (I could be wrong) – i don’t care either way.

    It is obvious that you guys experimented with something and it did not work out well so you are now back to your old roots. I am all for experimenting so no need to put your head down for that!

    This is an OLD SCHOOL-type Gina B post that I haven’t seen in a long while – it’s great to have y’all back.

  3. Michele Yamazaki

    Very cool Gina. What we are really wanting is HD video. Is that anywhere in the pipeline anytime soon? Thanks!

  4. Laura Oppenheimer

    Hi Michele,

    That’s a great question. We’re exploring the the idea of adding HD video as a premium service, but this probably wouldn’t be until the beginning of the new year.

    Thanks!

  5. Jim McCluskey

    Michelle,
    I’m feeling really lost here, and wondering how I might search Ning to find social networks to join. I don’t see a search box and searching help doesn’t bring up any useful information when I use the terms “join a network”. Does the new interface depend on people finding Ning social networks by using a search engine?

    Thanks!

  6. Laura Oppenheimer

    Hi Jim,

    While we focus on building out a better network discovery, we’ve removed search from Ning.com. You could definitely use a Google or Yahoo search to look for a new Ning Network to join. We also highlight some of the best ones we come across on the Ning Blog. Stay tuned to the blog, as we’ll have more info here when the new network discovery tools are ready.

  7. Mike

    I’ve got another great question, instead of doing major updates to ning.com for all of 2009 and just releasing fluffy minor updates to our networks.. How about you add facebook connect to our networks? And also a bunch of other things that have been in the “works” forthe past 2 years.. Like reoccuring events.. Something that is easy to do and also, something that everyone wants.. Thanks 🙂

  8. Mike

    hang on.. i take back my cruel words.. i just saw that your updating the RSS FEEDS! YESSSSSSSSSSSS! thank you 🙂

  9. GV Minuteman

    I have been reading lately a lot of slick hype and marketing mumbo jumbo from Ning about the supposed “improvements” to its networks that have been made, but for me the effects have been disastrous. As a member of nearly 200 Ning networks, with nearly 1200 friends, I now can no longer see any new friend requests, group invitations, or messages that I’ve received on my Ning home page. How is this an improvement? I had come to rely on those daily updates as the only sane and efficient way to manage the activity on my networks; I simply do not have the time to log into each one on a daily basis, in a hit-or-miss fashion, hoping to find some new activity directed at me. I have purposely NOT opted for personal notifications into my personal webmail address, as it is already overloaded; instead, I chose to receive the notifications on my personal Ning home page. Now, with Ning’s new “improvements” you have severely hampered any meaningful participation by me in the Ning networks to which I belong. There has been a lot of chatter on several Ning networks about setting up alternate websites elsewhere, and some have already implemented those changes. I can now see why this has become necessary, as you have basically rendered my Ning membership worthess.

  10. Pamylle

    I appreciate the explanations for your changes, and why your perspective is what it is. But there will always be more users than Ning-leaders ! Think of US.

    I believe it is usually a bad move to take away features. The reason the main Ning profile page was not well-utilized is because most people didn’t realize it was there ! Once I discovered it, it was VERY helpful. I could find out which other networks like-minded friends belonged to. By having a “master” Ning friend list, I avoided many duplicate communications. All my invitations were in one spot. This decision has affected my Ning experience in a most negative & inconvenient manner. I may drop out of many of my Networks because they will be far less easy to manage. Egad folks, you could have just ADDED this Ning Blog business to the mix.

    As far as it being used in a bad way, we all know that people wishing to do mischief or harm will use anything at hand to do so.

    I do appreciate Ning, and respect you all, but I am very, very disappointed.

  11. Fabiana Kubke

    I am not clear as to what is the rationale of removing the feeds from the individual networks onto the main pages. This was a brilliant feature that avoided having to log in to each individual network just to see if any activity had happened. Is there no plan of reincorporatign that feature into the new design?

  12. daone7777

    I am happy you made these changes, but when are we really going to get an update that changes the game, i.e. an API that allows us to create or connect remote users on our NING network or have on the fly language switching. I admit having a NING ID makes it easy to join “other NING networks” but what we need are real world integration solutions beyond pictures, videos and RSS feeds. Facebook realized this a long time ago, and I can’t understand why NING hasn’t?

    How can any community really go global with one language, how can a company with an existing web presence seamlessly integrate their user database or create users on their NING community beyond a wordpress blog.

    I feel that these are the things that would put NING on another level. I think NING is powerful, stable, looks great, works well and is the best solution for those wanting to create a community..which is why I chose NING as my platform but it’s time to give us something that we can really use and allow us to step outside of these NING walls.

  13. Virginia Small

    I think it was a bad thing to remove the means of finding networks. I hope you put it back.

    It would also be a good idea to provide an email so people can contact you. Right now one has to sign in and provide a link to a network in order to ask a question or make a comment. This makes no sense. A comment or question may have nothing to do with a particular network.

    If there is a way of contacting you without becoming a member or finding the right blog, forgive me. I couldn’t find it.

  14. Virginia Small

    …also, there is no navigation on many of the pages that let me ger back to my settings.

    Also, I seem to need to sign in each time I want to make a comment.

  15. froizi

    Hi there,

    I’m new here and trying to work out how I can view the different networks already here. I have a number of topics I’d like to network about, but would rather see what’s already here before I launch another and “re-invent the wheel” so to speak.

    Can someone please tell/show me where I can find the directory of networks or groups here?

    Many thanks, Simon

  16. Denise Lindstrom

    I very frustrated with the removal of the search feature to find Ning created networks. A google search is a very frustrating process and often not productive.

  17. sfkaos

    As a brand new Ning user (as of 10 minutes ago) I have to say I am very disappointed with both the usability and lack of discoverability on your site. In reading your ‘rationale’ I quickly realized that the decision to remove certain basic user functionality favors existing users with a large network and wholly ignoring new users of the site. The inability to search current ning networks to join (especially after trying and failing to create a new network that already exists) is in perfect opposition to your claim to allow users to ‘join and create new social networks’. A simple interface to allow a simple search of networks could easily suffice.

    I do realize that decisions had to be made in order to streamline the site in a direction that focuses more on the real intent of the site – however, if your ‘direction’ involves retaining and attracting users to ning.com it is my opinion that the new design misses the target entirely.

  18. Gina Bianchini Post author

    sfkaos,

    Thanks for the feedback, especially as a new user. You don’t know how rare that is and it is much appreciated.

    The 90 million unique people (by IP address) around the world per month using the Ning Platform spend their time on Ning Networks, not on Ning.com. Our focus is on Ning Networks which span both small, private Ning Networks as well as large, public ones. We don’t discriminate there, but it’s why if you coming to Ning.com there isn’t that much to do beyond creating and managing Ning Networks today.

    As I talked about in my post, we’ll be adding better Ning Network discovery to Ning.com shortly. We’re pretty excited about the direction we’re taking discovery from here and look forward to sharing it with you.

    So, I’d ask you to stay tuned, but I can also appreciate that Ning won’t be for everyone. Your perspective is still appreciated!

  19. Lance

    1. Our groups did not like change from numbers to “Previous, NExt, last.”
    2. The group can not be searched from the Ning home page any more.

  20. mommypie

    So, did Ning REALLY remove page numbering?!?!? Can you explain the rationale behind this? I cannot tell you how many emails from incredibly upset members I’ve received. Not only is it a hindrance to members (my site is particularly reliant upon the Photos tab), but to me, the network creator. When I want to resend an invitation to members who joined two weeks ago (something I do every day), I have to now go page, by page, by page to find them? Seriously?

    PLEASE bring back the numbered pages, I’m BEGGING you.

  21. Deb Wisniewski

    Hi –

    A few commnents…

    I just want to join the chorus asking for some sort of search/discovery button soon – I’ve been trying to track down some particular ning networks and having a harder time doing this since you took away the search.

    Also, I liked the feed into my personal account from all the networks I belong to… it was very handy.

    one more question… I sign onto my Ning account and all the icons appear that I belong to. When I click on an icon, it automatically takes me to that network. so far, so good. So why do I need to re-enter my information when I go to a private Ning? I’ve signed in once already? It seems like an extra step that’s not needed.

    Just wondering…

  22. Laura Oppenheimer

    Hi MommyPie,

    We just did an update for pagination. You’ll now see what page you are on, in addition to the “previous” and “next” buttons. See here for more info and to provide feedback on the update.

    Thanks!
    Laura

  23. Nathalie

    Holey moley. I am totally amazed. Totally bewildered. After having a heart attack when I couln’t find the search Ning function I turned to this blog post thinking “surely they wouldnt dump that feature?!” But now reading I see that you have! WHYYYYY ????
    Why wouldn’t you leave it in until the new discovery tools are ready?

    I have just come off a weeks worth of conference speeches, meetings and general rants promoting the use of Ning within the community/charity/nonprofit sector.

    I push the use of this platform like my life depended on it!

    Organisations I work with are perfectly placed to create great social networks using the Ning platform. Why don’t they? Because they dont get the value of it. What’s the quickest way to convert a non-believer? Get them to join a ning of something that interests them? How do they find that? By using the search.

    And so now I dont have anything to work with. Shame.

    I am sure you will see an increase in the number of new networks created – but you can bet most of them will be low quality duplicates of existing ones. And when your new user finds out that they have just invested a whole lot of time to reinvent the wheel you can bet they will be pretty annoyed.

    Better go now – just off to create a food enthusiasts social network. Its my new passion – weird that nobody else has created a network for food lovers?! Or wait maybe they have… and I just cant see it?

  24. Heidi

    I used the original search feature to find the networks I’ve joined and found it completely fascinating searching all the networks. This I thought one day would help me decide whether to start my own social network because I could see what else was out there.

    I was just about to refer Ning onto someone and was stumbling around searching for the search bar and typing into Google search “how do I search social communities on Ning” and searching your Help questions when I saw this… I do remember searching when I originally found Ning and having a great time doing so – in fact that’s why I joined the communities I joined!

    I can’t refer it on now because the reason I was going to send it on was to help the person find communities that fit with their interests because when I discovered the social networks out there it was so inspiring and reassuring there were so many folks interested in things I was interested in… hope the old search comes back or new search/discovery tool you mention comes very very soon!

  25. Rachael Vincent

    Couldn’t agree more with all the voices about the search function.

    And it sounds from your initial blog as if the ‘discovery’ tool will somehow be predictive based on already identified needs, interests etc. But surely, especially for newcomers, a search function on a new, not yet specified, interest is essential for all the reasons outlined by these sensible people above?

    I also agree about the query as to why we need to log in again to get to a network we already belong to (mentioned above).

    And it sounds as if the feature to feed new material from a diversity of networks to which you already belong being taken away is a serious loss indeed.

    We are just assessing ning as a possible place to build a new community for our non-profit and I am starting to wonder just how reliable the service is going to be.

  26. Annmarie

    I’m new to “Ning” and am entirely confused as to the fact that there’s no way for me to actually search for networks to join?? I just stumbled upon one last night here locally; liked what I saw and tried to find more in my field of interest to join and spent 3 hours trying to find a way to search for networks (or groups within networks) to no avail. Are people just supposed to “stumble upon” (no pun intended) Ning networks with no search engine to get there??

  27. Alain

    I’ve been promoting the heck out of Ning to local non-profits as the platform for creating social networks. By dropping the search network function all they have to go on is my word and the few clumsy demos I cobbled together. I really don’t understand the rationale behind the decision. Every service provider out there has to deal with “bad people” and they don’t do it by reducing functionality and alienating their biggest fans. Either get the Networks directory function up VERY quickly or expect a mass migration. I am really disappointed and very frustrated.

  28. Sandra Rea

    You took away the ability for people to search for networks they like and want to be a part of. Or am I just not understanding you? I used to recommend Ning to clients. Now there is no way unless I recommend only the networks to which I belong. That was a dumb move. I don’t know of the abuse you mention in your blog, but this was not a good move. I loved some of your networks, but unfortunately I didn’t jot them down and cannot remember the URLS. I have no clue as to why a company would do something so … well … dumb. It was possibly the most counter productive move I’ve seen in a long time. If you don’t put the directory function back in place very soon, I don’t see much point in recommending Ning. We’ve already begun looking elsewhere. In my opinion, whoever made this decision really screwed up. Wow. And also for the record, not all of my networks are even showing up, so good job there, too.

  29. Duane B Thomas

    ..wow, just when I had University students throughout the state excited about joining worldwide networks and forming their own, Ning now lacks a search feature, which is the precise tool that attracted me to Ning networks. Disappointing in many ways, more so, in the lack of education students will receive by restricting their movements and collaborations.

    Note to Ning: vast advancements in technology have occurred when working with others in an open environment, not a closed environment, of which Ning has become as the students feel like a boat in the ocean not knowing who else is sailing the seas.

  30. mg

    I did not receive any warning or info that these changes were going to happen. I had some people on a friends list who no longer belong to the same ning network I belong to. I don’t know how I am suppose to find them now.

    I have been wondering if I somehow deleted my ning friends list.

  31. James(Blackcrow)

    I’m sorry but am I in the minority here who think this stinks. I cannot access my friends list to edit it and so when people ignore my friends requests and clog up my allowance I have to trawl through 70 plus networks to find the culprits, very time consuming and completely unecessary.
    I cannot invite my friends to join my network so what is the point of starting one?

    This is the most stupid idea Ning have had yet and there is nothing in your blog which actually explains it. Sorry I am not such a fan as the rest seem to be but I just do not get why you have made it so utterly difficult to invite people to a new network and to edit our friends list.

  32. iDiver

    I can understand why you done this, I came in at the time when you made the change and I never really used it anyway. I can see how some people miss the feature given the fact that they network through tens and hundreds of networks individually. I have four Networks, one with full premium services and working on the other three.

    Just a question though. If folks were doing things illegally why didn’t you just ban them from using the platform? We don’t have the feature yet but I think the way to go would be to allow Network Creators the option to Ban an IP Address and not just suspend a member. This would make it a lot harder for the nefarious elements to continue and allow us to enjoy the full range of search dependent features.

    Just a thought.

    Cheers, great job by the way and all the best for 2010.
    iDiver.

  33. Ross

    Sorry to add to the noise but I agree with many people here regarding the removal of the search function. Seems like a really basic requirement, and one that would exist nicely alongside a more social ‘discovery’ type system.
    Here’s my vote for the re-instating of a basic search box 🙂

  34. Demet

    I completely agree with everyone here about the necessity of search tool box!! I was shocked when I went to the Ning main page and could not find any way to seach the communities that might be interesting to me. I find it really difficult to understand how users are going to come together in social networks if they cannot find the network they are looking for. Also before creating new one, one might like to know if there is a good social network already on the topic they want to create.

    I also agree about the sign on feature complains everybody posted here. I found it so many times frustrating to be asked to sing in each time going from one network to other network. I believe one time sign in feature that would allow one to navigate different sites and edit info would be much more user friendly.

    I hope we can have these changes soon. Especially having the search box. I believe there would be a serious activity decrease in Ning if users cannot search the networks. 🙁

  35. PHYLLIS

    Is there any chance you will have free or discounted Ning service for educators?????? Am so hoping this will be possible–see my open Ning for how much students are getting out of this platform–they love it as they can own it in a better way than other services like blogger!

    thanks
    Phyllis
    laguardia community college
    NYC

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