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:
- Ning Apps on Network Homepages
- Content Archiver
- New Captcha, including Audio Captcha support, and new Framebusting controls
- New Member Sharing and Twitter/Facebook Controls
- New Spam Control and Member Verification features
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.
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.
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.
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.