Monthly Archives: May 2011

SheCon’11 and the trail-blazing women of the Web

Whenever I am surrounded by women of the Web, I am impressed with how they leverage new digital products and services to enrich their lives and to help other women succeed in digital channels. This spirit of innovation and collaboration was especially noticeable at SheCon’11 and defined the tone and the energy of the conference in Miami this May 20-22.

The event was packed with trail-blazing women like Eleanor Hoh, aka Wokstar, who is using her blog, Twitter profile and YouTube channel to teach people that cooking is easy and that, with a few basic wok lessons, you can prepare quick, healthy meals without even glancing at a recipe.

One of my favorite speakers was Rosie Pope, the pre- and post-natal fashion icon who’s now the star of Bravo TV’s hit Pregnant in Heels. Rosie explained how she is using her Facebook page, blog, Twitter and guest blogging opportunities to capitalize on her newfound fame and audience. She said that her Facebook page has allowed her “to design into her clientele versus dictating over them, “ which I think is a pretty profound change in how clothes being designed. She can clearly see that different demographics and people from different parts of the U.S. want different things from their maternity fashions.

I met Terry Wheatley, founder of #winesister of the @winesisterhood, and CMO/Partner at Canopy Management. Terry is a brilliant brand developer of wines; she is focused on community-building and she wants women to feel empowered while sharing a glass of wine. She spends a good portion of her marketing resources building the Wine Sisterhood following on Facebook and ensuring the Wine Sisterhood website is full of easy-to-read information on wine.

Terry organized a Sassy Suite each evening so that we could all meet, mingle and enjoy a few great wines with intriguing names like Rebel Red and Promiscuous while taking turns getting hand massages from a professional masseuse. (Yes, attending conferences is hard work.)

This is truly an amazing community of women. I’m grateful that we have both a physical community of SheCon events and a digital SheCon community on Ning to keep in touch and share information on the ways digital is helping us improve our lives. I’m proud to be a member of this community, and I strive to be a member who harnesses the power of digital not just to improve my own life but to enable other women to thrive. I hope all of you will reach out to me on the network on my profile.

SheCon official Ning Community

Rachel Masters is a partner and co-founder of Red Magnet Media. Before co-founding Red Magnet Media, Rachel was the Vice President of Strategic Relationships at Ning, a social networking platform with more than two million individual social networks. At Ning, Rachel managed over 300 branded social networks with partners like 50 Cent, Red Light Management and The Collective.

Updates on revamped Activity Feed and other Main Page improvements

A few weeks ago, we announced a project to make the Main Page of your Ning Networks more interactive and engaging. I’d like to share our progress with you.

Here’s a screenshot of the new Activity Feed in action, along with a Main Page status box:

There several things I’d like to highlight here:

  • Members can post a Status from the Main Page. If you uncheck “Status updates” in the Latest Activity controls, this box will disappear.
  • Activity Items have a new, cleaner UI that makes it easier for members to interact with content in the feed.
  • Videos are playable inline, and photo thumbnails are larger.
  • When you click “Continue” on a blog post, the post expands inline.

See how this Ning Network looks in comparison for a clear picture of the improvements.

We’re going to release this new and improved Activity Feed on a select number of Ning Networks very soon, and gather feedback and data on how people are using it. We’re also going to release it here on Creators, so you can get a feel for it from a member’s perspective.

In the meantime, we’re also working on these additional features:

  • Ability to like & comment inline on the Activity Feed
  • Ability to like & comment on statuses.

Screenshots and more details on those features to come.

I’d also like to call out that when we release the Activity Feed improvements to the Ning Platform, they will take effect on all Ning Networks. We’ll be posting more details in the coming weeks to ensure that you’re equipped with everything you need to take advantage of these new features and communicate them to your members.

Coming to Groups: Add Pages, change privacy settings and more

[Note: This release is now live.]

Groups are about to get a whole lot better.

Later next week, we’ll be rolling out a slew of improvements to the Groups feature, one of the most popular features on the Ning platform. We’re doing this based directly on feedback from Creators.

First, groups creators and administrators will be able to add static pages to a group. Added pages will be featured prominently on the group’s home page, which will make it easier to share knowledge or information with group members (or potential members).

Second, group creators and administrators will soon be able to change the privacy settings of an existing group. Today, privacy settings are locked and unchangeable when a group is created. You’ll soon be able to change this at will. We’ve also redesigned the privacy settings to be a lot easier to use and understand.

Lastly, we’re enhancing or fixing a slew of issues and flows within the Groups feature, including:

  • Adding “Alphabetical” as a way to sort groups on the list of groups on a Ning Network
  • Limiting group deletion privileges only to group moderators, network admins and Network Creators
  • New members of groups will no longer, by default, get notified when other people join their group
  • Better warning message for members viewing invite-only groups
  • Better warning message for members who’ve been suspended from a group

Keep reading for a full breakdown of what’s coming for Pages in groups and privacy settings.

Continue reading

Cannes we go to the movies?

Video content is a major way for us to get outside perspectives through stories and expand our imaginations. And people want access to this content anytime, anywhere. We’ve all seen the success of YouTube; Netflix recently announced it has 23.6 million subscribers globally, eclipsing U.S. cable juggernaut Comcast.

The much anticipated Cannes Film Festival just wrapped up and the lush event is a great reminder that film is a universal medium connecting us all. We see people passionate about films use Ning as the way to organize communities. If you weren’t able to jet-set to Cannes to catch a glimpse of Hollywood heavyweights or the next award-winning flick by Sofia Coppola, your escape is no further than the Ning community, attracts attendees and alumni of the Cannes Film Festival, film aficionados, and celebrity-seeking fans. In true Titanic style, it’s the tip of the iceberg for Ning communities surrounding heavy-hitter festivals around the world and global video projects. ÉCU, The European Independent Film Festival uses their community as a jumping board to discover, project and promote independent films produced from around the world.

While the glitz and glamour of Hollywood is ever-present, there’s a bustling video production community based south of the Mason-Dixon line: TarHeel Films. There, film industry professionals in the southeastern US use their digital water cooler to connect with filmmakers, cast and crew, job opportunities, local red-carpet events and industry news. Florida State University has its own film school network called FSU Film, were students and alumni share their digital portfolios, highlighting their creative endeavors and big-screen successes.

Today, the art of making a meaningful and influential movie can come from anyone with an eye for storytelling and creativity. This drive, intersecting with new low-cost technology and community organizers coming together, has democratized this concept. Film Makers Alliance and One Day on Earth both denote the importance of community-based collaboration. The end-result (or perhaps just the start) is unexpected, unique and one-of-a-kind works available to the masses.

Let us know what your community is creatively brewing—we can’t wait to see the things you’re supporting and inspiring!

One Day On Earth Trailer

Digital Summit and Mogwee

Earlier this week, I headed to Atlanta to discuss the past, present and future of mobile group communication for the Digital Summit.

Over the past several decades, there have been major technology cycles that have disrupted the mass market. From mainframe computing in the 1960s to the rise of the web in the 1990s, it’s been a crazy ride. So where are we now?

Social media and the explosion of mobile devices have changed the game drastically in the last five years. No longer is the speed of change measured in decades, but rather months. And we’ve really only scratched the surface of what’s possible.

Today, 40% of mobile time is spent on social networks, and a good portion of these services weren’t originally built with mobile devices in mind. Even more amazing is the predicted trend that within three years, mobile devices will be the primary way that most people interact with the Internet.

While some services have adapted well, many have not, and we think the time is right to re-think the way we communicate in a social and mobile world. Businesses looking to plant a flag in this emerging space must think mobile first, then extend from there.

Group SMS messages, email and existing services (IM, BBM, traditional social networks, etc.) are great, but they have do have some pain points as well. For example, group SMS responses are sent back only to the sender, email is not inherently real-time or mobile for all users, IM and social networking services require separate accounts and BBM is currently only available to users with BlackBerry devices.

To change this, we’ve set out to build a mobile app that’s built for mobile from the ground up, offers frictionless signups, is device-agnostic, offers both synchronous and asynchronous communication and allows group members to see replies from everyone else in the group. Something that’s easy to use, and above all, fun.

Enter Mogwee. We launched for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch earlier this year, and just released Android and Web versions as well. We’ve learned some great lessons along the way, and we’re just getting started.

If you’d like to stay plugged in to what we’re doing, please follow us on Twitter of become a fan of our Facebook page. Thanks!

Announcing the Spam Watchlist and other anti-spam tools

Later today, we’ll be releasing the Spam Watchlist — a new tool to help you fight spam.

This feature surfaces a list of people on your Ning Network that might be spammers, based on an algorithm that analyzes their content:

It’s totally up to you to take action (either to suspend for spam or whitelist as not a spammer). All the Spam Watchlist does is let you know who seems fishy. You’ll find it on your Members Moderation page, and you’ll only see a link when there are any members in the list.

The algorithm will get better as you and other Ning Creators interact with the Spam Watchlist — it learns as you either suspend or whitelist members who appear there. For that reason, we recommend giving it a few weeks to warm up. If you have any feedback on the feature, please let us know using the feedback link that appears on the Spam Watchlist page!

In addition to the Spam Watchlist, we want to help protect your Ning Network from profile comment spam, which we know is particularly annoying.

Today, along with the Spam Watchlist, we’re introducing a new checkbox that allows you to completely turn off profile comment emails. Obviously this is bad for engagement and not recommended, but we want to give you a last resort option in the event you’re seeing a lot of spam. You’ll find this option on your Email Settings page.

Additionally, in the next couple of weeks we’ll start scanning profile comments for spam as they are posted. When we see suspicious posts, we’ll be able to not trigger an email notification, or throw a CAPTCHA. We’ll have more details on that in the coming days.

Please let us know if you have any questions or thoughts.

Congratulations to our Ning Design Competition winners!

The results are in for the Ning Design Competition! Huge thanks go out to the design community for submitting 100+ entries. While there were only four winners, many of the submissions will also be considered for our upcoming Ning Theme Marketplace launch (stay tuned for details).

We’d also like to give a shout-out to our panel of judges for their help in determining the finalists.

Without further ado, here are the winners of our first-ever Ning Design Competition:

1st Place: Kreem Theme by John Lee (Crackpixels)
2nd Place: Lettercase by Rory McCawl
3rd Place: The Eighth Wonder of the World by Brendan Falkowski (Gravity Department)

We’re also excited to announce the winner for Community Favorite, which went out to the design receiving the most Like and Tweet votes:

Community Favorite Award: In Memoriam by Mario Benites

Mom 2.0 Summit and Ning’s place amongst “Mommy Bloggers”

I’ve attended many conferences, with major themes focusing on the music-tech community. Over the last 6 years, during the growth of social media and the expansion of community-building tools, I’ve observed recurring and like-minded questions asked by panelists from every background. Similar core issues arise amongst community creators and leaders. As niche intimate communities grow to bountiful online spaces where humans transcend physical boundaries and interact globally in meaningful ways, creators are asking:

What happens to the offline component? How does a community grow? What kind of space am I building? What’s it all for, anyway?!

Mom 2.0 Summit
I recently attended Mom 2.0 Summit in New Orleans. Marketers, Moms and Mums covered high-level concepts; the keynote from Abigail Disney and Lois Vossen united the audience as a powerful community, empowered by tools to “heal the world where you are.” As digital storytellers, the “mommy blogging” community is a powerful contingency and their energy is positively different; I knew I was in a room full of powerful and driven women, community creators, leaders and builders. They know what tools to use, and draw in amazing sponsors like Whirlpool. Not only did I want the washer/dryer on display at Mom 2.0 Summit, I knew I wasn’t going to end up simply teaching these women how to craft an “@ reply” on Twitter.

The Four Questions
Among a list of amazing speakers, Laney Whitcanack and I ran a workshop, Building Community or Building Business: A Blueprint for Creating Space.

In the music space, we often discuss the union between offline communities at live music events with online music communities. Many artists are trying new things to bring content online, but the live music online/offline space has yet to be conquered. Many of the moms I met in New Orleans expressed similar disconnections within their own communities. Together, Laney and I helped community leaders discover answers to this by going through a few exercises while shying away from mentioning any specific tools. We asked four questions of community leaders:

What is the purpose of your community?
What kind of space do you want it to be and what do you want from it?
Secret Sauce: What are you doing to help participants disclose, share, and follow information?
What is the structure of the community?

In a fast hour, we drew Venn diagrams, learned about a community of teachers sharing information online, and a community focusing on bountiful friendships between Muslim and Jewish Americans. We tried to focus mostly on answering the questions without relying on the preference of one social tool over another, but it was impossible to ignore the benefits of Ning and the benefits a community creator enjoys by choosing Ning’s platform. A creator might want to build a “living room” with a forum, or a “community recreation center” using Ning groups. Because they adapt so easily to growth, Ning’s products enable the “secret sauce” necessary to help participants disclose, share and follow information. Ultimately the creator must make regular decisions about the environment and is empowered to grow large spaces filled with people from around the world for distinct purposes. For our workshop, we reviewed what tools are best and for what purpose, and purposely focused on growth, space, and creative communication, all of which are fully enabled by Ning. It felt great to be there, knowing that these conversations were not future tripping – we were talking about what community leaders and creators can do right now. It dawned on me during the workshop that Ning speaks the language of a worldwide web; within the right space, any community can transcend spoken word.

The gap between online and offline communities can be tough to bridge. In music, the common activity is obvious; music fans go to shows offline. But moms have many common interests, ranging from teaching to aerospace engineering. While the communities grow en mass online, at the conference there was a strong desire to unite offline, too. One way to bridge this gap is to find leaders in a community who want to take on specific regions and organize activities to drive engagement, such as posting great content from activities for the rest of the community to experience. With Ning groups and calendars, this strategy is easy to execute. In the end, the number one question that must be revisited every 12-18 months: What is the purpose of my community?

Show Mom The Money
One unanticipated and recurring question raised: How do you monetize? The growth and popularity of “mommy blogging” communities built from the heart is incredible. And the thirst for these communities is ever-present. This leads to a conundrum—time needed to manage and money to support these mom epicenters. And that’s where choosing the right tool does play a role in community building decisions; this is where Ning shines. Having full control over if and where advertisements appear in online communities, or ways to incorporate guerilla advertising in an authentic way becomes incredibly powerful and attractive to advertisers and people trying to reach community members. Additionally, people are willing to pay a premium for valuable and useful content they can digitally access. Going back to the bridge between online and offline, branded merchandise and fundraising add true value to any social destination by making the online community more tangible, real. Giving a real value to your community makes it, well, priceless.

Corey Denis is VP of Digital Marketing at TAG Strategic, a digital entertainment consulting firm. She has been pioneering digital music marketing since 1999. She also founded Not Shocking, working with clients like SoundExchange, Michael Tilson Thomas, IRIS Distribution, Inu and Todd Fancey.

Intern Spotlight! Cole Ott

In a few weeks, we’re kicking off the quarter by welcoming our Summer 2011 class of engineering interns to Ning HQ. Hailing from colleges across the US, our interns spend their summers coding, working on projects of interest and enjoying life out in the San Francisco Bay Area. They’ll have the chance to dive into Ning’s production code and we’re looking forward to seeing the things they ship to our nearly 100,000 customers using the Ning Platform and their millions of members! In the meantime, Cole Ott, a senior from Dartmouth College has been with us for the past few weeks and we wanted to highlight his experiences thus far interning at Ning!

Name: Cole Ott
College & graduation year: Dartmouth College, 2012
Majors: Computer Science, Mathematics
Hometown: Manhattan Beach, CA
Hobbies & fun facts: I do a fair amount of digital art and cartooning (see self-portrait). I also like film, concert-going, and friendly banter.

What drew you to Ning and its internship program?
I wanted a small, lightweight company where I, as an intern, would get to work with large-scale problems, and Ning fit that bill. Plus social networking’s an interesting space, and I wanted to try Northern California on for size, since in this industry it’s pretty likely I’ll end up in the area.

What’s been your initial experience at the company so far and what’s an example of something you’re working on?
I’m having a great time. I’ve already learned a ton, and I’m getting to work on interesting projects—not some totally quarantined intern playground.

I’ve been primarily working on the data pipeline. My mentor, Pierre, wrote a post last year explaining how the analytics team has been using Scribe for their event collector. Well, I’m actually moving the collectors away from Scribe and the Thrift protocol, as well as adding a handful of other improvements for speed and scalability. The bulk of what I’m doing is actually open-source, so if you have an appetite for code you can take a look at my github to see part of what I’ve been doing here.

What’s it like living and working in Silicon Valley and California?
Having restlessly spent the last few years in Middle of Nowhere, New Hampshire, I was itching for something urban and a little worried that Silicon Valley would feel too sleepy. Luckily I was wrong. I’m loving Palo Alto and haven’t had a boring week here yet. Plus San Francisco’s more accessible than I anticipated. I’m really hoping to wind up in the area again after graduation next year.

What’s something you enjoy about being at Ning?
It’s big enough that there seems to be a lot going on, but small enough that everyone gets exposure to what the other groups are doing. This is particularly great for someone like me, who isn’t quite sure what types of problems they want to work on a few years down the line. Plus the people and location are both great, and the tasty, free food doesn’t hurt.

What advice can you give to other interns starting soon?
Ask questions. In my first week I was entirely intimidated by all the new technologies I was working with and didn’t ask nearly enough questions. I’ve learned my lesson, and now I’m a question-asking machine.

You can also see the pulse of our engineering team on our Ning Operations and Engineering blog. We also just announced that we’re looking for an Awesome Design Intern for the summer to join our Marketing and Communications team. Interested in being part of the action and joining us? Check out, apply and be a part of what’s next. We look forward to hearing from you!

We’re looking for an Awesome Design Intern: Is It You?

We’re looking for a design intern that will help create stunning themes for the Ning Design Studio and show the world how awesome social websites should look. Your work will be on display for tens of thousands of Ning Creators and millions of users across the globe. You will also be a key part of the design team, helping develop the themes for sites like Thisis50, Linkin Park and Twilight Saga.

In addition to what you’ll learn during your internship, this opportunity comes with a little something extra:

  • Money (this is a paid internship!)
  • A housing allowance during your internship
  • All the great perks that come with working at Ning, including free snacks and lunch every day
  • A chance to work with some of the best and brightest in Silicon Valley
  • A FREE trip to New York City to have dinner with world renowned designers including Dan Cederholm (Dribbble and SimpleBits), Brian Hoff (The Design Cubicle), Ethan Marcotte (Speaker and Author of Handcrafted CSS), Elliot Jay Stocks (Author of Sexy Web Design and 8 Faces Magazine), Khoi Vinh (Former Design Director at The New York Times), Luke Wroblewski (Author of Web Form Design and Former Chief Design Architect at Yahoo)

The stakes are high. To qualify, you need to be a visual design guru with skills in HTML / CSS and hungry for learning new technologies. It would certainly help if you have a few of the following skills in your back pocket as well:

  • Strong visual design skills (share a link to your portfolio, please)
  • Experience with production web design tools (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc)
  • Aspiration to make all design experiences beautiful – whether that’s on the web, on paper, at an event, or in a PowerPoint presentation
  • Extra brownie points for illustration, typography, iconography / infographics experience

Only ONE candidate will be selected as the Awesome Design Intern. If you think you have what it takes, apply for the position now.

Good luck!