Author Archives: alexei

Walk It Like Ye Talk It!

Yarrr!As Talk Like A Pirate Day draws to a close, we’re all parlayed out. I’ve avasted myself into exhaustion, and I’ve no arrrs left for any sailor. Besides, there’s a big difference between just talking like a pirate and living like one. Where can a salty dog get some excitement?

For those of us who want to take baby steps toward swashbuckling, our own Jon Aquino has produced the delightful Make Your Own Adventure. He describes it as “an interactive, collaborative novella in the form of a social web app.” In other words, it’s a adventure story in which everyone can not only explore, but contribute as well. His supplied example features a creaky ship in treacherous waters – perfect for the day!

Even better, the app’s designed to be cloned; if you fancy starting a new story from scratch (about, say, pirates in space!) just hit the Get Your Own! tab in the Ningbar. If you spin a particularly fine yarn or want some assistance with a work in progress, share it in the comments of this post. We can’t promise that everyone will keep your story on tack, but it’s bound to take some interesting directions…

A Chat with Benjamin Wilkoff, School Teacher

One aspect of Ning about which we’re keenest is the facility it provides for people to go from merely consuming to creating. We call it the Ning Playground because it’s a forum for the best attributes of play: experimentation, creativity, and most of all, fun. Benjamin Wilkoff is a teacher who’s using some of Ning’s playful aspects to give his students a place to to experiment with reading and writing online. He’s also taking advantage of Ning’s easy app creation to rapidly produce a variety of educational resources for his local district. In this conversation I asked him about the many ways he uses online services to assist in his teaching, and how his students have thrived as a result.

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A Chat with Rob Mowery

Robert MoweryRob Mowery has been an active user, developer and advocate for Ning going back almost all the way to our launch late last year. Not only has he created a whole load of Apps, but he regularly sends us great tips about the new technologies we should be investigating. I spoke to him about his many and varied apps, music-teaching software and what he’d like to see Ning do next.

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Welcome Aboard, PHP Community!

PHP Community banner

PHP Community is the new home for a friendly and varied bunch of PHP coders who’ve been floating around together on the net for a while. In the past they’ve written their own magazine and hosted blogs; now they’re checking out Ning and our Group App as a replacement for their old site. So far, they seem pretty happy with it! The community is open, so feel free to go join it. You can also chat with them on their IRC channel, #phpc on Freenode.

The app was created by experienced PHP programmer and writer Ben Ramsey. He’s also created another Ning App for PHP hackers eager to play with the forthcoming Zend Framework. We at Ning think this is fantastic – not only are we big fans of Zend’s work, but we contributed a chunk of code as well.
We’ll be integrating the framework with the Ning Playground soon after the final version is released. In the meantime, you can clone Ben’s app ZendFW and start exploring in advance.

Update: The Zend Devzone‘s Cal Evans has posted a short chat with Ben Ramsey about his Ning experiments.

A Chat with Ivan Bueno, Creator of Girl On Girl

Ivan Bueno

Shortly after Ning debuted in October, one user-created app rapidly established itself as the most popular on the system. That it took several months to unseat it was not a major surprise. Girl On Girl mixes the addictive simplicity of This Or That with several hundred female celebrities, but it doesn’t end there. As well as being Ning’s first big user-created hit, it was also the first Ning App to be heavily customized by its owner.

Ivan Bueno didn’t just add content; he rewrote the detail page code to automatically pull information from Wikipedia, Flickr and Amazon. That’s why it’s spawned over 150 new apps, including Player On Player for soccer fans, the remarkably-popular Citroen Battle and the inevitable Sexiest Man.

Ten months after it first appeared, Girl On Girl still sits comfortably amongst our most popular Apps. Now seems as good at time as any to see how things are going on the inside…

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What does “100% Programmable” mean?

As we’ve taken you through Ning’s latest features, we’ve repeatedly said that your Ning App is 100% programmable. What we mean is that if you want control, you’ve got it. The Apps we’ve created are varied and full-featured enough that most people clone, customize and use them happily without ever needing to dive into code. The difference between us and other web app services is that we give you the tools to do as much tweaking and building as you want. If there’s any feature in your App that you don’t like, you can change or get rid of it. If there’s something you want to enhance or add, you can do that too.

The new Ningbar with its customizability is just one feature in your App to control. Our URL rewriting tools and domain mapping premium feature give you total mastery over your App’s URLs. Our super-powerful open API gives you complete read-write access to content, user profiles and metadata across the whole of Ning. And with the full capabilities of PHP and Javascript at your disposal, with our own extra tools and built-in features on top, you’re limited only by your imagination.

You can find all the information you need in our Developer Documentation – have a wander through the tabs at the top of the page and you’ll see that it’s jam-packed with tips, examples and reference information. We also regularly give out useful nuggets in our Tech Blog. If you’ve got a question or have a great tip to share, join the growing community at our Developer Discussion Board. If you need an answer fast, jump onto the IRC channel.

I’ll say it again: you don’t have to write a line of code to create and run cool Apps on Ning. But 100% programmability means that we open up amazing possibilities for innovation and diversity, for a million ideas that we haven’t thought of. It means that we won’t stop you taking your Apps in whichever directions you want them to grow.

A Chat with Stephen Paul Weber

Barely a week goes by without Stephen Paul Weber (username singpolyma) popping up on our radar screens with yet another cool tool he’s hacked together using Ning, Javascript, XML, RSS, duct tape and string. Tools for bloggers? Folksonomy explorers? Javascript code stores?

Not only has he built it all, he’s usually done his coding over a low-bandwidth line from Africa. Stephen’s work demonstrates that Ning’s not just useful for cloning existing apps – it’s great for getting your own code projects up and running fast. He recently showed off his nifty feed-parsing library in a guest post on our Tech Blog – now it’s time to meet the man behind the code.

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Juicy new Developer Features!

This weekend saw our eager-beaver engineering and operations teams roll out another release of the Ning Playground. The front-end differences are fairly small this time, but there are quite a few of them: for example, the Ningbar’s easier to get around with “Back” button support and a dedicated user search on the “People” panel. Other bits of user interface have been tightened up: you can now remove people from your friends list without blocking, and the “Compose Message” form is smarter too.

We also have some nifty goodies for developers: the new logical OR operator gives more power to your Content Store queries, as does the ability to use a friends list as a filter. Best of all, apps can now receive email and process photos and movies from MMS messages. For first sight of docs and examples for these features, subscribe to our Tech Blog if you haven’t already. Not only do we post the latest developer info there, it’s a constant source of tips and wisdom on all aspects of Ning App development – so dive in!

Timeliner and the Build-To-Clone Model

Here’s a little app I cooked up recently: Timeliner. It’s based on a gorgeous Javascript widget produced by the SIMILE Project at MIT. (Thanks to Rob Mowery for pointing it out – he sends us all kinds of goodies, that man.) It’s a very basic proof of concept that just makes it easy to add events on a timeline and share it. Try clicking on events, or grabbing the timeline and dragging it around – nifty, eh?

What makes it a little different from most web apps, however, is the way in which you add to it. If you want to create your own subject timeline to mix in with the others, you don’t use the Timeliner app itself. Instead, you hit “Get Your Own!” and clone the Timeliner app to create a new timeline, which you can tweak to your heart’s desire. The
main Timeliner app acts as an aggregator that queries across the whole of Ning for any timeline events and displays them all together. By providing extra context for historical events, timelines are great for showing the value of layering data from different sources.

It’s a new way to build apps, made possible by the “Get Your Own!” button. On Wednesday, during his keynote speech at the O’Reilly Open Source Convention, Tim O’Reilly talked about Ning – specifically, what we bring to the sphere of web application development with the concept of cloning. By coincidence, I gave a talk on this very topic the day before Tim’s: you can watch a seven-minute Flash version of the talk here.

One of the reasons I created Timeliner was to demonstrate a new model for web apps. Building apps for cloning allows each user to take control of their own app interface and features while still joining in with everyone else. People can further clone from each others improvements, which means that the app features collaboratively evolve. Ning is among the first platforms to take this new model and apply it to web applications, and our Playground’s a great place to explore it.

A Chat with the “Amy’s Robot” Team

Since 2002, Amy’s Robot has been essential reading for those in the know. The blog provides a compelling stream of news, celebrity gossip and political opinion, addictively flavored with their own brand of wit and snark. They’ve now expanded their efforts into a number of single-topic blogs such as ScaryNY, Bad Love and The Ledger.

ADM and Amy
ADM and Amy

Alongside, there’s a barrage of web links compiled using Linkit, their social linkblogging service descended from our own Bookmarks. Linkit is not only one of the oldest Ning apps, it’s consistently one of the most popular – yet more proof of Amy’s Robot’s ever-expanding fanbase. The team behind it, however, are fairly reclusive in the face of internet fame; so I’m proud to have coaxed them into discussing their various blogs, favorite celebs, and the secrets of their success…

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