Author Archives: Jason Rand

A prescription for community and success

Chris Paton is a medical doctor, consultant and researcher. He specializes in the area of “Health Informatics,” which is all about using technology to enhance the provision of healthcare. One of the ways that Chris has been using technology over the years is to create online eLearning communities to help health professionals with their continuing education. The first community he created is called New Media Medicine and has been running for about 10 years, now with over 100,000 monthly users.

More recently, Chris has created the Health Informatics Forum Ning community and is running a Health Informatics Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) using curriculum resources created by 5 leading US universities through a $10 million grant from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.
 

Tell us about yourself.

I trained as a doctor in the UK and have worked clinically in the NHS and the NZ health service and academically at Cambridge University, Otago University and most recently at the University of Auckland at the National Institute for Health Innovation. I recently completed an Executive MBA at the University of Auckland.

My research area is “Health Informatics” and I’m particularly interested in how we can use social media for eLearning and knowledge sharing. Over the years I’ve created about 80 eLearning courses as an eLearning consultant for the healthcare sector.

When and how did you get started with creating social communities?

The first community I created was New Media Medicine (NMM) about 10 years ago. This was before Ning. I set it up as an addition to an anatomy eLearning course I created for medical students. I found that the students really enjoyed chatting on the community and it grew over time to become one of the largest communities for medical students with over 100,000 monthly users.

New Media Medicine has been running for almost 10 years. That’s awesome! What are the most profound changes you’ve seen in that time?

The biggest change since I created NMM has been the rise of non-specific networks such as Facebook and Twitter. These weren’t around when I created the community and I have found that many of our members now also have accounts on these sites, and even use their Facebook accounts to continue discussions started on NMM and vice versa. More recently, the shift to mobile platforms has been significant, with more and more users using iPhones and tablets to access the site.

Despite all these innovations, the basics of running a community have changed surprisingly little over the last decade. People use the forum at NMM in pretty much the same way as they always have in the past.

And what are the other communities you manage?

My main other community is the Health Informatics Forum (HI). I started the site a few years ago as there really wasn’t a good online community for people like me interested in using technology in healthcare. Health has been a little bit slow to adopt new information technologies and therefore HI has only really taken off as a speciality for doctors in the last few years. In fact, it’s only since last year that US doctors could be “Board Certified” in Clinical Informatics as a sub-specialty.

I’ve also created a Ning community for eLearning professionals called eLearning Talk that aims to fulfill a similar role to the Health Informatics Forum for the eLearning industry.

I’ve also started Ning communities for other organisations. I created the Health Innovation Exchange (HIVE) for the Ministry of Health in New Zealand and I’m working an number of new communities for organisations in the health sector.

Your communities are becoming important resources for thousands of people. Given your audience, how are you managing these communities simultaneously?

I rely on the communities themselves to help me manage them. We get lots of volunteers offering to help with moderation and we have a policy of fairly strict moderation that tends to limit problems that can happen with unmoderated forums.

What are the main things you’ve learned since being in this online space?

I’ve learnt a lot over the last 10 years, but the main thing is have patience and persistence!

What’s the primary way people are using your Ning communities? Is it to learn, consume, discuss — or a mix?

Most people just browse an online community. Compared to the number of registered users, the number of people just browsing without logging in is huge. However, once they are signed up and logged in, most people use the sites to ask questions and to help their colleagues by providing answers. The discussion forum is where the action is on my Ning sites.

What are people doing on your Ning community they aren’t doing elsewhere?

On the Health Informatics Forum we get a lot of people who are interested in Health Informatics as a career, which is something reasonably unique. There are sites where people discuss the technical or business side of health informatics, but our community is very open to new-comers and we’re trying to encourage people into the industry as there is a real need to build the health informatics workforce.

Are there any inspiring or health-related success stories that have come about because of your communities?

We have many success stories on New Media Medicine. One of the main uses on the site is to help people become doctors. Many medical students come from relatively affluent backgrounds and are able to pay for assistance and tutoring through the various entrance exams and the interview process. For people without these resources or family support, our site offers a wealth of free advice and support from other users to help them through the process. We’ve had many users who have tried unsuccessfully to become a doctor for several years before coming to our community and getting help from medical students and doctors on the site. It’s great to read their blogs on the site as they finally graduate from medical school and start practicing medicine.

For someone looking to get started with building a community, what’s the first piece of advice you’d offer?

The key to building a successful community is to have the passion to keep going over time and find other people that are willing to contribute to your community. Once you have a good base of users, things start to self-generate.

What’s next for you?

I’m interested in working with a wider range of organisations through my eLearning Consultancy service to help them make the most of social media in their eLearning offerings. I recently gave a talk at a corporate eLearning conference and there was a lot of interest in how organisations can go “beyond the LMS” and provide more modern and innovative tools to help their employees learn.

From a research point of view, I’m interested in exploring in more detail how using social media technology enable more effective learning experiences. This is a fairly difficult question to answer but my intuition is that, by providing a means of communication and trust building between learners, social media communities offer some real advantages over “traditional” methods of delivering online training.

Things to make your 4th of July explosively fun!

Next week, Americans everywhere will be celebrating the 4th of July. It’s a holiday that’s code for fireworks, sparklers, outdoor activities, BBQ cooking and comfort food, camping, picnics, parades, stargazing, bluegrass and country music, warmer weather and spending time with friends and family. Not a bad deal, right?

Members of Ning communities nationwide are sharing about the things that make for a memorable and special 4th of July — and letting the world know what makes them as all-American as apple pie… or Bruce Springsteen.

The Chamber of Central Mass South Online is letting people know about its fireworks show on July 3. It’s one of the region’s largest fireworks displays! A few states south of Massachusetts, Amy Shair, a member of The 919 Business Network, shares over a dozen 4th of July activities happening in North Carolina’s Triangle area. Celebrations continue even after the 4th of July, and Morgen Connor shares about the July 7 fireworks show happening in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

Though fireworks remain one of the mainstays of the 4th of July, other Ning communities are highlighting other ways to enjoy the great outdoors. On the Naples Velo Community, an inclusive cycling Ning site, there’s a 4th of July 50+ mile bike ride followed by a post ride picnic.

Despite being 2,000+ miles from the mainland, 4th of July celebrations are in full swing in Hawaii. On The Society of the Friends of St. Patrick Hawaii, this Irish-American Ning community will be marching in the Kailua 4th of July parade.

As many of you know, Colorado is experiencing major wildfires right now. On VW Camper Family, member Jeremy Nix asks the community for ideas and suggestions for making camping fun when building a campfire isn’t an option.

Quintessential to any 4th of July celebration is, of course, a great BBQ. In May, we highlighted many wonderful Ning communities cooking up a storm of delicious summer foods. Adding to this, Penni of Raw Food Rehab shares how to make a Cleanse America Fruit Cake (catchy, no?). Not only is it easy to make, it’s kid-friendly, and healthy!

Looking to make this or something else delicious and healthy for your 4th of July? If you live in the San Diego area, there’s still time to pick up some organic produce thanks to the Ramona Certified Farmers’ Market (held every Saturday). Used as their main website, they also use their Ning community to introduce the world to the various famers selling produce at the Ramona Farmers’ Market. Other healthy meals you can make include French Potato Salad, which Lois Carter Fay shares on RecipeIdeaShop.

Needing some good tunes to play during your 4th of July celebrations? Look no further than the chords heard on No Depression, a bi-monthly music magazine and home to Americana and roots music.

Not living in the USA? Share your traditions on a Ning community and let us know about it!

Have a safe and fun 4th of July. Wear plenty of sunblock and enjoy, ya’ll!

Ning celebrates its communities with Pride

June marks LGBTQ Pride month. Cities around the world are celebrating the LGBTQ community — certainly something top of mind for many people in an election year and as LGBTQ rights like gay marriage are being hotly debated as laws and views are changing and evolving.

You might remember the 2010 launch of Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project and the untimely death of Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi. Organizations and online services like Ning, Google, Twitter and Facebook have continually invested in building teams and safeguards to ensure user safety on these services. These circles of support extend to prevent and stop online bullying, while properly educating users how to remain safe online.

We wanted to take a moment and acknowledge a few Ning communities making waves for LGBTQ rights and to stop online bullying:

Gay Healers Circle – San Francisco / Bay Area

LGBT Weddings Forum – Free LGBT Wedding Planning Community – EnGAYged Weddings

GayWallet.com

Change. Not Charity.

Village Outsiders

PFLAG Twin Cities – Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays

Team San Francisco – Where the games began

Bullying Sucks – Don’t just stand there. Do something.

We’re really proud of the millions of connections being made and thousands of communities using Ning everyday. We know that it sometimes takes courage and initiative to get a community of any nature off the ground — so we especially want to thank Ning communities pushing the envelop on cultural and social norms by igniting conversations, and building communities and places true to their passions and convictions. Be proud. We’re so glad to be supporting you on Ning.

Celebrating dads, everywhere

As Hallmark Holidays go, Father’s Day is probably the favorite amongst men — they’re off the hook for buying flowers, chocolates or greeting cards. Instead they’re celebrated with a Sunday filled with rounds of golf, breakfast in bed, brunch, BBQs, enjoying brews, baseball games, and new power tools (if they’re lucky). What could be better than that?

With Sunday fast approaching, members of Ning communities nationwide are getting ready for paternal celebrations and sharing how they’ll be thanking Dad.

On Santa Rosa Mom, member and web host Trisha Novotny of 24/7 MOMS sits down with Valerie White of Gig Harbor Scrapper to chat about creative Father’s Day celebration ideas and presents (fast forward to 33:00), like a memory jar. What’s a memory jar? It’s a DIY gift that turns into a daily surprise for dad for the next year… and the best part is kids of all ages can contribute!

HomeLife Magazine provides great tips for helping kids craft poems for Dad. Cuteness aside, it’s a great way to provide some laughs and lasting memories. And what better way to decorate the refrigerator or office? Homelife Magazine also celebrates Father’s Day through its weekly give aways; Wednesday’s gift was an NFL authentic game ball signed by Tony Dungy — sure to make any sport-loving dad happy.

Vets for Vets takes a step back to thank all active military and veteran fathers for their dedicated service — both to their country and their families. The community is providing hundreds of photos that can be used to create a personalized card for Dad (and for grandfathers, uncles, cousins and extended family members too!).

Though many dads lack a fashion sense, The Coastal Star reminds us of a few tried and true ways that Dad can remain looking sharp with a hassle-free wardrobe staple — the blue blazer. From the board room to a baseball game, he’ll be looking good now!

For the macho-dad, The Muscle Car Network of Central Florida is publicizing its Father’s Day Super Cruiser event — a 45 mile drive from South Daytona to Titusville, Florida. The ride is followed by lunch at the food-dive Dogs R Us in Titusville, where kids eat free!

Other activities out of the house for Dad includes a Father’s Day 8K on Jack Quinn’s Running Club Ning community, the Fathers’ Day Skinner Butte History Walking Tour through the Eugene Downtown Neighborhood Association, and a Father’s Day Snack with the Animals in Irvine, CA through the Children & Nature Network.

Though the dads in your life might not ask for much for this holiday — know there’s plenty of things out there that’ll surprise and delight them — and Ning communities nationwide are brimming with great ideas if you need any inspiration. Happy Father’s Day, dads!

Making your Ning site look beautiful

As Art Basel kicks off this week, we wanted to highlight the tools many of our customers are using to make eye candy out of their Ning communities — turning their sites into social destinations looking more like works of art and hubs for creativity and conversation.

Out of the box, Ning communities come packing the punches with the Ning Design Studio. The armada of options from the Design Studio means greater flexibility to customize the look and feel of Ning sites. All sites come with 30 themes and 8 layouts to start. From there, the sky’s the limit when it comes to creativity, look and features available.

Want to change the layout or number of columns? Looking for the font color to match other branding assets elsewhere? Need to easily switch out a background image with a takeover ad from an advertiser? You can customize the appearance of these and other features like the header image, navigation, tabs, module treatment, format for links and buttons — no problem.

With Ning Plus and Pro, you have even greater design flexibility with full access to your site’s CSS — opening the flood gates to limitless design and professional controls over branding.

We invite you to also check out Ning Creators, where our customers are sharing hints and tips for building and maintaining a snazzy-looking site. The Ning Design community is also a great resource for getting the most out of the Ning Design Studio.

Learn more about the Ning Design Studio here, and make your Ning site pop, too!

Social: In the veins of your Ning community

At Ning, we’re all about social. It’s in our veins. We play well with others like Twitter and Facebook; and we focus on how other services like them can best be implemented into the Ning Platform to give you a seamless and awesome experience for building and contributing to a Ning community, and sharing content elsewhere.

We encourage Ning Creators to take full advantage of other social platforms as they build a social strategy and online presence to reach their goals. Here are 8 ways your Ning community works with other social platforms, making your Ning site an integral part of that strategy:

Adding Social Sign-In to your Ning site allows people to sign-up and sign-in with their social identity on Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo!, WindowsLive and LinkedIn. It’s 1 less login account to remember, and allows for 1-click access and engagement. Learn more.

 
 

Track web traffic and see how people discover your Ning site and its content with full support of Google Analytics. It’s simple to add, and gives you the valuable insights you need to make informed decisions on where else to focus your marketing and social efforts. Learn more.

 

Use our Social Feeds feature to automatically pull in the activity from your social channels into your Ning site. Easily add streams from your Facebook page, multiple Twitter accounts and custom searches, and RSS feeds. It just works. Learn more.

 

Members can post their status updates from your site directly to Facebook and Twitter, a simple way to share what’s important across multiple social profiles. Learn about sharing to Facebook and Twitter.

 

Add Ning Apps and Extensions to enable full integration with other social services. Support for YouTube, WordPress, Ustream and SoundCloud add a streamlined and slick interface for you and your members, giving you options for pulling in content from across the web into your Ning site. Learn more.

 

Big into photos? There’s no reason to be uploading photos in 2 places if you use Flickr. We give you an easy way to import content added to your Flickr account directly into your Ning site. Learn more.

 

The share and Like buttons you want are always available to you. Add buttons for Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Or use the Network Like option to have the likes live within your community. Either way, get your members engaged with no coding needed. Learn more.

 

Constant Contact is a great platform for email marketing and communicating externally of your Ning site. You can synchronize your members’ contact information to your constant contact account, automatically. Learn more.

 

Since we’re on the topic, be sure to follow and stay connected with us:


 
 

As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day — and we’re a work in progress. What features and services do you want to see added to the Ning Platform?

Finding and creating community to get a beach body

Summer is fast approaching. Have you kept that New Years Resolution to get that beach body you’ve always wanted? If not, that’s okay. There’s still plenty of time to do just that, and there are many Ning communities out there to help you reach your goal!

Health and fitness sites are nothing new, but finding a place that motivates and connects us to others with the same fitness goals is something of a foreign concept for many people. After all, we can’t all be on the The Biggest Loser and who wants to publicly share their weight loss goals?

The beauty is that people naturally feel more comfortable sharing this type of thing with like-minded people around them. We see this extending to the online world. In many ways, Ning Communities serve as the social lubricant, getting people to open up and share their story — for support, motivation and to highlight their successes to encourage others. With that in mind, we wanted to point out a few Ning communities making an impact on people’s health:

Move Nourish Believe

iAmTRI

Runners For Life

Strength Performance Network

Adelaide Cyclists

Russian Kettlebells UK – Helping Fellow Kettlebellers Come Together. Learn, Connect and Grow.
Russian Kettlebells UK - Helping Fellow Kettlebellers Come Together. Learn ,Connect and Grow.

30 Bananas a Day!

NJ Hiking: Connect – A Social Network for New Jersey Hiking Enthusiasts
NJ Hiking: Connect - A Social Network for New Jersey Hiking Enthusiasts

www.DiscGolfersR.Us – The Community of Disc Golfers and About All Things Disc Golf
www.DiscGolfersR.Us - The Community of Disc Golfers and About All Things Disc Golf

Richmond Road Runners – Supporting running in the metro Richmond area
Richmond Road Runners - Supporting running in the metro Richmond area

Outdoor Baby Network – An information sharing site for families who enjoy the outdoors!

 

Whether you’re trying to lose weight, bulk up, or simply interested in mixing up your dietary habits, there’s likely a Ning community filled with people aspiring to achieve the same results as you. And if there’s not, create your own community today and you can help improve the lives and health for thousands of people out there seeking the same fitness and health goals as yourself.

Beach-goers worldwide will thank you.

What to get Mom for Mothers Day?

If you’re like me, you might be at a loss what to get your mom for Mother’s Day. This year, skip the flowers and cheesy greeting cards and instead find a great Ning community for her to join. Does she have a love for knitting or is she a compulsive runner? Addicted to coffee or a travel buff? There’s likely a Ning community out there just for her! With over 100 million people part of Ning communities today, she might already be a part of a Ning community and not even know it!

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Baseball is happening, on Ning

As Major League Baseball kicks into high gear for its 2012 season, Ning communities are showing their excitement for America’s favorite pastime.

Baseball.net made its debut as this season got started. Though the site is a rookie in terms of tenure on Ning, they’ve scored an A-list custom domain name. According to Arbel Arif, owner of Baseball.net, they built their site to support a “vast community of baseball enthusiasts who gather to ‘talk baseball’.” We’re looking forward to following their growth as the season progresses.

Opposite Baseball.net, The World Baseball Network and CheckSwing have been using Ning for 3+ years, amassing nearly 9,000 members and aspiring baseball players.

On Netflix Movie Fans, the community answers the question “What are some of your favorite baseball movies” (A League of Their Own or The Sandlot, anyone?):

 

For sports memorabilia collectors, the Sports Collectors Social Network provides a taste of retail therapy. The Ning community connects like-minded collectors, and provides useful tools to help in their search for elusive and rare baseball cards and other must-have goodies.

On MyTown Colorado, community member Alyson Miller recently publicized an event inviting children from all around Boulder County to gather to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and be recorded for the soundtrack of Labragirl Pictures’ film 6-4-3. The title refers to how a double play happens between players on the field: six is the shortstop, 4 is the second baseman and 3 is the first baseman.

The Hawai’i Chamber of Commerce of Northern California is using their Ning site to bring together members and non-members of the organization to a real-world meet-up for an upcoming San Francisco Giants game against the Milwaukee Brewers on May 4. They’ll be rooting for Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson, for sure!

Meanwhile, as anyone who’s played on a club sports team knows, having a great looking uniform adds to team morale and pride. San Francisco-based Fog City Athletics & Apparel is a company specializing in athletic team uniforms and casual wear, ensuring teams are looking sharp. Their site lives on Ning, where they show their portfolio of custom print graphics and designs available for creation. From their site, they recently Tweeted a shot of custom designed baseball caps made by the company. Lookin’ good, guys!

In the same vein, members of the Kreg Jig Owners Community are learning how to build a baseball storage center with their Kreg tools to organize the likes of little league gear:

From spectating and playing, collecting memorabilia, and making apparel and equipment accessories, bringing a community together to highlight the love of baseball is a home run on Ning.