Category Archives: People Profiles

Business Fights Poverty: A Community With a Cause

Business Fights Poverty was established in March of 2008 to pioneer new ways of fighting poverty utilizing economic and business opportunities by groups and individuals. Founder and Director, Zahid Torres-Rahman discovered and implemented the perfect platform for his idea through a chance conversation and a day’s worth of work.

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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.

Using Ning + Kickstarter to build a community around a project

Simon Cantlon is on a mission to document the power and allure of the American open road. And he’s using Ning as the community hub for the project. He’s producing an interactive documentary film and book called The Motels of Route 66. The project will explore the stories of the motel owners, the architecture, the travelers and the road itself, which runs between Los Angeles and Chicago.

For funding and publicity, he’s built a Ning community centered around the project and ties it closely together with his Kickstarter project, a funding platform for creative projects. By June 9, he’s looking for $30,000 in backing for the project. The funding will cover the month-long journey down Route 66 with a full four-man film crew (director, cameraman, photographer, lighting & sound), vehicle rental, equipment, gas, food, lodging and supplies.

It’s an ambitious goal, for sure, and we’re excited to follow Simon and his crew on their documentary-road trip across one of America’s most historic thoroughfares.

“We’ll be out on the road meeting travelers, the people who live in the towns, mom and pop businesses and the owners of the motels along the way, all the way down Route 66. We’ll be bringing them into the story, and letting them be a part of it. As the story unfolds step by step, it will be documented on our Ning community,” said Cantlon. “That’s awesome.”

You can back his project on his Kickstarter page and follow the endeavor through his Ning community, The Motels of Route 66.

Starting a non-profit community, helping breast cancer patients online

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. More than ever, breast cancer patients, survivors, friends and family members, and organizations are sharing stories, raising awareness, and gathering support through online channels.

We heard about The Pink Daisy Project, a non-profit online community and all-volunteer Ning Network started by breast cancer survivor Debbie Cantwell. The organization is dedicated to helping young women with breast cancer cope with the hardships of their treatment by providing them care and comfort, and a hopeful online place to share their stories of survival. Debbie was also featured as a CNN Hero in July for her work with the community.

Debbie started The Pink Daisy Project on her own, as a way to thank all the people who helped her during her treatment and to pay it forward. Through the Ning community, women undergoing cancer treatment lean on the bravery from others around the world, forging lasting friendships, sharing their stories of treatment and survival, and receiving positive support from the greater community.

The national organization also provides financial help and relief to women during treatment – from sending groceries for a month or having someone come clean their house, seemingly little contributions make a positive difference while undergoing cancer treatment.

Debbie has built and managed The Pink Daisy Project while juggling a full-time job, and busy life with her husband and 2 children. “It’s been very easy for me, without any technical experience, to maintain the community, keep it running, and make changes,” Debbie highlighted. “The website we had previously was really static. It wasn’t dynamic and it wasn’t engaging; there was no interaction. So, people would look at it, and then they’d leave. Using Ning gave me the capability of having the interaction we wanted to see on The Pink Daisy Project.”

You can donate to the Pink Daisy Project through their Ning community. How is your Ning community making a positive impact in people’s lives? We’d love to hear about it.

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.

From the Red Carpet to Your Produce Aisle

It’s always exciting to hear first-hand of our customers’ success both on and off the Ning Platform. We think about social websites on Ning as the hub for social branding and identity. This naturally lends itself to having a presence, or spokes, if you will, around the web and real world.

BlackTree TV positions itself as the world’s largest urban entertainment network by producing and posting high quality videos distributed across the web. They cover everything from red carpet interviews, celebrity one-on-ones, and frontline social commentary from artists and politicians alike. They decided to use Ning to have a website layering in community, monetization flexibility and a branded experience encompassing BlackTree TV’s entertainment focus.

Between BlackTree TV and their accompanying YouTube channel with 400+ million views, their success is nothing short of awesome! In a recent tweet by Tony Idem, BlackTree TV’s Community Manager, we learned about their new partnership with an in-store content provider. In short, the deal paves the way for BlackTree TV to bring the same great content from BlackTree TV to Walmart, Albertsons, Costco and 10,000 retail locations nationwide! They’re making moves to produce aisles near you – keep an eye out for BlackTree TV. Congrats to the BlackTree TV team!

Interview:’s Cloud Content Management System


Bay Area residents who drive down Hwy 101 are used to seeing’s cheeky billboards. They challenge Sharepoint users to try’s Cloud Content Management system — and see if they don’t like using it better. One additional benefit of over Sharepoint? You can install on your Ning Network, thanks to their Ning App. Platform Manager Jeremy Glassenberg chatted with us about the company, their Ning App and what’s coming up.

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Interview: TokBox’s Easy-To-Use Video Chat Ning App

Profile pictureInstant messaging is easy on a Ning Network, thanks to the Chat feature. Displayed as either a persistant chat bar on the bottom of the page, or as a feature on the Main Page, Chat is an easy way to let your members conenct with each other in real time. But what if you want something a little more… visual?

Enter TokBox, a Ning App that allows members to easily video chat with one another. VP of Marketing and Business Development Micky O’Brien walked us through some of the TokBox need-to-know info.
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Interview: Connected in Compton with Hub City Livin’

Compton, Calif. isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of an politically engaged community that’s active online. Not now, anyway. M.L. Harrington is trying to change that though. He’s the Network Creator of Hub City Livin’, a Ning Network launched in August 2009, specifically for Compton residents. Want to learn more about what running a Ning Network in Compton is all about? Read on.

mdeucedefaultTell me a little bit about yourself.
Compton born and raised. Always been bright, book-wise. I ran the streets for a while, got in trouble here and there. Took up a vocational trade. Anything like printing, arts, music related… I’m a workaholic. I have a nine-month-old son. I’ve always been community oriented. I like what’s right, like to stand up for what’s right.

How did you go about starting Hub City Living? Did you have any goals in mind when you launched it?
I was promoting myself for hip hop music and was joining a ton of social networks…. I grew up listening to NWA. I saw that music was a way to bring social change and awareness. With hip hop becoming more commercial and harder to break into, it made sense to move these goals online. I still have the passion to want to facilitate social change, and it was easy to transfer that into a social network.

Initial goals when I started were to highlight positivity coming out of Compton. People [in Compton] complain that the media only highlights negativity. I think a lot of the negativity is embedded… we started viewing the discussions happening as being positive [in and of themselves]. There’s a culture in Compton where people are separate. They aren’t used to being engaged.

What’s been the reaction to Hub City Livin’ in Compton?
A majority of people I meet, they love the site. I never paid attention to politics until I started the site. [A community pillar recently told me] that I probably have the most revolutionary thing he’s seen in 50 years. It was just amazing to hear that coming from him. I invited council members, but they haven’t joined yet, though many city employees have. It’s been fascinating.

What’s been surprising for you about Hub City Livin’?
The level of interaction and the way people have gravitated to the site. It hadn’t really hit me until some people told me I’m in uncharted waters. People had never done anything like this. I have the one place in Compton that has the most different organizations in one place. They want to collaborate. They want to come together. That’s been the most surprising thing.

Have you partnered with any other organizations in the area?
No formal partnerships. Early on I had a partnership with [a fire department]. That was the most official partnership [to date]. The first official partnership would be with the Community Redevelopment Organization for Compton. They want to make downtown Compton more like downtown Pasadena, with more foot traffic.

How do you get the word out about your Ning Network?
Any way I can! Word of mouth has been really good. All of the professionals know about it. I do print up fliers and pass them out. It’s been word of mouth mostly.

What are the biggest challenges Hub City Livin’ faces?
To get more people engaged and [involved in] the discussion. The digital divide in Compton is so great. Not a lot of people have regular Internet access.

Do you have any particular goals for the future?
To have the city on [Hub City Livin’] in an official capacity. All the way down, through each department. That’s my big goal, to bring connections to residents and transparency to government. Number two goal is to get more sponsors. To get more sponsors will help get it more of an official stamp.