Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Create a Social Network with ning.com

Do you know about ning.com? A little over a year ago, I was introduced to a ning.com website for Latin and Greek teachers: eClassics.ning.com. Through that network, I learned about some other great ning.com groups which are very relevant to my work as an online teacher, such as FiresideLearning.ning.com and Classroom20.ning.com. I've become a big fan of "nings" and thought I would post a few words here about why I like them so much. I have not created a ning network of my own (although it is free to do and, by all accounts, very easy), so my comments here will be from a user perspective, not an administrator.

Ning is friendly. First of all, ning.com pages just feel very friendly! Although each administrator can customize the layout to their own liking, each ning that I have participated in has ended up with a very sensible layout, not too overwhelming, and with a strong "people presence" so that you really feel like you are interacting with other people in a direct and clear way. The discussions are easy to read and follow, and I like very much the ease with which images and links can be included in discussion posts. The blog set-up is quite nice; although I do most of my own blogging at Blogger.com, I have done a fair amount of blogging at ning.com sites and have enjoyed the experience.

Great notification systems. The combination of RSS and email notifications is really efficient. I always feel like I have a good sense of what is going on at the ning.coms which I follow closely, but at the same time I don't feel overwhelmed by the notifications. I subscribe to the "All Activity" RSS feeds, which lets me see discussion board posts, blog posts and comments in my RSS reader. When someone posts to a discussion to which I have contributed, I also get an email notification, although it is easy to turn off the email notification if I am no longer following that discussion. There are email notifications for the messaging service that is part of each ning. Personally, I prefer leaving messages at each person's "wall" at their profile, but when people contact me via the message option, the email notification alerts me to that and makes it easy to click and reply.

Good technical support. I've only had one instance where I needed technical help at ning.com and that had to do with a change they made to the HTML editor - I got a prompt response from ning.com technical support, and I've ended up being very pleased with the new HTML editor they are currently using across the system. At one of my blogs, I was posting in ancient Greek, and I had no problems with the Greek font at all. My only complaint about the HTML editor is that it does not allow the use of javascripts.

Best of all: discussion boards PLUS blogs. The thing I like best about ning.com is the integration of discussion boards on the one hand, and blogging on the other. The discussion boards are a great way to have back-and-forth between individuals on topics of common interest. The blogging space gives me a way to expand on something that is of importance to me - perhaps a topic related to a discussion, but perhaps something that is simply of interest to me, and which might become a topic of group discussion, or which might not. I tend to be a long-winded person, so having the blog space where I can go on at length about something is really nice - I don't want to clutter up a discussion board with some long discourse, but it's great having the blog space where I can go on at length for anybody who is interested in following some topic in more detail.

Conclusion: I'm hooked! As someone who teaches online courses at a school which does not have a strong online culture, I have been largely without colleagues at my own school. Over the past year, however, I have finally met some people I consider true colleagues, thanks to the ning.com communities dedicated to teaching and technology. I have benefited from this so much more than I ever expected! Exactly because the groups I participate in now are able to meet my needs so nicely, I have not felt the urge to create my own ning community - but I almost wish I had an excuse to do so! I'm curious what ning.com looks like "under the hood" and learning more about the ways in which ning.com sites can be configured. Just browsing around at some of the MANY (hundreds of thousands) of ning.com communities, I can see what a great variety of options are available to the folks who are using this software to create a space for their group online. Just take a few minutes to browse around some of the most popular groups at ning.com, and you'll see what I mean!

Find out more at the ning blog. You can keep up with all the latest events at ning.com at their blog; here are the latest posts:



And here's a screenshot of a typical ning.com community homepage:




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