UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Institutional Use of Ning

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 Jul 2008

A post by Lorcan Dempsey cited Tony’s Hirst’s comments on use of the Ning social network at the University of Wales, Newport and the University of Bradford.

Michael Webb, Head of IT and Media Services at the University of Wales, Newport was responsible for helping to establish one of the first institutional strategy embracing use of Web 2.0 in the UK, as he described in a talk on “Developing a Web 2.0 Strategy” which he gave at the IWMW 2006 event (a video of his talk is also available).

AJ Cann responded to Tony Hist’s post by saying:

AARRRGHHH! Bad idea! These sites are just ghettos waiting to happen. Do they think that students joining the institution don’t already use social networks? Do they think they can compete with MySpace/Facebook?

He could be right – but we won’t know unless we start to gather evidence on the ways in which social networks may be in higher education.

And I have to say that I’m impressed with the approaches which are being taken at Newport. As Michael describes on his blog they first identified the purposes for the service (“The brief was to create a social place for students coming to the University to meet online before they join the University, and to be able to contact the student mentors“), they considered the legal implications of Ning’s terms and conditions (“we retain ownership of content. Hosting locating is ambiguous, but is the data isn’t that precious.“) and were willing to ‘address the constraints’ provided by the service (the use of adverts, the costs for additional storage space, the lack of single sign-on and the loss of institutional branding in the site’s URL).

In return Newport have gained an opportunity to evaluate the potential of a social networking environment for new students at little cost to the institution:

If we had created the site ourselves it would have taken months. If we had bought in software it would have still taken weeks. This took days. And no worrying about upgrades, downtime etc. What have we lost? We can’t control the development of the service – our users probably don’t understand this, and have already started suggesting functionality improvements.

I welcome this development – and I am particularly pleased that Michael is being so open in describing the reasons for this decision, the possible risks and how the institution has responded to the risks.

9 Responses to “Institutional Use of Ning”

  1. ajcann said

    Seen: Why Most Online Communities Fail?

  2. Peter Ashe said


    thanks for pointing this out – it highlights questions that public bodies right across the service spectrum will need to think about and organise for.

    The point about the relationship between a Univ-sponsored community space, and the SNS’s that students use chimed very nicely for me with something I’d read by Fred Stutzman recently (d’you follow his blog?) on his and his class’ experiences of using social media tools dureing a semester. Can I recommend it thoroughly – especially, in this context, re its comments on their use of Facebook. I was particularly struck by Fred’s suggestion that teaching staff should not *simply* assume that because students are on Facebook, that’s where they should go too. Rather, staff should have the (sensible IMHO) humility to *ask* first.

    And practically, Fred and his students are thinking about using Ning next time round, on the basis that notwithstanding hassles like the non-portability of profiles, that enables people to engage in a space where the ground-rules (of engagement) are clear and reasonably specific.


  3. I believe that Social Networks like Facebook are a fantastic way of communicating, not just on everyday social issues but for education and business. You can now build a network across the globe which really opens the boundaries and enhances our learning of different cultures. Nice blog, thank you, Steve.

  4. […] of supporting students during that difficult transition from school to university. Moreover, as Brian Kelly points out, Bradford and Newport will have had the opportunity to gather evidence on the use of […]

  5. […] which she described why the University of Bradford had set up a social network using Ning. I have previously commented on institutional use of Ning, including Bradford’s service,  but it was good to hear why this social network was […]

  6. Neil Currant said

    I think what Michael says for Newport chimes very much with our thoughts at Bradford. Ning is easy to use ans set up and required very little staff time, so why not give it a go and see if it work? We don’t have any great expectations that loads of students are going to joint and get a lot out of it but even it helps even just a few it has served a purpose and is only a small part of a larger strategy of support for new student.

  7. Hi Neil – Thanks for the comment. You should note that a blog post on “Social Networks Can Be Just For Christmas” includes an embedded video clip in which Claire Gibbons provides a summary of the rationale for the use of Ning at Bradford University.

  8. Brian

    We have been using Ning for about 9 months for:

    Teaching and Learning
    Collaborative areas for MA student platform projects – so successful one was used in our degree show to present architecture and townplanning solutions.

    Alumni Relations
    Maintaining and increasing opportunities for contact and outgoing information for our alumni. Very popular.

    New Students
    Launched recently for the same reasons as U of Bradford. It is experimental, but we see Ning as one of several cloud-based applications that can be used for e-learning and social learning. In time we believe a community can be sustained by its reputation and content, but who knows.

    As has been pointed out, once you ‘get over’ the lack of integration, one has little to lose as these things are cheap and easy to deploy and scale and scale.

    Jonathan Warner

    Royal College of Art

  9. […] Brian Kelly is enriching the world at his WordPress site describing experimental Higher Ed institutional use of blogs in the UK. It is rich because of his openness in sharing his […]

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