UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Posts Tagged ‘Ning’

“5 Days Left to Choose a New Ning Plan”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 Aug 2010

I received an email on 16 August announced that I had “5 Days Left to Choose a New Ning Plan“.  The email related to the announcement Ning made a few months ago that the company was withdrawing its provision of free social networks.

We had made use of Ning to provide the IWMW 2008 social network.   The email informed me that “the network has grown up a bit since you started the ball rolling. You have grown to 90 members who have collectively helped you add unique photos, some interesting videos, and 24 spirited discussions“.

What action, if any, was needed in response to this email? The simple answer would be to suggest that nothing needed to be done as the social network was established simply to support an event which took place 2 years ago – so there’s no point in paying the $19.95 annual subscription for the social network to continue to be hosted. But what if the social network (or indeed any other Cloud Service) hosted useful content which I would not like to lose?  So I took the opportunity to evaluate copying the Web site prior to its demise – and I hope that documenting this process with be of interest to others.

The WinHTTrack software was used on Monday 16 August 2010 to create a copy of the IWMW 2008 social network. The mirror is currently hosted on the main IWMW 2008 Web site – although we are making no commitment to hosting the content on a long term basis.

The purpose of the provision of the Ning social network for the event was to provide a communications and collaboration environment for IWMW 2008 delegates and also to gain a better understanding of whether such a service was need.  We discovered that the usage was low, with only 90 registered members out of about 180+ registered delegates and, despite the “spirited discussions” rhetoric in the email from Ning, there was very little use made of the discussion fora on the service.

We kept a record of information provided by the WinHTTrack mirroring software.  Despite the low usage I was surprised to discover that the mirror took 1 hour 42 minutes to run. The mirror is 175 Mb and contains 9,065 files and 282 folders.

Once the mirror had been created the navigational bars were updated to link to the local resource rather than the Ning social network, and a record of the process was documented. In addition a news item was created on the IWMW 2008 event news feed.

Our intention will be to delete this mirror shortly, as we do not feel it provides any useful content. We will, however, be keeping a record that the Ning social network was used and provide a summary of its usage,  so that, for example, we will have a record of the technologies used to support the various IWMW events.

We’ve also decided to publish this summary so that if anyone has any interest in the event’s social network, the tool used to mirror the content or the policy we intend to implement will have the opportunity to give their comments.

This is a summary of how we responded to the announcement of the closure. I wonder what will happen to the 33 Ning social networks I found using a search for ‘JISC’?  One, I noticed, is a “personal portfolio to record and reflect on my work experience” contains spam for free drugs! There are others, however, which have been used to support the work of the JISC Regional Support Centres (this one, for example), JISC-funded projects (such as this one) and  events (such as this example).

The use of such services to support events, in particular, raises some interesting issues. I have previously suggested that “The lesson I’ve learnt – there’s a need to change the settings for social networks set up to support events after the event is over. I still prefer to make it easy to subscribe to such services, however, in order to avoid any delays caused by the need to accept new subscriptions manually“. But as well as tightening up on access after an event is over in order to avoid spam are futher measures needed?  Should the content be replicated elsewhere? Should the social networking site be closed? Or should we be happy with the default option of simply doing nothing – after all, although the announcement stated that the free service would be withdrawn on 20 August, it is still available today.

Latest News: I have just received an email stating that “we’ve decided to extend the deadline until August 30, 2010.“.

Posted in preservation, Social Networking | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

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.

Posted in Social Networking | Tagged: | 9 Comments »