TechHui

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My Experience with NING.com

At the recent TechHui Conference one of the presenters in the Social Media session made mention of a web site called ning.com. I wrote it down. The next day as I was going through my notes I came across that note and decided to take a look.

The home page of ning.com provided a very brief explanation of how the site can be used to set up my very own social network, plus a couple of form fields to fill out, one for the name of my intended social network and one for what apparently would become the web site name of “my” site (at least that’s the impression I got from the provided info). Since I recently took over responsibility for a singles group named Oahu Singles, and that group did not yet actually have a web presence, merely an email list of members, I thought this would be a great opportunity to turn it into an actual web site. So I entered “Oahu Singles” for the name and “OahuSingles” (no spaces) for the web site name (expecting that to become something like OahuSingles.ning.com for the actual site). Pressing the submit button brought me to a page asking me to provide a verification email address. OK, that’s pretty standard for web sites. So I entered my email address and, upon hitting submit, was informed that an email would arrive with a link to provide verification. Again, all pretty standard.

When I received the email I dutifully followed the link and performed the verification. But when it directed me back to ning.com there was,not an Oahu Singles social network group page, but a page with a ton of information about me, topped off with a “Welcome back, Roger Garrett”. It had my name, it had a photo of me, it had information about my membership in TechHui, it had a couple of pending event notifications for me, it had current postings from TechHui. What in the world was all this? I hadn’t asked for a personal “FaceBook” type of page, yet that’s what it looked like. I hadn’t given my name. I hadn’t given ning.com permission to seek out information about me from other web sites. And I certainly hadn’t given permission to TechHui to give my information out to ning. So, what the heck was this? And where was my Oahu Singles social network, which is what I was expecting to get? Clicking on the Social Networks link at the top of the page brought up a subsequent page that informed me that I had not created any social networks. So what happened to Oahu Singles? I tried going to OahuSingles.ning.com and I got a message from ning saying that the page doesn’t exist. What the …?

So, ning tells me I can create a social network and leads me to believe that that is exactly what I am doing, by filling in the forms on its first page. But instead it creates a FaceBook-like page for me and gathers up information about me without my permission. Apparently I can subsequently create a social network, but then I’m thinking, if it did this to me (telling me it’s going to do one thing and then actually doing something very different, plus gathering information about me without my permission) then it’s most likely going to do the same thing for the members of my Oahu Singles group as they sign up for my group.

So, I don’t think I’ll be using ning for this or any kind of social network.

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Aloha Roger,

Ning is a social networking platform that maintains basic account information and friend relationships across multiple networks. This is convenient, but it can also be a bit confusing for people new to the platform. You may want to read the "Privacy" and "Terms of Service" pages linked to in the lower right hand corner of every page on every network.

For the scenario you describe, where you don't want a personal profile page or any friend relationships to show, I would create a new gmail address called OahuSinglesAdmin@gmail.com to use when signing up to create your new network on ning.com. For the name field just type "Admin". That way, you can sign up and create your network with a distinct and anonymous identity.

I hope this helps clear up the confusion. Ning might be a good platform for your purposes once you have a better understanding of how it works. Feel free to call me if you have any questions (808) 393-9119.
The problem is that the site itself does not make it clear what it's purpose is, or how to go about accomplishing what it's purpose is. If the explanation of the site's purpose or options is contained in the Privacy or Terms of Service pages then no one will ever have any clue as to what it's for, since nobody reads those things.

The very first page seems to make it very clear that it's for setting up a social network and provides the form for starting that setup, but then it doesn't do that at all. Instead it sets up a personal page, grabs all sorts of personal information from other web sites, and apparently completely forgets about the social network it was presumably setting up for you.

NING.com, in my opinion, needs a complete makeover. What's it for? What does it do? How do I do it?
Roger Garrett: The very first page seems to make it very clear that it's for setting up a social network and provides the form for starting that setup, but then it doesn't do that at all.Instead it sets up a personal page, grabs all sorts of personal information from other web sites, and apparently completely forgets about the social network it was presumably setting up for you.

Aloha Roger. Actually it does create a social network (this is how we created TechHui), and it doesn't "grab all sorts of personal information from other web sites." Basic profile information is shared between Ning sites including your profile photo, name, location (if you choose to provide it) and network of friends. I understand its confusing the first time you set up a network, but there is nothing nefarious going on. I don't work for Ning, or have any affiliation with the company beyond the fact TechHui is built on their platform, but I'm happy to dispense some free advice over the phone. Give me a call if you would like to chat (808) 393-9119.

Note: The only reason I suggested you read the "Privacy" page is because you expressed concerns about your privacy.
Aloha Roger,

I concur with Dan. Iʻve used ning.com to create a few social networks. You can actually read about one in a Honolulu Weekly article at http://tr.im/HonoluluWeeklyArticle. You may find the book, Ning for Dummies useful in navigating your way through ning and building your OahuSingles site.
Ning's definitely the gorilla in the room when it comes to "build your own social network", but there's plenty of other players clambering for the top spot and not all SaaS providers either. Ning is free, easy to use, and already has a large audience. Ning's limit is it's customization and the fact that you cannot control your hosting.

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