Ning: The Marmite of Social Networks.

You love it or loathe it.

I’ve recently read several posts singing the praises of Ning. I’ve had an account on it for quite some time & I’ve yet to learn to love it in the way that some do.

It does have some very good points – quite a lot in fact:

  • It’s very easy to set up.
  • It’s free (or commercial, if you choose) – though those teaching 13-18 year olds can have an ad-free version for free.
  • It’s possible to have a very private network – which can give educators the privacy they need – especially for that 13-18 age group.
  • It can be customisable – so different Nings can look different.
  • Within a Ning, it’s possible to have forums, individual blogs etc.

So, why don’t I like it?

Well, it’s really the fact that it creates separate Nings. So, I can join several Nings, and people in one need never know I’m in another. But, *I* know, and I’d really quite like to have an easy way to see an overview of my life in all my social networks.

From an educational point of view – especially at Higher Education, all too often the structure of both the modularised curriculum, and then the VLE on top of that, encourages siloisation of learning. If we then create a Ning to support each subject – we’ll then have further siloisation of learning.

Other SNSs – such as Facebook & Elgg, make it possible for the user to see their overall activity in all their communities – but to customise (particularly in Elgg) who can see what.

My other bug bear with Ning, is that even with the communities hosted on Ning, I have to login to each one. I can’t login once & see them all. OK, so I have Firefox set to remember passwords, so it’s just a case of clicking, but I still have to do it!

So, I’m afraid that, despite several attempts to get over it & indeed, membership of several Nings (not visited that often) I just can’t see myself ever getting into the Love it camp.

Maybe, were I teaching younger students, then I might see a use; especially at class level (rather than subject level), but for me, and for what I’m teaching, it just doens’t do anything.

7 Things You Should Know About Ning

EDUCAUSE CONNECT’s latest 7 things you should know is about Ning. I’ve mentioned Ning in the past, including the fact that I find it frustrating that it requires a lot of logging in. My fear for using it for social networking in Education, is that if you have one network per unit / subject (whatever you call them in your university), then students will continue to get the idea of knowledge being in parcels. That’s what I like about Elgg – and even facebook, a student can see information about all their groups in a single place.

7 things mentions some of the drawbacks (e.g. potential issues of hosting data outside a university), as well as some of the advantages, (e.g. making use of students’ skills in using social networks, but without lecturers having to use Facebook etc).

Other recent “7 things” have included Google Apps, Flickr & Lulu

User centric or Community centric?

Several people have been talking about Ning recently – it’s come up in discussion with my students – “egrommet” has used it with his students, Josie noted that several of the nominations for this years Eddies were Ning based communities.

I’m just not sure about Ning. I find it irritating that I have to login to each community, as well as in general. If I look at “My Page” in each community, while some things are core to all (e.g. the photo), others seem to need to be set in each community. While this can be useful in some ways; it’s also annoying to have to enter the same details again and again. The ideal would be the ability to enter general info on my “Ning Profile” page – and then to alter particular bits for particular communities.

The “My Page” also seems to have a blog – again, one per community – and the summary of posts that apply to that community.

It strikes me that Ning is very much community centric. So, while you can have several groups in a community; you can’t easily have an overview of your activity in several different communities. It reminds me of WebCT – having discussion boards/ blogs per unit – without an easy way of seeing all of your work at the same time.

Eduspaces (Elgg powered) and Facebook, on the other hand, seem to be far more user centric. I can see on my Blog page (Eduspaces), or my Profile page (Facebook) everything that I & my friends have done.

From an Educational point of view, I think that it’s important to have that easy access to the personal overview. Because of the unitisation of the curriculum, many students find it quite difficult to see how one unit relates to another. WebCT doesn’t enable an easy overview – whereas something that’s more User Centric can.

While it can be useful to have that separation between aspects of ones life – integration is also important.

I guess that the ideal Social Networking site would allow the ability to have a (private) view of your personal activity in all areas – while a public view that could, if wished be customised for particular communities.

I think all three have their strengths in the way that they work – but all three have limitations.