Filed under: My stuff
A few weeks ago I highlighted a couple of interesting things going on in social networking and flagged that this was going to be an interesting area to watch. Having thought about it a bit – I think this is going to be more than just interesting, but a very big new area.
First there were blogs – and these were, and still remain, a publishing tool for a person or organisation. They have features that make them social – i.e. an ability to link and share and incorporate comment – but their focus is the person or organisation producing them. People have started to use blogs in other ways, such as internal communications tools, but while they are useful here they are not really designed specifically for this.
Then there were the MySpaces and Facebooks. Now while a MySpace, in its entirety, is a genuine social network, its basic building block is still a person or an organisation.
The big opportunity, I believe, is a MySpace for issues and ideas – i.e. where an issue or idea is sits at the centre, rather than a person or organisation. The more I have looked around, the more I have seen ideas, issues and potential communities just waiting to be networked. Now Ning is a tool which does this. Whether it will be The Tool which does this is another matter. Ning in its current form may only work best for quite small networks – but Ning or Ning-like things, have a huge potential as tools to link people together around an idea or issue – be this a work project, hobbies, political issues, families – basically anywhere where there is potential for a community to emerge. The issue with a Ning Thing is that while it is created, managed and moderated by someone – it is much more inclusive and participatory than a MySpace or a blog. It is also far more conversational and social than wikis – which to date have lead the pack in the area of collaborative tools.
Once you start to think about it, the possibilities are huge. If you have a product – why wouldn’t you put a Ning-like network out there as a way of generating conversation and getting feedback? You are setting up a new project team at work – why wouldn’t you create a Ning-like network to keep everyone linked together? Maybe you are a consumer or customer who is having a hard time with a particular product or service. Why not stick up a Ning-like network and see who else you catch who has similar problems – and then work-out collectively what you are going to do about it?
I think these type of tools are going to hugely important as a way of bringing people together around issues – becoming forums for action, content sharing and publishing. I would recommend finding an excuse to experiment with a Ning network as soon as possible – after all, it costs nothing other than the time to set it up and manage it. Subscribing to the Ning blog could also be useful if you really want to get into this. However, if you are a brand and you do set up a Ning network – one word of advice: don’t tell your digital agency you are doing it. They won’t like it because it is another example of non-specialists being able to do for free, what it previously cost a lot of money for an agency to build for you. It would probably be best to experiment with an in-house project until you get the feel of it and feel like linking in to your customers or consumers.
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