Despite the ominous title of Ninged to Death – Work, Rest and Play in Building Academic Communities, this session from Shaun Belcher gave us a very positive insight into the potential of Ning social networks for creating communities. Shaun drew on his extensive experience of setting up Ning sites for academia and other worlds. Ning is used for a lot of academic websites, but is still generally what Shaun calls ‘under the radar’.
In Shaun’s view, the open source version of Ning, Elgg ( what he calls ‘a kind of mini Facebook’) is much more demanding when it comes to administration. The next one on, Joomla, also has more potential for problems). Shaun showed us some example Ning sites he has set up, including Culturgen for arts alumni of Nottingham Trent University. Ning is about much more than social networking. It creates the potential to work collaboratively and to start and develop groups. Shaun told us about an example where a Ning community is now working collectively to write an academic book. In his view, Ning is going to play a big part in a new era of research, publication and collaboration across frontiers.
Shaun highlighted that a Ning website needs to be based around a core objective to be sustainable. There is potential to integrate a Ning site with other websites. But as with all of this kind of stuff, you should always back up with a Wiki or using Googledocs.
In terms of private use, Shaun explained that a Ning site can create a sense of an organisation having a bigger presence. You can in effect ‘piggyback’ from one Ning to another, moving members across.
‘Light touch’ maintenance with regular updates is essential to keep a Ning community alive.