Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Artists, Art Societies, Art Groups and Ning

Take a look at Ning if you've ever wanted to set up a public or private art group, run or help with a national or local art society, are interested in new ways to market your art and/or have been running a group and using either Google groups or Yahoo groups.

Chelsea Green Tomatoes - a work in progress
10" x 8" coloured pencil on Arches

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I've always disliked intensely the functionality issues associated with trying to follow any sort of conversation in Google or Yahoo Groups.

The endless repetition of what has gone before and problems in trying to work out the sequence of a conversation gives me the screaming ab dabs.

What this means is that I don't participate in such groups as much as I might like to as I find I waste so much time trying to work out who said what to who in what order. I'm sure I'm not the only person who feels the same way! The other major disadvantage to me is that images are never ever present in the conversations - and I have to click a link or go and find them!

At present I'm involved in helping Vivien and Lindsay set up a small group of artists for a specific purpose (you can tell we haven't gone public can't you!). Yesterday we decided to try and use Ning to provide a way of communicating as a group in private and, as I'm the techie, set-up has been down to me.

So this post is a way of
  • recording what I've learned so far about Ning
  • enables me to pass that information on to fellow members of the new group
  • and, of course, also allows me to share it with the rest of my blog readers.
What is Ning?

I first had contact with Ning with Keiser Collectors - which is an invitation only group with a public home page. I'd heard about it before but hasn't investigated it too much. Being invited to be a member meant that I got to see how a new social network worked at first hand.

Essentially Ning is webware which allows you to create a social network for pretty much any sort of purpose which wouldn't raise an eyebrow. It allows you:
  • to connect with 'fans' or, as in Duane's case - art collectors
  • create a community of actual and potential customers
  • Raise awareness about a particular issue or event -such as an art fair
  • create a website for a specific event - such as an exhibition
  • create a group relating to a specific interest or activity - such as animal artists
  • connect with other artists in a specific locality
  • connect with other artists in an art society
  • share artwork and insights as a 'buddy group'
So basically lots of different ways in which the webware can be used - either by you as an individual in marketing your art or you as a member of a group that needs a networking facility.

What does Ning include?

Ning can include quite a lot of different features - but probably best to start fairly simple.
  • Network information - provides a profile and image for the network in the Ning directory
  • Keywords - allows you to specify so your network can be found in the directory and (presumably) on Google
  • a favicon - I've always wanted one of these! That's the teeny tiny image which identified a site to the left of its URL in a browser
  • you can decide how many of the features will be incorporated into your network. Features include:
    • members - this looks very like the followers widget in Blogger
    • communication - forum, groups, chat (any or all)
    • images - photos and videos (any or all).
    • rss feeds - as many as you like
    • badges and widgets - you choose
So what are the details of what's possible? Here's a brief summary!

Presentation and navigation
  • you can determine the appearance of your network up to a point. There are a number of preformatted templates to choose from plus you can also choose the colours for different parts of the template and the fonts to be used for headings and text.
  • you can manage the tabs for navigating the site - and demote some to sub-menus
  • you can choose the active language and customize the text on your network, including tab names, e-mail footers, error messages and more.
  • you have the option of adding javascript or HTML code to your network - for example so that it includes code for Google analytics.
  • the creator has control over membership and Administrators and can promote and demote Adminstrators and ban members from the network if required.
  • Network creators have a special community to help them get the best out of ning at the network for Ning Network Creators. There's also a community for developers who are developing open social network applications for the 535,000+ networks already on ning.
  • you can have a streaming record of activity on the main page if you want. You decide whether or not this includes new content, new comments, new friendships, new members, member updates and details of application activity
  • Each member has a fully customizable profile with their photo, basic information and everything they’ve contributed to the network
  • you can add text eg to create an area for a weekly column,
  • you can choose whether or not you broadcast a message to all members of the network
  • you have the option of an event listing in which you can schedule events, invite network members, and keep track of who’s attending. I'd anticipate that would be a great feature for an art society with regular events.
  • The network can have a forum - which can have categories (as many as you like) which then have discussions (called threads elsewhere) - and you can customise how these are displayed. The major advantage compared to Google/Yahoo groups is that you can upload an image into a discussion response. Overall, it's very like a conventional forum set-up and you can also usetags for discussions and responses.
  • It's possible to create groups for specific interests, affinities and/or geographical locations or whatever you fancy. Which would work very well for a national art society with geographical branches.
  • there's also a chat facility
  • Images: You can post photos and organize them into albums or display them in galleries or slideshows.
  • Videos: You can upload original footage or share videos from popular video services like YouTube, Google Video and Vimeo.
  • you can insert widgets from other websites and use them to direct people to other sites or for special promotions or community announcements.
Premium services

The most important aspect of ning is that it is completely FREE!

However you can have added extras (called the premium service) for a fee. In general, prices vary and vanity costs! For example you can:
  • Remove Ning Promotion Links for $7.95 per month - if you don't want people to know you use webware! ;) I think this is expensive and personally I wouldn't bother but if you want to customise your 'brand' the option exists!
  • Control the Ads for $19.95 per month (Ning runs ads on your social network but these can be removed or changed (I think) to ads of your choice). Personally my view is that if this is private site you can live with/ignore the ads . It's different if you want to go public. However if you create a temporary site for an event then (I think) you need not be tied into long run costs. You can always delete your site after it has served its purpose.
  • Use Your Own Domain Name for $4.95 per month per domain. That's quite expensive in my view considering Blogger lets you do that for free.
  • Get More Storage and Bandwidth for $9.95 per month per unit. The default (free option) comes with a quota of 10GB of storage and 100GB of bandwidth which equates to approximately 5,000 photos or 500 videos. You can also get additional units of 10GB storage (10GB) and bandwidth (100GB) for $9.95 per month, per unit. Most people are never going to need this with a small group - but it would be very different matter for a fully fledged forum. Bear in mind that the big ones operate in terabytes of data. You'd probably also need to spend the money to get control over the adverts and try and raise some income that way. (Show me a forum which doesn't have adverts!) My only concern at the moment is that I can't quite see how you know if you're running out of storage or bandwidth. I do know what some of my current activities run out at and I think with a bit of judicious deletion from time to time this is the sort of service which could operate very effectively without needing to pay a premium.
Public or private?

It's very much up to you. The options are as follows
  • Public: This network is visible to everyone. Anyone can sign up to become a member. Visitors can......
    • See everything
    • See just the main page
  • Private: This network is visible to members only. Who can sign up to become a member?
    • Anyone
    • Only Invited People
Duane has Keiser Collectors set up as a public network with the home page visible to all - but you have to be a member to see beyond this. I've got the new network set up as a private network which means you cann't access it without logging in via your ning user ID and password.
When you create a private network, only members can view pages on your network. You can choose to allow anyone to join your private network, or you can choose to allow only invited people to join.
Ning - What is a private network?
I hasten to add that I've not covered everything Ning offers above. However I have been very pleasantly surprised as I've been progressing the set-up. Except for the bit where trying to upload a photo freezes Firefox. But I've had the same problem at times with Flickr and there will be a solution!

You can
  • find out more at product overview
  • see what's possible on the Ning Blog which features different networks set up using Ning.
  • see what the press (eg Forbes and USA Today) have to say about it here.
My initial view is that those running smallish art groups should certainly take a close look at Ning. Those running larger groups might want to try and size the level of their activity first and think about the financial implications. Anybody who can operate Blogger could operate Ning - but it takes a bit longer to learn how it's all put together. I certainly benefited from having been a member of a ning community first.

I'll be reporting back on how our new network 'works' as we start to test it and stretch it. I know both Vivien and Lindsay have been very excited about it and it'll be interesting to hear the views of the rest of the group once we've finished the set-up.

So - what do you think? Interested? Can you see some possibilities for your own activities or of groups you currently belong to?

(Note: The coloured pencil drawing is a work in progress - the tomatoes need to be greener!)


Lindsay said...

Great post Katherine and I agree about it's ease of use. It's very natural to use. Nice teaser about our mysterious group ;-)

Jeanette Jobson said...

Katherine, I'm always so grateful for your technical brain. Without it I'd likely still have the plug for the computer in my hand wondering what to do next! :)

I truly have no left side to my brain. It simply doesn't exist.

Ning sounds like the perfect no brainer tool for artists like me and art groups to use.

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