It’s a classic echo-chamber thing. The iPhone is "huge" in the land where people develop applications for it — primarily Silicon Valley and it’s offshore tributaries. Wherever you look you see iPhones all around.
So you think EVERYBODY EVERYWHERE has one. And so you prioritize your messages, marketing, EVEN your product development around it. You make an iPhone app to integrate your website into the iPhone ecosystem. And then other stuff, that might actually appeal to many more people and be more strategic to your business falls by the wayside for a while.
For example, one sees breathless announcments/blog posts like this from companies like Ning and others.
Meanwhile I can list maybe five features that don’t seem to be happening at Ning that are likely more valuable to many more people in many more places than the echo-chamber of Silicon Valley.
For more on the Silicon Valley echo chamber see this.
Leave a response
Your blog is well designed and I like the way you present the services you offer. I think the echo chamber can be valuable if you take the feedback you get from it with a grain of salt. I do think that the early adopters in the echo chamber are going to be the most critical customers you can find and their initial feedback will be very valuable as you iterate tweak and test your product. One does have to keep in mind the massive middle of the market.
Are you located in San Francisco? I’m coming into town the next week and would like to meet with you should time permit. Please get back to me on your availability.
Thanks for the post and mention of Ning. What would the five other features be that you’d like to see added to Ning? We’d love the feedback!
(ceo – ning)
Barak – interesting posts…hope you don’t mind that I am going to comment to Gina though!
Ning is great. There are a few features that would be good:
1. email groups within the group. For example, we use Ning for http://www.escuelabv.org our kids’ school… Within this, we have various committees…Barak, I and a few others are on the tech committee…we would like an @escuelabv.org (or escuelabv.ning.com or whatever) email list that would just go to the tech committee…
2. The SF Unified School District blocks many URLs for fear of unsuitable kid content. Unfortunately, they block Ning content (text seems to go through but images, videos, CSS doesn’t)…It would be great if somehow escuelabv.org was seen entirely as its own domain and greenlighted…
Those are the big two…
Hey Gina.. thanks for reading the blog.
Online social nets in general, and Ning’s highly targeted, self-created ones in particular, are extremely powerful phenomena—as you, more than most. You bring people together in ways that were just not possible before. You are like "Cheers" (a place on the web where everybody knows your name) and I think you can leverage that and ultimately own a bigger chunk of people’s digital lives than pure "social networking". This will make you stronger and more valuable as a company.
But you gotta hook into lives/habits/tools in deeper, more subtle ways.
Besides my day job (where I think about this subject far too much, probably :-), I have loved watching the adoption of a Ning network I created pro-bono for parents, staff and teachers at my kids’ school in San Francisco — Buena Vista Elementary in the Mission. The school had fairly serious intra-communications problems coupled with a lack of social cohesion. On a pro-bono basis our firm put together a communications plan http://www.slideshare.net/barak.kassar/bv-communications-plan-march-07-presentation-662035 and it became very clear that, among other things, the school’s new website http://www.escuelabv.org shouldn’t be a "website" per se, but a social network. And Ning made it incredibly easy to build, change, etc. The site is very active and has begun to change how many adults at school relate to each other in fundamental ways.
Ning isn’t our community site… it IS our site.
And that’s my point.
We are running up against Ning’s limits as a communications tool. This can be frustrating because communications is the backbone of a social network (offline and online).
I fear you risk eventually being relegated to becoming the "community" adjunct of a website (vs. THE website) — or, one way or another, becoming just one of many tools that we use. In a world that favors integration, Ning risks eventually falling by the wayside. Behind the scenes Google and Microsoft both are making major pushes at the education (not to mention other markets where I’m sure other examples of our frustration are playing out). In fact our school district will hardly support our site because they want all schools to standardize on Microsoft SharePoint.
Here is one example of an integration point that would help to solidify Ning’s place with us—and presumably others. It’s an example of hooking into deeper habits/tools. Let people interact with each other without having to go to the network site to do it — e.g. thru email which remains a whopping category of time spent online.
You offer some version of this today with "following" of conversations but you need more than that.
At our school, for example, there is, in addition to our Ning site, a very active legacy Yahoo group. For simple one-to-many communications, it is far easier for people to use because they either just shoot out an email or reply to email. If you see yourselves as competing with Yahoo and Google groups (you should, if you don’t) then know that you are unable to knockout Yahoo in our school until you do this. And smaller, ad-hoc Yahoo and Google groups continue to pop up all the time (think of them as insurgents). It’s hard to stop them because the email-all feature is really convenient.
If you believe in this general idea… perhaps we can talk about it offline. There is somebody I think you really ought to talk to.
Allan. Thank you. I am actually based out of Europe until summer (Barcelona). Shoot me an email at email@example.com and let’s talk by phone.