Robert Denton

Staggering work of genius from Portland, Maine – Photographer, Designer, Taco Maker, Birder, Biker, Business Owner

Ning – Social Software Lubricant!

Ning is a free online service (yeah but if it’s a service how’ll it remain free?) allowing one to easily build and use social applications.

What is social software?

It tends to be a web application enabling one to post content, e.g., photos, bookmarks, reviews, and easily match, transact, or communicate with other people. The matching/transacting/communicating is usually supported by a strong use of related meta-data for each piece of content. So you post pictures of your dog and tag it ‘dog’, ‘Dachshund’ and ‘noodle’ (because that’s his name) and suddenly you’ve made connection with dog loves, dachshund fans, and noodle shop devotees due to your tags!

This type of tagging is called a folksonomy in the business. The term is well enough known that practitioners at the recent Taxonomy Bootcamp I attended had a session with the word in the title! And I thought it was only for geeky geeks, not just geeks. OK, it was Lisa Kamm from JP Morgan Chase (formerly IBM?) whose presentation title used the word, and since I didn’t actually meet or talk at length with Ms. Kamm I can’t speak to her geek level or interest! Nonetheless, folksonomies are really interesting in that they present self-organized content which tends to be a very good indicator of a zeitgeist within a group of people, if not an accurate representation from a taxonomic viewpoint. So while you may know the group of people is interested in dogs of the breed Dachshund you have no idea of the relation of the word ‘noodle’.

In my opinion, and from a working standpoint of what fascinates me about social software, this is both useful and not. It’s useful if you dig a little further to learn of the connection and realize that said Dachshund was named Noodle by a 6 year old! You have learned something personal and that may foster a relationship or communication in the whole process. On the other hand, if you allow self-categorization for critical information, or the organization of a web site that intends to communicate to the public the usefulness falls apart. Naturally.

What is Ning?

It’s a creation from Marc Andreesson of Netscape fame and Gina Bianchini. The idea is you use the software there, or, you sign up and develop something. The development process can be as simple as seeing something you like and copying it or viewing the source. They are providing a framework or playground to create social applications. The development environment is (internal campus gasp!!) PHP and they provide a lot of disk space for applications (1gb for public data). The faq for Ning talks about adding Python/Ruby support. The Ruby on Rails framework is a wildfire right now and is ridiculously easy for small application development.

This is an exciting venture. If it takes off it will be due to the quality and value of applications built here… sort of the sneezers who start using something and spread it around (think craigslist) until it becomes more ubiquitous. I don’t know their business model but maybe it’s about the future and providing the next level of support for successful ventures.

If we could do something like this for student web hosting it’d be hot. I don’t think we need to make it so abstracted but lowering the bar to someone who can’t code is a great idea. I’d like to start with Drupal perhaps and go from there.

Posted: 04.10.2005 in Design, GeneralTagged , , , , Both comments and pings are currently closed. — RSS 2.0

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