A Blog for One?

My boss recently asked us to evaluate the social networking site Ning.  (That’s deliberately not a link.  I don’t want anyone accidentally visiting it.) The idea is sound: build a small, private social network — for example, to help people in the office communicate more easily about project statuses and professional development.

The execution is just terrible.  Ordinary users have access to administrative features (the software just pretends to save their changes while really doing nothing), people invited to join a social network can’t just login using their existing Ning account (they have to follow a special link in the invitation e-mail), and buttons peppered throughout the application take no apparent effect of any kind.  Plus, I was able to put the word “Hello!” in blinking, marqueeing, fuchsia text on my profile, and that’s just a crime against good hypertext markup.

But my favorite aspect of the site is not a quirky bug but a deliberate feature — this simple option that appears when creating a new blog post:

Blog Post Options

Blog Post Options

The first two I understand.  Anyone want to go over that third option with me?

4 thoughts on “A Blog for One?

  1. Kevin says:

    All true but the last part: the “blog for one” is actually a pretty reasonable feature, dating back to the granddaddy of all blogging and community software, LiveJournal.

    The idea is to have what the youngin’s call a “diary”, which for convenience’s sake can be integrated into the same interface and datastore as your public blog. Rather than having to clearly demarcate – in advance – between public and private expression, you can write your content first, and then place it on the spectrum of privacy as appropriate (and change that place along the spectrum without losing the content or having to transfer it to another medium).

  2. Ben says:

    I had considered LiveJournal, but I had (and have) two objections.

    The first is ideological. Content I intend to keep completely private never belongs on the web. Arguably, it doesn’t even belong on a computer. Why risk inadvertently exposing my private content by putting it online in the first place?

    However, I admit that argument is rather unconvincing in the face of LiveJournal’s immediate success.

    More importantly, Ning is not positioned as a replacement for LiveJournal or Facebook. I might (theoretically) be convinced to put my private diary on Facebook simply because that’s where I record the rest of my life. An event happens, and I decide afterward how widely (if at all) I want to share it.

    At Ning, however, I’m part of a smaller network with a specific purpose — the “Information Technology Staff” network, or the “People Who Play Games on Thursdays” network. Thus, when I visit the site I’ve already decided that the content I’m posting is relevant to the people in that network.

    The underlying problem is that Ning is trying to service an under-served niche while simultaneously offering every feature anyone might ever imagine. The result is that no features work particularly well, and even if they did the site is ill-suited to its stated purpose.

  3. I don’t really buy the ideological point about private content never going on the web. Consider: I might maintain a “private” Google calendar that I don’t want anyone else to see. Is it “completely private”? No. Google might have a security bug, or become evil or whatnot. Those are all things to be aware of, but not necessarily reasons to never put anything “private” on the web.

    In terms of Ning being a collection of network rather than the “one network to rule them all” (a la Facebook), I think you’re not looking at the bigger picture (from Ning’s perspective). I suppose no one really knows, but I strongly suspect that the grand plan is to eventually make it easier to manage your roles and content in multiple networks.

    The first step here is identity management – surely I want just one login that allows me to interact with the 5 networks I’m a part of. The next step, eventually, might be easier tools to let me post something to 3 of my 5 networks (checklists, groups, whatever – there are lots of interesting UI metaphors, and possibly some we haven’t even thought of). That’s one way to distinguish Ning and its ilk from being crappier Facebooks – because done right, they’d let you *easily* maintain one identity with several “faces” across your various social and professional networks.

    This might be a bad idea, or might not work, or might be overtaken by Facebook from the other flank (see the relatively new “Friend Lists” feature). But I think that’s where Ning is trending, and that’s where one of its potential value-adds lies.

    Now, all that doesn’t excuse a poor implementation of various features, but I think certainly justifies the “blog for one” feature.

  4. Ben says:

    In that case, at best we can say that Ning has positioned itself poorly. It is not ready to take on any mainstream social network (in the sense that its features are severely lacking in other, much more important areas), so we’re left with a product that’s simultaneously positioned to serve the “private social network” niche, while offering features useful only to the “all-encompassing One Network To Rule Them All” market.

    This is rather like a restaurant dishwasher who, upon hearing the advice, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have,” starts wearing a suit to work every day. So long as he’s still washing dishes, all he’s managed to accomplish is to ruin a good suit.

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