When I discovered that my HOA did not have a website, I considered volunteering to create one. After all, building websites is pretty close to what I do for a living. Then I realized that even if there was a website, keeping it updated in a timely manner would still be problematic. Most websites for small-organizations tend to be hopelessly out-of-date. So my thoughts shifted towards Wordpress or some CMS-type software. That still has it’s problems, though, since blogs aren’t fantastic for static content and giving people editor status might be a bit of a problem. I’d be doing this for a community, so I needed something community-driven. I need a social network.
Pretty much all I had to do was visit Ning, create an account, then create my social network. From there, you can edit your social network features (I removed audio and video, for instance), change where elements go (I made the forums more prominent), and configure the theme. This is pretty common stuff, but Ning made it dead simple. There are dozens of default themes, of which you can then customize the CSS. Editing the features is done through a pretty slick drag-and-drop interface.
From conception of the idea to having something that I was pretty happy with took 45 minutes. I spent more time on seed-content than setting things up.
Since launch, almost half of the homeowners have signed up for accounts and many of them have started and contributed to the discussion forum, put pictures online, and customized their own pages. Most of these people aren’t those that you’d consider to be the traditional social networking crowd. The Ning team has done a fantastic job of making the technology accessible.
I think this little experiment shows the merits of focused, localized social-network. Especially in situations like ours, where the physical network is a little disconnected by the geography of our community. The niche for networks built on Ning and Crowdvine is only going to grow as Facebook and Myspace become more feature rich, as they’ve already hit the point where they are overwhelming for new-comers.
This is not really relevant to the conversation, but as someone that’s been around technology almost all my life, I was really surprised that people signed up as couples. It makes sense for a community around homeownership, since most houses are owned and occupied by a family, but that would have never occurred to me. Also, a lot of couples share an email address. Again, I find that odd. Sonali and I don’t even share a phone number anymore. Another thing is that people keep referring to the ‘forum’ as a blog. I was going to explain the difference, until I realized that the differences are pretty minor. The insight gained from seeing how other people use the things you consider mundane can be quite fascinating and insightful.
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