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Ning for Business Networking by vti42117


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									   Updated Findings from NYS Forum’s testing of Ning Collaboration Platform:

Updated Findings (Reported on December 14, 2009)
This document also contains the entire “Initial Findings” from November 9, 2009
(starting on page 2) as a reference for those not familiar with that initial report.

Since the initial findings the only significant activity on has been the signup of 17 additional members,
bringing the total to 95. There has been minimal group and discussion activity since
November 2, with the most recent activity dated November 23.

What Has Been Found So Far
Listed below are the main problems encountered. Specific recommendations, strategies,
and tactics for resolving those problems are beyond the scope of this pilot, but the report
does list general remediation actions to begin to address the problems. (Many positive
reactions to use of Ning for collaboration and networking have also been found, and these
are itemized more in the Initial Findings.)

The problems, remediations, and notes below are the observations of Jim Costello, who
has been guiding the Ning testing for the NYS Forum in his role as government co-chair
of the Webmasters’ Guild workgroup. As such, these should be considered as interim
status and starting points for discussion, clarification, and consensus from the entire
Forum Social Media team led by the Emerging Technologies workgroup.

   1. Problem: The blocking of social networking sites (including Ning) by many state
      agencies is a major impediment to effective use of these sites on a statewide,
      cross-agency basis. Since there are clearly articulated and well defined reasons for
      this blocking (security and governance), it may be of equal concern that many
      agencies have little or no blocks on these social networking sites.

       Remediation: We need to identify and address the specific security, governance,
       and other concerns from a statewide, cross-agency perspective and develop
       guidelines and policies that can be applied for all.

       Notes: The firewall blocking that we’ve found with Ning does and will apply to
       all the other similar social networking / collaboration platforms (such as groupsite,
       ideascale, uservoice, socialtext, etc.) If we wish to deploy these platforms on a
       broad basis, it must be resolved; otherwise, it can’t be done fairly and effectively.
       Some of the main security issues (opening a wide hole in internet filtering
       software, access to otherwise blocked access such as webmail and email accounts,
       third-party software with potentially malicious code) are outlined in one of the
       discussion threads on

   2. Problem: In general, social networking platforms have some accessibility issues
      due in some part to the technologies employed. One glaring problem with Ning

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   Updated Findings from NYS Forum’s testing of Ning Collaboration Platform:

       was that the initial registration page used CAPTCHA for the form submission
       (whereby you type in the word you see in the box above), but without the audio
       option, which makes it impossible for sight-impaired user to register.

       Remediation: We need to evaluate any platform (Ning or otherwise) for
       accessibility compliance.

       Notes: We contacted Ning about CAPTCHA and they said they were working on
       an audio CAPTCHA and would help anyone needing help to register via their
       Help desk. Also, that they took issues of accessibility seriously.

   3. Problem: The terms of service agreement with Ning has not been reviewed by
      any authoritative party.

       Remediation: Terms of service would need to be resolved, preferably on a
       statewide basis. GSA has done this with many providers at a federal level.

   4. Problem: Google ads appear on the free version of Ning (which we have been
      piloting). Ads are common to most of the free or cheaper versions of these social
      networking platforms. You can remove them for a price ($24.95 per month for

       Remediation: Determination needs to be made at a statewide level if these
       Google ads are acceptable in this context or not.

   5. Problem: Ning (like most, if not all, of these platforms) is a hosted service, which
      raises security, data ownership, longevity issues.

       Remediation: See Number 1 previously.

   6. Problem: The Ning GUI (screen) is not as good as the GUI’s of similar platforms
      (such as Groupsite). The Ning page has too many tabs (many of them unused) and
      its formatting of groups and discussions is not as easy to read as most similar

       Remediation: Either choose to go with a different platform such as which has a much simpler and better interface or customize
       Ning as much as possible to match the purpose and goals of the Forum’s use of
       the platform (i.e., for groups and discussions, rather than blogs and chat.).

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   Updated Findings from NYS Forum’s testing of Ning Collaboration Platform:

   7. Problem: Ning offers features that match the Forum’s usage purpose and others
      that are irrelevant to that purpose. There are also other uses that Ning does not
      offer such as wikis and voting.

       Remediation: This gets back to the importance of the Forum’s purpose statement
       for social networking and collaboration. We may want a menu of different tools to
       match the components of that purpose: a separate wiki platform, a group voting
       tool such as IdeaScale or UserVoice.

       Notes: Ning is free with no restrictions, but does offer premium services for a
       monthly fee. Groupsite also has a free version for unlimited users, but only 5
       subgroups and 250MB storage. However it matches the Forum’s purpose for
       collaboration much closer with a simpler “communication, share, network”
       interface. It’s formatted better for discussions and file sharing. UserVoice and
       IdeaScale add the group voting feature (thumbs-up, thumbs-down), both also
       offering free and fee versions. NYS CIO uses IdeaScale on its website. Socialtext
       offers social networking, collaborative blogs, wikis in a free version for fewer
       than 50 users, but then it gets pricey ($6 per user per month). Also offers an onsite
       appliance installation as well as a hosted platform. All the others are hosted

We probably don’t need to test the Ning platform any further in regard to the pilot. We
have probably found out as much as we will find out at this stage. Our next step would be
to tackle the problems listed above (and any others that surface) in preparation for
possible adoption and implementation of Ning or other tools.

In the meantime, we can continue to use Ning as desired if it serves an interim purpose.

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   Updated Findings from NYS Forum’s testing of Ning Collaboration Platform:

Initial Findings (Reported on November 9, 2009)

The collaboration platform was officially rolled out as
a test/evaluation site for NYS Forum members in October 2, 2009 with an introductory
email sent to the Webmasters’ Guild listserv (387 recipients) and co-chairs of some other
Forum workgroups (such as Accessibility). This was followed up on October 13 with an
email from the Emerging Technologies workgroup to all the other workgroup co-chairs
inviting them to join Ning as part of the Forum’s evaluation under the guidance of the
Emerging Technologies workgroup.

The tables on the following pages summarize some initial findings from the first month
of use.

Caution: As with any evaluation, numbers alone don’t tell the whole tale. With social
media, especially in a trial period, it’s unclear how to accurately interpret the numbers.
However, Jakob Nielssen, a leading authority on Usability, offers some guidance. The
following is taken from his web page:

where he says that

“All large-scale, multi-user communities and online social networks that rely on users to contribute
content or build services share one property: most users don't participate very much. Often,
they simply lurk in the background.

User participation often more or less follows a 90-9-1 rule:

       90% of users are lurkers (i.e., read or observe, but don't contribute).

       9% of users contribute from time to time, but other priorities dominate their time.

       1% of users participate a lot and account for most contributions: it can seem as if they
        don't have lives because they often post just minutes after whatever event they're
        commenting on occurs.”

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   Updated Findings from NYS Forum’s testing of Ning Collaboration Platform:

Numbers and Statistics
Test Time Period      10/02/2009 – 11/02/2009

Participants             78 registered members:,         • 44 from Webmasters’ Guild listserv (out of 387 on listserv);
formed @ 18 months       • 13 active members (commenting, starting
ago has 21,261               groups/discussions)
members                  • 25 have uploaded photos of themselves for profile
                         • 6 of the 11 Forum Workgroups have at least 1 co-chair
                               o REGISTERED: Accessibility, IT Corporate
                                   Roundtable, Emerging Technologies, Project
                                   Management, Security, Webmasters’ Guild
                               o NOT REGISTERED: Business Continuity, IT
                                   Greening, Matrix, IT Procurement,

Groups                   4 groups formed:
(groups are formed        • Emerging Technologies
around interests or       • PM COP
topics; the Forum         • PM Steering Committee
could conceivably         • PM Roundtable
have one group for
each Forum
Workgroup and
additional groups
within these groups;,
has 587 groups.

Discussions              4 started at top level (some others also started within groups):
(this seems to be the    • Web Analytics and Search Engine Optimization: Questions
main feature of Ning         and Issues (no activity)
– collaborative,         • Topics for 2009-2010 Monthly Meetings: (3 comments)
threaded discussions;    • Findings on Our Evaluation of NYSForumWebGuild (21              comments)
has 1,088 discussions.   • Developing a Purpose Statement for NYS Forum’s Own Use
                             of Web 2.0 Social Networking Tools (4 comments)

Agency Access            6 agencies have firewall blocks on Ning (identified by Websense
                         as a social networking site) that block all access or provide
                         limited text-only access:
                         • DMV, OTDA, DOH, OSC, DOS, Civil Service

                         Members have signed on from at least 24 different agencies
                         (including some of those listed above, by overriding the firewall

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   Updated Findings from NYS Forum’s testing of Ning Collaboration Platform:

                         or getting exemptions):
                         • DMV, SED, SUNYORANGE, DOL, OFA, DEC, OSCIC,
                             DCJS, PAROLE, OFT, EMPIRE, DHCR, OSC, OPDV,
                             TAX, MHRIC, SUNY, DOT, TROOPERS, OMR, DOH,
                             ORPS, DEC, DOS
Events                   2 events have been posted on the calendar
Blogs                    1 Blog has been created, “Can We Build a Web 2.0 Community
                         at the NYS Forum?” with 1 comment
Shared Workspace         1 document was uploaded to the Shared Workspace, but no

Feedback and Observations
Pros                                            Cons
• Good overall                                  • No singleton session pattern, multiple
• Good on capturing and threading                  sessions allowed under one user/pw
   discussions                                  • Prompted to install Adobe Flash player
• Good on forums and blogs                         in IE 8 (violates agency policy)
• Easy to use                                   • IE 7 pops us script error windows
• Like ability to have discussions              • Lack of formatting for edit/display. No
• Like ability to upload documents                 bullet list feature for example. Can’t
• Good for social networking (person-to-           collapse, re-sort threaded discussions.
   person contact beyond known groups)          • No wiki
• Good for sharing information at a             • Feature for sending an invitation did
   central site without needing webmaster          not work correctly for one user
   to post                                      • Obvious accessibility issues with:
• Worked with Firefox 3, IE 7, IE 8                  o the Captcha function on
                                                         registration, not having an audio
                                                         option – makes it nearly
                                                         impossible for sight-impaired to
                                                     o Turning off javascript disables
                                                         some key functionality such as
                                                         replying to comments
                                                • Firewall blocked access for some
                                                • Security concerns:
                                                     o Ning falls under umbrella of
                                                         social networking, like Facebook
                                                         and MySpace, which provide
                                                         access to all sorts of subject
                                                         matter (some questionable and
                                                     o Controlling access to just
                                                         subdomains (such as
                                                         m) is difficult because of need to
                                                         access other domains for

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   Updated Findings from NYS Forum’s testing of Ning Collaboration Platform:

                                                      o Provides possible access to other
                                                        blocked access areas such as
                                                      o Support 3rd party software, which
                                                        may contain malicious code
                                                      o Privacy concerns with email
                                                        addresses and content

Other Observations
• In evaluating the Ning tool, Forum should also look to reporting out on best practices,
   i.e., which tools to use and how to use them
• Test for and ensure 508 Accessibility with any social networking tool used by Forum
• In terms of collaboration, also need non-Ning tools such as virtual meeting software
   and virtual conferencing
• To encourage use among Webmasters’ Guild members, perhaps restrict ability to
   listserv only to co-chairs and direct members to Ning for information.
• Need to build a community of active members and that may require reaching a critical
   mass of resources and interactions on the Ning site to make it the place to go.

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