Using Ning in the Classroom

I guess it's about time I reported on my experience using Ning in my English 403/503 class (Digital Rhetoric). We've been using it to make social networking sites, and some of them are really coming along. Check it out! I'm going to make a presentation at GPACW about the project, but you can see for yourself. I believe Kairosnews readers might be particularly interested in Freeware Chronicles, Comics Scholarship, and Fan Fiction Unlimited, though I like them all. Of course, these students could use some extra members, so pass the word along if you would. :P



these look really good. Last summer, I had a graduate student in counseling who was in my online class make a site in Ning with the view of maybe using it later as the main site for a business he was trying to start. One of the things that he and I discussed without ever coming to any kind of an answer is how to get people to go to such a site, short of spending thousands on advertising it. I like to think of attracting people to social network sites as a design issue, so I was wondering if you and your students had any conversations about that. --pz

Well, that's the million visitor question, eh? :)

I have thought about this issue and read God knows how many articles and blogs (and even YouTube videos) on how to build up a large readership or subscriber base. I have also experimented with many different techniques. Many were fruitless. Here's my thoughts in brief. Granted, my specialty is game-related sites, but I think these will apply more broadly.

Tips on Building up a large readership
1. Be affiliated with a famous or prestigious organization (or journal). Interested people may flock to these sites hoping to be included or recognized by the community. They are also more likely to associate it in their head with quality. If you can't be "the official" blog or site, at least try to get recognized in some way by a big fish.

2. Participate widely in related forums/blogs. So, if you're promoting a Ning site on, say, Wii Fitness, create accounts at other Wii Fitness sites of all types and join in the conversations there in a major way. Put a link to you Ning site in your signature (or mention it periodically in context) and you will get many new members.

3. Try to focus publicity on some special project or article you've written; research you've conducted; etc. Let's say you write a 12-page article on a classic game like Space Invaders. Then submit the story to Slashdot, Boing Boing, or whatever other big blogs are even tangentially related. The influx of new visitors will be short lived, but if there's lots of good content on the site, many will stay.

4. Ask more questions; act more ignorant than you are. Lots of people are more likely to comment when they can feel intelligent or have something worthwhile to say; this often comes in response to an inquiry or a confession that you need more info on something. If you always answer questions and act like an expert, people will either be too intimidated or feel like they have nothing valuable to add.

5. Talk about other posts in other places on your site. Let's say a guy named Howard makes a comment somewhere about a Wii. Then if you're in another thread on, say, PlayStation, if there's a way to mention Howard's other post go ahead. If people see you're paying attention to their posts, posting becomes more valuable in their eyes and they will do it more. People love seeing that they are having a real impact on a community.

Out of all of these, I'd say being active in the community is the main thing. Probably a good rule of thumb is to post three to five times as many words on other sites than your own, especially when you're just starting out. Show strong interest in other people and what they're doing, and many of them (and their members) will reciprocate.

Check out Barton's gaming blog at Armchair Arcade.

I love #4 in your advice here.

Looks like the Ning sites were a great success!

Charlie | Writing Spaces & cyberdash