Just about everyone knows about Facebook, even if they don’t participate in this 350,000 strong effort. We’ve also heard of MySpace that other, more teen-oriented network. We can also admit right up front these networks are not for everyone. But even if you don’t play with these big social networks, there are other very useful opportunities in this realm. Think of LinkedIN, for the business connections in your life and career, or Classmates for finding that old high school friend. These other efforts fall under the rubric of “niche” social networking.
In 2008, I committed to creating a website for archiving the work of the National Sea Grant Assembly’s Sustainable Coastal Community Development Network. A few months later, we still couldn’t find an acceptable way to store our materials, and then take advantage of our group’s desire to collaborate across states, regions and programs. We did have a listserv that was fairly active (and contained about 150+ members).
At the urging of a colleague, I stumbled upon Ning.com. Ning is a social network for networks, allowing subscribers like me to develop our own networks. I used it to create the Sea Grant Sustainable Coastal Community Development Network to fill the bill. With 91 members, we use the site for a variety of forums, blogs, feeds, groups, and our own individual pages to post content about what we are doing, who we are, and how we work together. With dozens of nifty widgets for things like on-line file sharing, it’s got a lot more to recommend it than a typical listserv, except that for many, intertia demands we stick with the status quo listserv.
I’ve debated whether and how to separate listserv traffic from Ning users, at this point settling on a compromise where we post notice of big items to the listserv which then direct traffic to the Ning. But the intent is to offer a more dynamic platform than email back and forth, and to archive or present these efforts to the network and the wider world.
The SCCD Ning inspired a similar effort by the other new kids on the National Sea Grant Assembly block–the Climate Change Network, who also developed a very similar Ning site.
These sites are useful examples of developing professional peer-to-peer networks. There are others out there. Explore them and see how they might be useful in your own work.