Sometimes the needs of a heritage group extend beyond the simple need to convey information. Blogs and Facebook fan pages allow limited interactivity. But for groups whose members are intensely passionate about a topic, a free social networking site like Ning could be the way to go.
So what is Ning, and who is using it to talk about heritage?
Essentially, Ning allows you to create your very own Facebook, complete with groups, design customization, forums, RSS capability and individual profile pages that incorporate blogs. There are also multimedia sharing functions whereby members can upload photos and videos.
According to Quantcast.com, an estimated 6.8 million people access Ning a month. Far fewer than Facebook, but you have to consider the quality of communication going on in these sites. Unlike the “drive-by” communication common to Facebook, Ning flourishes when ongoing, intense discussion is needed on a topic.
Compared to other social networking sites, Ning provides the a solid platform for effective, good-looking sites with minimal effort, according to TechCrunch.
There are several general factors to consider before starting a Ning site.
- You have an instant social network with a lot of the functionality of Facebook and your own brand
- It’s customizable with colors, graphics and typefaces
- There are a variety of privacy options for the site and for individual users
- Feature set is continually improved.
- Ability to track your web statistics through Google Analytics
- Unless your potential membership is highly prolific and motivated, you will have to manage your community intensively to keep the participation level up.
- Once the information is in Ning, you can’t readily export it to another platform (like a blog).
- There are hundreds of social sites out there and many folks are fatigued with signing up for them.
- While Ning is improving, there will still be some instances (like getting a photo to show up in a post) where a rudimentary knowledge of HTML code is helpful.
- It’s also your responsibility to deal with spambots and members behaving badly.
Participation often comes in waves. This may be affected by a major news item, event or recognition by other sites and blogs. Just prepare yourself for it.
Heritage organizations worldwide have joined Ning to share their values. Here are a few examples:
Natchitoches Preservation Network (collaborative small town heritage site)
Natchitoches, La., the first permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase territory, is home to more than 30 organizations dealing with heritage issues. These organizations have long worked together to preserve the town’s historic legacy. While each has had its own website (often several years out of date) and publicity methods, the duplicate efforts wasted the energy of these organizations.
Ning was used to create the Natchitoches Preservation Network site.
The 151-member site uses groups and blogs to keep the community apprised of various heritage events and informs them of ongoing research and volunteer opportunities. Blog posts include anything from Community Cemetery Cleaning Day to thesis project presentations by Heritage Resources Students at nearby Northwestern State University of Louisiana.
The site also makes use of RSS and embedding of other social media to enhance the experience. It includes a virtual library of links from the social bookmarking service Delicious. It also incorporates a Friendfeed group that allows members to add news stories related to Natchitoches heritage from other sites, embedding them on the front page.
Members post photos and videos about events and places around the parish including the a series of “This Place Matters” videos in which individuals explain the importance of their favorite landmarks around the parish.
The site was also used to communicate intern research hosted at the National Center for Preservation Technology an Training during the summer. The interns blogged to the Natchitoches community weekly about the progress with their projects and how the projects benefit them as a community. They then presented their research at the end of the summer during the event “Preservation in Your Community.”
Heritage is more than just ensuring that a place matters, some heritage individuals find their passion preserving more intangible aspects, such as the art of music.
GenealogyWise (Genealogy Research)
Genealogy is one of humankind’s favorite hobbies. We all want to know what makes us “us.” Not surprisingly, there are numerous genealogy networks on Ning. GenealogyWise is one of the largest. With more than 14,000 members and 3,000 groups, it’s very active. Using its group function, it also includes an interesting method for people to connect: by surname. The groups also tackle specific topics such as dating photos and outdoor genealogy. Nearly 400 videos (many of which are how-tos) have been posted. And to help the large membership connect, the site also holds scheduled live chats.
Museum 3.0 (Discussions on museums in the digital age)
Museum 3.0 poses the question, “What will the museum of the future be like?” More than 1,600 people from all over the world have joined in seeking an answer to this question.
The forums serve as their discussion board for a variety of topics including the future of the audio tour, new virtual tours on different sites, Twitter as a business tool and museum-related surveys.
Museum 3.o also uses the events function of Ning to promote different conferences, seminars and networking opportunities.
Museum 3.0 also uses Ning’s video and image sharing opportunities to post more than 500 images from different museums and about 50 videos ranging from interviews to museum-related speeches to videos depicting the “Reel Texas Cowboys.”
But heritage is not something that needs to be simply left to professionals. With social networking sites like Ning, heritage values are now in the hands of the individual.
For some, Ning enables them to research their family heritage and unit individuals globally giving them one centralized place to share aspects of their lives. The families use their Ning sites to post family photos and videos, discuss family reunions and also research their family trees.
Regardless of the heritage you find important, let it be community heritage or your own family’s history, Ning enables you to share it all globally with folks who share those same values at the click of a button.
The sites we’ve covered are only a sampling of what’s out there. We’d love to hear your thoughts on your favorite heritage-focused Ning sites.