The New Ning: Ning 3.0 - - First Impression, Pros and Cons.

The New Ning: Ning 3.0

Have you heard the news? Re-Imagining Ning

Ning/Glam Social has completely rebuilt the Ning platform from the ground-up - - well, almost. This platform release is major, and will be known as: Ning 3.0. The development of 3.0 has been a huge hush-hush project, and will come at some as "rapid fire".

 

One of the primary reasons for the development of 3.0, Ning was pushing the limits with Ning 2.0. Obviously, their acquisition by Glam Media gave them the resources to upgrade. The strategy for development: (1) Move Ning into the future, and (2) Move the Design and User Interface up to Industry standards. Ning definitely needed a facelift. And boy, did they give it one!

According to John McDonald of Ning: Ning 3.0 is our next generation product. It's geared toward social leaders: people who already have — or want to attract — a community of people to gather around compelling content and conversation. It's a full re-launch of the Ning product. We invite you to start a free trial to test drive it. (Although obviously you can cancel before your free trial is up if you don't want to continue!)

 

John also talks about, and the most exciting new features - - extremely powerful:

The new Ning offers powerful flexibility for publishing and populating sites with multiple kinds of content and layouts, as well as multiple instances of features. You want 10 forums? You've got it. A community blog and an official blog? Done.

 

The last big upgrade was (Ning 2.0). In that release, Ning added the new Design Studio from the old Ning Editor, Header and Footer Instant Ad Boxes, and the alternative tools to designing a site: Developer Mode and LESS variables. The word upgrade doesn't apply much to Ning 3.0, at least not from my viewpoint. With the launch of Ning 3.0, I would have to call this a new product - - a new Ning. Too much has changed to call this an upgrade. Although the overall platform features will be similar, the entire HTML structure including CSS selector names have completely changed. This is to accommodate a new responsive design.


With the huge platform changes, there are a lot of pros and what appears to be some serious cons. The good news is: Most of the cons are temporary. There is so much to write about. I will try to touch on the most important aspects of the new Ning 3.0. I'll spare you a lot of the details, and we'll cover more as time goes by.

Before you take it all in, although I have concerns about different issues; all-in-all, I believe if existing Ning Networks can approach this with an open mind, 2 years down the road, you'll own even better and more exciting Social Communities, with creative possibilities that are never-ending.

 

For those new to the platform: Ning is the Industry Leader in online Social Community Building. The platform enables anyone to build their own niche Community with: Members, Friends, Blogs, Forums, Photos, Profile Pages, Latest Activity, and more. With the new release, there are modules not yet available that are part of Ning 2.0, but the power to build multiple modules is huge. Most of the modules are in development, and coming soon. After an extensive preview of the new Ning 3.0 by our Team, these are our findings.

 

What's New?

  • New Interface, Sleek and Modern
  • Responsive Design (adjusts to any device)
  • Social Site Manager
  • Better Blogging
  • Beautiful Photo Interface
  • Disqus commenting for non-members
  • Facebook commenting in near future
  • Multiple Instances of Modules
  • Multiple Page Layouts for one Site
  • For Designers, a powerful Smart Grid

 

Overall Pros:
  • Sleek and Responsive - It's sleek, fluid, powerful, and well, first impression - - exciting. The overall Fluid feel and liquid design - - elegant.
  • It Feels Good. It almost feels like a platform mixture of WordPress Publishing and Social Community Building. The dashboard is easy to access. The "Social Site Manager" and especially the "Sites & Pages" feature, just feels good.
  • The Photo presentation throughout is beautiful.
  • It is the Future. It has a responsive design, and a modern look and feel. Responsive Design is when a website will adjust to any device, and not change radically as in most websites "today" that offer a mobile and desktop version. It will probably take another 2 years for this to become mainstream. So, Ning has a nice jump on this, at least in regards to responsive layout. There's more to RD, but it's a great start.
  • Multiple Modules - The platform allows you to build multiple instances of modules. For example, you can build multiple Forums, with their own Categories. You could build a regular Forum, a Forum that serves as a VIP Forum, or a Forum for any purpose. You can even build multiple Photo Modules - - a completely different module for Members and/or Administrators to upload photos.
  • Social Site Manager / Site & Pages:

     

  • Multiple Layouts on One Site - You can build multiple Custom Layout Pages, and drag/drop any of your created modules to the Custom Page. This just downright rocks! The possibilities are endless.
  • No More Cookie-Cutter Module Layout - With the ability to create multiple modules and multiple page layouts, the cookie-cutter "Ningish" look can quickly become a part of the past.
  • The API will likely provide more power than ever, but only the new Pro Version includes access to the API. For now we don't know much about the API. The idea it will be more powerful comes from Ning.

 

 

Overall Cons:

  • Product Not Ready for Prime Time - Our initial assessment was, Ning is launching the new product too soon. There are several critical modules that are not available on initial launch. These are the ones I took note of: Groups, Videos, Events, and Paid Access. See more details under: What's Missing?
  • Why Launch With Missing Modules? After sharing these thoughts with Ning Developers, it seems there is a method to the madness, and not unimpressive. Ning made the decision to launch 3.0 now, with the most critical modules for building a community included, and the promise to complete the development of the other modules, impacted by User feedback. This is not something most software platforms would consider - - build a product based on what their Users really want and need.
  • Design Studio - Limited compared to 2.0. In our view, it needs much work. But maybe, it's because this is part of what we do for a living, designing websites. There are a few new features, like being able to drag/drop the logo and navigation bar, very cool for non-coders. But, a lot of the old settings and features are not there, needed by non-coders. The current background images are clunky and too bold. But, we believe Ning will add more subtle and professional looking tiles in the coming weeks - - fingers crossed. In the meantime, it's very easy to upload your own background image. The Themes are even more limited than in 2.0. But what's there is definitely going in the right direction. Ning will be adding more themes in the coming months.
  • Customization and Tips Won't Work - I'm not one to report something that could cause panic. And, I'm a huge Ning Fan. But, there is simply no way to skirt this issue. The biggest con - - All Ning 2.0 customization will need to be redesigned and developed, to work on Ning 3.0. Yeah, sorry to say, you read that right. This is our biggest disappointment. However, according to Ning, with the addition of responsive design, there's no getting around it. Sometimes change is not easy.
  • Migration from 2.0 to 3.0 (Timeline) - Initially Ning mentioned that Ning 2.0 sites will have until summer of 2014 to transition to Ning 3.0. They are reconsidering the timeline. Why is this a problem? In addition to having to redesign sites, the Migration Tool is not ready. For existing sites, you will not be able to move your site content over, until: (1) The completion of the Migration Tool (seamless as possible according to Ning), and (2) The addition of these Modules: Groups, Videos, Events, and Paid Access.
Don't Panic, Help Is Here - As JenSocial and NingCustomDesign has done for a while now, my Partner (soon to announce!) and I, will specialize in hand-holding, redesigns, recreating apps, and everything Ning 3.0. We'll be here for you. We will offer customization at our design and application development rates. But, we will also offer tips and free support when possible.

 

 

What's Missing?

It's tempting to list: What is included in 3.0? It's highly likely that most modules and features are on the way. I'll cover what I know is missing, and what I know for sure is coming.

  • Discontinued Modules - Uploaded Music and Uploaded Videos.
  • Modules Coming Soon - Groups, Events, Video (embedded videos), and Paid Access. These modules are under development. They will be implemented in the near future.
  • UPDATE on Existing Videos: Great news from Ning - - existing "uploaded" Videos will be accessible/viewable on Ning 3.0. However, as mentioned above, you will no longer be able to upload videos. You will be able to add videos with embedded code. See quote below.
  • Forum comment and Link by Ning Developer: As part of the upgrade process, you can move over already uploaded videos from your v2 network and members will be able to access them on devices that support flash.
  • Modules Missing - Chat and Inbox - It's not clear if Ning will offer a Chat or Inbox. My guess is, they will.
  • No Profile Page Text Box - Unfortunately, I heard back from Ning on this. Currently, it is not in the works. However, I believe if enough NCs feel their sites need this feature, Ning will try to include in the future. For now, new Ning sites could take advantage of a long answer Profile Question.
  • Instant Ad Boxes (Header and Footer) - Coming in the near future.
  • Can't add Member Module to Custom Page - Coming in the near future.
  • Pages (like the new Pages in 2.0) - Can't add metadata, custom CSS or custom script directly to page. According to Ning, coming in near future and even better!
  • Ning Apps will not be available. However, with the ability to create multiple blogs, forums, etc...this will help with Ning Apps like Classifieds. And, the new modules will run much faster.

 

After Diving In?

Now that I've shared the overall features, pros/cons, and what's missing, I'll give you my overall thoughts after diving in!

  • When you first get started, it's a little alarming, especially if you have built a Ning Community in 2.0. You'll see a blank slate, white on gray window with no modules. However, once you jump in and start adding pages (modules), the site will start coming to life. We plan on building a screencast to get things started, when creating a brand new site.
  • For features and design, there are two focus areas: Design Studio and the new Social Site Builder.
  • The Site Builder is pretty awesome. For my first test run, I spent more time building than I did designing. I was completely intrigued with the power behind adding modules to pages. You can build unlimited pages,with multiple instances of modules, and in multiple layouts. No more layout and module limitations of all Nings being Ning. Just head on over to Social Site Builder/Sites & Pages, and "Add a Page".
  • Being a Designer by profession, the Design Studio is far from what I expected, lacking in features. But, I feel like it will improve rapidly in the next few months. I will write more about the Design Studio in the coming days. There is no longer a Design Mode feature.
  • I had to add a lot of custom CSS to make a site really come to life.
  • The most powerful aspects of the new platform are:
  • ~ Responsive Design - It's responsive.
    Responsive web design (RWD) is a web design approach aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones. ~ Wikipedia
  • ~ Multiple Instances of Modules - You can create multiple Blogs, Forums, or Photo Modules, for different purposes. Groups will follow.
  • ~ Multiple Layouts in One Site - You can create multiple pages with multiple layouts. Really, the possibilities are endless.

 

Member Profile Page Functionality and Features:

The Profile Pages are 100% different in 3.0, than 2.0. But, give them a chance. At first, I was completely thrown off. Then, after a few hours in the system, I realized the elegance behind the layout and features of the new Profile Pages. They're beautiful in style: modern and sleek, and have tabs that access different sections of a Profile Page - - instead of everything being all jumbled up and busy. I would like to see Ning add the ability to add the different Profile Modules to a canvas page, similar to what's available in 2.0. But, I don't know that this will happen.

  • Text Box or custom area - none. But, I hope Ning will add this back.
  • Profile Customization - Can't find it, but know it's coming.
  • Module Tabs - You click on tabs to see Member content - a great feature. But, as mentioned in summary above, I also think there should be a way to populate Member pages with all modules, and the member's choice.
  • Friends Only - Soon, Members will have the choice to filter their content for "Friends Only" (as in Ning 2.0), and additionally only display Latest Activity to Friends, in the Activity Stream. The latter is a much welcomed feature.

 

Will Current Ning Networks Be Impacted?

Not yet. In fact, as mentioned above, current sites cannot move to the new platform until Ning completes the "Migration Tool", not your current content and members. Ning states that current Ning Networks will be able to move over to Ning 3.0, seamlessly, in a few months.

 

 


 

 

Ning 3.0 Roadmap - for updates:

As of 3/11/2013

Complete the Ning 3.0 Feature Set

               We plan to develop and release the following additional features for Ning 3.0 by mid-summer 2013:

  • Groups
  • Video feature for embeds
  • Events
  • Chat
  • Spanish, Portuguese, French and German version of Ning 3.0
  • Optional leaderboard, footer and side bar advertising boxes on feature & custom pages


           New Features Planned for Ning 3.0

               These projects are currently in progress and should also be completed by mid-summer:

  • Seamless process for Ning 2.0 Networks to upgrade to Ning 3.0
  • APIs for all Ning 3.0 features, including members

 


 

 

 

Final Thoughts:

It's going to take time for existing Nings to feel comfortable with the new 3.0. Newbies can dive right in and start building new Communities. Once all modules are rolled out, any bugs are ironed out, and the Migration Tool is ready, there's no doubt that Ning will continue to be the Industry Leader in Building Social Communities; the platform is here to stay and continue to grow. Ning will be the most reliable and up-to-date Social Community Building platform available online.

 

Hopefully this review will assist many. We'll do our best to answer your questions, and discuss more about 3.0 as time goes by. We will add new Discussions under the Category Ning 3.0. Feel free to start...

 

JenSocial Team - new partner announcement coming soon!

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Yep Firetech i remember making my 'Final Ning archive'...felt so momentous and sad at the time (six months ago), but now it sits unceremoniously on a spare external drive in the back of my desk drawer gathering cobwebs, likely never to be needed or opened again (kinda like my Dell winXP desktop in the basement...lol). Ning was great years ago, but they got flushed down the commode, er, glammode.
Change happens, and thank goodness people have a few feasible options. Love the liberating feeling of completely owning my own site now.  

glammode...*chuckle*

+1

yeah... I will always host my own work from here on out. I'm glad you found Jamroom, but it comes up short for me. Either way, I'm sure we'll bump into each other around the web. Best of luck Strum :)

I'm waiting anxiously for the full responsive version of SE PHP, can't wait. Those guys are as passionate and creative as the Ning Team used to be. Best of luck, Fire-Tech. Never be a stranger. =)

Same here. Their next version may be what I'm looking for when it's more responsive, or I could just drop the cash and get all the SE Addons. They are exactly what I need anyway. They have come a long way since I looked last, and totally agree that they remind me of the old days here.

You know I won't be a stranger. I may hit you up for some custom work on SE if you have your head wrapped around it pretty well. I can handle all the CSS, but haven't built custom API before... I'll email you when I get closer.

Sounds good, Fire-Tech. =)

Happy New Year to All...

Just wanted to chime in to offer some clarification to those who aren't familiar with SocialEngine.  SocialEngine PHP isn't fully responsive but there are responsive templates/themes available (at a premium). Having said that, I should point this out, there are a few elements of the platform that will need additional tweaking despite having a responsive theme. I guess that's the reason why Jen wants to wiat.  

I'm anxiously waiting on the next SE update as well but what I'm really looking forward to is the day SocialEngine implements a single standard for all third party plugins that aims to eliminate issues with conflicting codes. This is a major problem. "The Other Troy" has written yet another post venting his frustration about this (I May Quit SE PHP).

@Fire-Tech: Let me know when you're ready for a test drive (SocialEngine PHP, Dolphin Pro, PHPFox...choose your platform).

Wishing everyone success in their endeavors. 

TDB

Thanks, Troy, very nice of you to share these details. I want to wait before jumping in too deep, because I am truly tired of band aides. And I am hoping that the new responsive version will be awesome.

Best,

Jen

Thanks for the info Troy. I need to catch up on a couple projects first before I can have time to play.

Great Scott! You mean to tell me they never finished the platform? Good grief. :(

LOL, good to see you, Patrick. =)

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