SNS Ethnography of Ning: By Lee Harris

Ning: The Land of a Million Social Networks

With the 21st century upon us, new forms of communication have been developed to allow access to individuals all over the world. Before, people would communicate between one another via word of mouth, letter, phone, or e-mail, but now there is a new tool at their disposal to increase their networking efforts: social networking sites. Social networking sites were created to allow individuals to meet new people who share similar interests and extend their list of contacts beyond their own backyard. With the increasing popularity of MySpace and Facebook, their impact on our society is pretty evident. Students are beginning to “hang out” in a digital realm, replacing the ice cream parlor of yesteryear and engaging in entertaining activities on the World Wide Web. This change of venue has opened the door to allowing new people for them to invite into their reindeer games of having a good time.

Despite popular opinion, social networking sites are used for more than educational purposes and serve as a medium for intelligent discussion about the things most important to us. While these kinds of discussion may take place on Facebook or MySpace, the power to create the forum is better found on the website Ning. Ning is a third party service serving as an empty lot for users to create their own social networking sites to discuss or post about. The service is open to just about any kind of social network for the user to join and participate in, however there are some networks that are password protected for security reasons.

I explored the possibilities of the service Ning provides to its users and engaged in the various activities among the social networks I was a member of. My goals for the study were mainly to engage myself in the activities, start conversations with people, and discover the rules. Basically, I wanted to explore every aspect of the Ning culture and gain a better appreciation for the possible uses in education.

The methodology I used to collect data for my study was through reflective blog posts on my account through Word Press and tagging the posts with a SNS aka Social Networking Sites tag. In my posts, I would reflect on the observations I made when using Ning and subscribing to different social networks.

The rules for Ning vary due to the many different social networks found within its universe, but there are some common ones all users must agree before using the service. Before gaining access, every user must agree to the acceptable use and conduct of terms about harassment and behaving in an unbecoming manner. With those main rules in mind, the creators of the social networks have the power to decide what rules they want to make in their own little realm.

When I began my journey into social networking sites, I chose to look at Twitter first and see what it had to offer. Twitter provided a different approach to networking with individuals by following the river of Tweets and watching the conversation flow before my eyes. The great thing about using Tweeter was the fact that only 140 characters were allowed per message, limiting your choice of words and creating concise messages for others to see. The problem though was keeping up with the conversations among the different people I was following. To keep up with a conversation, it would require more than ten minutes of my time to have a conversation with one of the people on my following list. After several attempts of trying to spend enough time having a conversation on the river of tweets I chose to switch to Ning for convenience purposes.

One of the activities I engaged in the most on Ning among the different social networks were the forums. On a forum, one member would post an article or question to discuss and the rest of the network would respond with insight into what they thought, creating a threaded discussion. There is one discussion in particular I found to be the most interesting to me, given the state I find myself in right now. In the Fireside Learning: Conversations about Education network, I came across a forum entitled “What advice would you give a student just beginning their journey into becoming a teacher?” that immediately caught my interest. I began looking at the replies searching for some comfort as I enter into my first year of teaching. I came across one reply that said to be “zany”. I thought, what in the world does “zany” mean? I got my answer when she described it as keeping laughter in the classroom. That makes a lot of sense because laughter makes the feeling in the room upbeat and helps you cope with some of the uneasiness you may have about being in your new position. There were other helpful posts who spoke about what to do and what not to do that will help me deal with the stress of my first year.

When I first began using Ning, I heard through conversations with fellow classmates about how quickly people responded to you. However, when I sent out messages to members among different networks I did not receive a response until about a week and half later. Even though I sent out several messages to different members among a lot of different networks, I only received responses from a few people. It was frustrating when I was trying to communicate on these different networks only to feel like I was talking to a brick wall.

Despite my failure to communicate directly with members, I was successful in my discussions in the forum section of the networks joined. I listed a set of questions that discussed the following things: Why did you decide to join Ning? How long have you been using Ning? What makes Ning better than other social networking sites? How can Ning be used in education? How often do you use Ning? How many networks are you apart of? The responses I got back were varied about the experiences of others using Ning.

From the experience, I noticed that some social networking sites require more time than others to maintain and use, while others seem to be less demanding. My experiences with Twitter required your complete undivided attention for a period of time to follow the river of tweets. If you became distracted by anything else or simply could not find the time in your schedule to commit to observing the conversations on Twitter, then you could not get the full experience. A network such as this one would require a set time during the day for nothing but following the river. Maybe I just did not have enough self control to commit fully to Twitter, but nevertheless I did not think it was right for me.

Among the various websites to choose from between Facebook, MySpace, Dogster, etc., Ning seems to be the only one not connected into one giant network. Members of those social networking sites register into one giant network connecting the world to one another, like a giant metropolis. The networks in Ning act as their own countries with their own culture, customs, languages, and rules. While you may be forced to adapt to the customs found upon the MySpace and Facebook umbrella, you become empowered with the opportunity to bring your own customs to a network created from the image in your head.

The inhabitants of these different networks came from different age and career groups. Some of the networks I joined were for educators in both a K-12 and college setting. Other networks pertained more to my interests outside of education like movies and art. These members were people more my age who shared my keen interest and desire to talk about movies and art. The demographics of each network are different from one to the next and make for more individuality among each culture.

As far as where to include social networking sites in education, Facebook and MySpace do provide some opportunities to set up study groups for students in preparation for exams. But on a macro level, I am not exactly sure how social networking sites play a factor on the bigger picture. Ning can offer some privacy and personal SNS sites for classes and schools to establish discussions with students, teachers, and parents. Technology has been an emerging entity in our society since the last couple of decades. We should embrace the phenomenon and learn how we can use these social networking sites as a tool to create better opportunities for learning.


One Response to “SNS Ethnography of Ning: By Lee Harris”

  1. I will go to Ning and check it out. Apparently there are many more social networking sites in existance than I ever imagined.

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