I’ve been getting a bunch of questions lately about the South Atlantic LCC website. How was it set-up? How much work is it to maintain? What are the good and bad things about Ning (the software that runs the website)? So, here are a few quick thoughts about the experience.
A little history
Thanks to Jennifer Strickland (FWS New Media Specialist), the SALCC already had an active NING website up and running when I started. It made a lot of sense to have a social networking style website because the cooperative really is a social network. Plus, with budgets tightening and everyone on travel restrictions, more and more things were going to have to happen online. It was great that Jennifer and all the folks helping to get the SALCC started saw that early and really got things rolling.
I took over the site about a year and half ago and worked on getting up regularly updated content. I also started trying to find ways for folks to get real involvement in SALCC decision making through the website. For example, a big part of the process of selecting models for predicting baseline, altered, and future freshwater flows happened through the Rivers and Streams group. Every time the cooperative needs to make a decision, I’m always trying to think about how to give the website community a chance to be involved as early as possible.
Thanks to Kat and now Ginger (the current SALCC Information Transfer Specialist) online activities are ramping up even more. Thanks to them, the “monthly” newsletters are actually going out monthly. Plus, there are now monthly web forums to hear about what’s happening with the SALCC and to ask any questions you want about the cooperative.
Through this process I’ve learned a bunch about what our website platform does well and doesn’t do so well. So, here’s my personal take on the good and bad things about NING as a website platform
NING: the good
- Easy to setup and add content
- The social networking elements are already built in (groups, blogs, etc)
- Constantly being improved with new features
- Lots of ways to have “two-way” conversations with the web community
NING: the bad
- If you’re a member of one NING site (e.g., GCPO LCC, IWMM Program), you still have to create a new profile in the SALCC NING site. In other words, you can’t have a shared profile on multiple sites
- To keep spammers out you’ll have to approve or disapprove new member requests every once and while. How often this happens will depend on the popularity of your site. For the SALCC, new members show up around once a week
- Website groups don’t allow for listserve-like conversations. Group members can send “broadcast” messages to people’s emails in the group but you then can’t “reply-all” from your email
Despite its imperfections, I think NING has worked really well for the SALCC site. The website still has a long way to go but expect a number of really cool improvements over the next year or so.