A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

Give Ning a Look

Ning is a platform that allows anyone to create a custom social network in a few minutes time.  I’ve played with it a few times since it launched in late 2005, but never really did a deep drill until recently, when we started work on a project that used Ning as its social networking component.  I’ve been impressed.

Backing up, our philosophy at The Bivings Group is to do as little “from scratch” building as possible.  If a good tool exists already, we’d much rather spend our time customizing or extending it than trying to build our own bigger, badder battleship.  It is this philosophy that has lead us to embrace Drupal, WordPress and open source development in general. 

What makes Ning interesting to me is that it is an actual platform, as opposed to just a cool site to use if you want to put up a quick social network.  You can customize it, extend it and, most importantly, build your own stuff on top of it.  This allows developers to create all sorts of value-added features for the communities they serve.  Check out Ning’s Developer and Network Creator communities to learn more. 

For those interested, following is a brief list of some of the more interesting of the 500,000 networks built on Ning. 

Ning isn’t perfect and we’ve certainly struggled to do some of the things we’ve wanted to do.  But it is the best product of its kind that I’ve seen, and I’d encourage anyone interested in social networking platforms to give it a good look.

Aaron Karo: Comedian and Intelligent Social Networker

It really surprises me that more political figures and celebrities have not taken Obama's lead and created functional social networking sites that engage users and allow for not only greater transparency, but also general likeability of its moderator.  Leave it to a standup comedian to design a site capable of doing both of those things.

Aaron Karo began writing his monthly column over a decade ago, when he emailed his comedic musings (which he called ‘ruminations') to 20 or so of his closest friends.  Now, the comedian has become quite a success, boasting appearances on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, two books, and subscribers to his column from all over the world.

In August 2008, he launched a new website which aims to unite his fans (and new fans) by allowing them to submit their own ruminations.  The site is awesome in its simplicity.  After signing up for a user account and doing the generic social networking tasks (i.e. uploading a profile picture, typing in some data about yourself), you are allowed to ruminate on any topic of your choosing, trying your best to emulate the genius of the comedian. (more…)

A Geek Site that isn't Geeky

geekmonthlyOk, maybe I'm a bad person who relies upon stereotypes too much, but one would think a site for geeks would actually have great features since geeks are so tech savvy.  Wrong.

While browsing through the magazine rack at Borders Books earlier this summer, I came across Geek Monthly with its cover girl, Tina Fey.  Either way, I read the article about her since I like her show 30 Rock and went home to check out the magazine's site.  I was expecting a great site that was graphically designed well with bells and whistles like easy to search sections, forums, great blogs, social media features, and great content.  I expected something like the beautiful site for Backpacker Magazine (since when did backpackers know so much about designing great websites?). However, as you can see in this image, like how the current cover boy (Rainn Wilson from NBC's The Office) is dressed, the site does not look pretty.

Either way, the Geek site has a rather distracting design, no clear navigation, seemingly no access to articles from past issues or from the current issue, no community features, etc.  It does have a blog, but not a great one.  You can also see an article from the current issue, but it pops up as a jpg…  What? 

So, I'm disappointed.  Were my expectations wrong in the first place?

It's Hard to Sell Something That's Free

A post on ValleyWag recently announced that file-sharing uber-giant BitTorrent would be laying off 12 of its 55 employees.  This accounts for the entire sales and marketing department.  This decision has been made in light of the recent failure of BitTorrent's staff to sell Best Buy its Torrent Entertainment Network for a rumored $15 million.

Since it's only been a year since CEO Doug Walker replaced founder Bram Cohen, it's likely that the entire company may soon be considering a revamp.  After all, Walker commented on making some changes to the store idea last March.

There is speculation that the deal fell through mostly due to the FCC and MPAA's recent crackdown on file sharing.  Outspoken Chairman of HDNet Mark Cuban freshly criticized the MPAA for combating the ‘problem' with prevention instead of promotion (we've all seen those commercials with the hip teens extolling the virtues of not stealing songs).

He claims that movie theaters need to invest in a positive message about the fun of going to the actual theater to watch movies, especially with the ever-growing price of admission.  Author of The Pirates Dilemma Matt Mason agrees with Cuban, saying that theaters should offer a movie-going experience and quality that will never be surpassed by file sharing.

Can you really ever defeat file sharing programs though?  No matter how great the quality and ‘experience', the fact remains that file sharing is free.  And "free" almost always wins.  Unfortunately for them, BitTorrent also recently learned that it's hard to sell something that's free.

Top 5 Best Senate Campaign Website Designs

In putting together the report we released last week, The Use of the Internet by 2008 Senate Campaigns, my co-workers took the time to identify the websites of everyone running for the Senate this year.  Since my co-workers already did the hard part in finding the sites, I figured I’d cruise through the list and pick out my most and least favorites from a design perspective.    Presented below are the best designed homepages of the group, in my opinion.   I’ll write up the worst later in the week. 

(5) Mark Warner (D-VA)

There is no shame in coming in 5th place. My father said that to me after a disappointing 11th place finish in the Pinewood Derby.

image

Although there is a hint of Obama-borrowing here, I liked this site for its generous use of white space and logical placement of content/actions. The splash page sign-up is of course a real slap in the face but at least the skip through link is not hidden. My eye goes directly from the (only mildly annoying) logo to the contribute option to the actions. Everything on this homepage is easy to instantly recognize and quick to find (and then dismiss in my case).

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