One of my favorite Web 2.0-type social networking sites is Ning. Ning is a little hard to describe: I think of it as a user-customizable platform that allows anyone to create MySpace or Facebook-like social networks, but without all the clutter and garbage that makes MySpace and Facebook so frustrating. Ning is a tool that I’ve been playing with for quite a while, trying to identify the best uses for it. Over a year ago I started http://sllibrarians.ning.com/, for librarians using Second Life. A couple of months ago I added http://buffalotweetup.ning.com/, a place for Buffalo-area social media and social networking fans to get together. We’ve also been using a password-protected Ning group as an informal intranet for the UB Law Library.
The site that really seems to have caught on is Law Libraries and Librarians. I set it up on a whim last Thursday night, and six days later it has grown to 129 members with nine active Forum discussions and three subgroups (Consultants & Freelancers, Court Librarians, and GenX GenY Caucus).
I suspect that what has made this group go viral in its own small way is that it is serving the right need at the right time. Some of the members are active social networking users: bloggers, podcasters, and Twitterers; Skype, Gtalk, and ooVoo users; del.icio.us and wiki fans, and more. Many of the members appear to be law librarians who have been meaning to learn more about these tools, and perhaps had planned some exploration among their summer projects. lawlibraries.ning.com is a welcoming and friendly online place for all of those people.
Some of the Ning groups I’ve experimented with didn’t catch on–it was either the wrong tool or the wrong time. But that’s the thing about social networking tools: you have to be willing to play with them, and you have to be willing to fail. After all, it costs nothing to try, except a bit of your time.