Monday, March 16, 2009

Too Much of a Good Ning. The Strip Mall Effect.

No, I don't hate Ning. Or strip malls even. I've even been known to pop over to ours and get my nails done, pick up the dry cleaning and buy last minute party supplies at the party chain store.

But I don't really hang out there with my friends.

When Ning first showed up on the scene, it was a lot like when our community finally got a grocery store, Hairmasters, Starbucks and gas station. Elated. We finally had somewhere to go! Shyly we ventured out to get coffee hoping to to make friends and make this town our own.

But before the paint had even dried we started to notice something. Our little So Cal town? Looked a hell of a lot like the one our cousins in Northern Va. call home. Down to the same couch and artwork at Starbucks. The Hairmasters Salon was identical to the one two towns over. It was the old "there's no there there" problem. Strip malls strip communities of their individuality.

I am now experiencing the online version on this phenomenon with the mushroomlike growth of Ning communities. One after another they are popping up. With irritating similarity. There are times when I forget which site I am actually on. Different sites, same themes and structure, and often the same people. We're like me and my desperate neighbors. Clearly we want to hang out. But once we realize our digs have no charm, no uniqueness, we move on. I've even made up a name for my frustration with this. I call it Annoyning.

At the same time I see why this is happening. It's just so *easy* to get your community up and running with the Ning platform. It's too tempting. Gone are the days when you had to hire someone to build a costly custom community that took months to get up and running. You can get your community up in under an hour with Ning. It's instant gratification. And for some sites, it's enough. They can build a thriving community on the Ning platform. Some small niche groups are making happy hermit-crab like moves from forums/boards to Ning as well. But for others? Is all this Ning-ing too much of a good thing?

I'll be interested to see what happens to Ning communities in the coming year. I predict that the ease of building communities will lead to a plethora of them and a backlash that is not at all dissimilar to the backlash against strip malls.

It's tricky biz. We can't all be Old Town Pasadena. But where would you rather hang out? Pasadena or somewhere between the Generic Dry Cleaners, Karate Place and KFC?

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