Yesterday I received the annual request for me to pay my class dues for my beloved Dartmouth College. The dues request letter lists a number of key class activities this money goes to fund, but one of them caught my eye: "Redesigning our Class Website".
I don't think anyone would disagree that our current class website needs some work. It was released within a year of our graduation, and it hasn't really changed since then. Our class notes are grossly outdated and our events page still lists info about our 5-Year Reunion. About the only reason I have to visit this page is to pay my dues online, and even the links from that page are outdated since they show dues at $5 cheaper than what they should be.
Obviously the web has evolved since our class site was released in the mid-90's. That's why the thought of a redesign for this sites makes so little sense to me. A traditional static "web page" for a site that's meant to help our class maintain personal relationships just isn't going to cut it. What drives users to make repeat visits to a web site? Fresh content. Who better to provide content to a college alumni class than the community members themselves? That's why I believe this redesign is crying out for a social network. And that's why I'm going to suggest Ning.
I first heard of Ning when they began to get coverage on TechCrunch. In case you haven't heard, Ning allows you to create your own social network. For free. Were you going to hire developers to build your own social network from scratch? If so, call and cancel. You can have your own mini-Facebook up and running in minutes, complete with custom branding, widgets from other sites, member profiles, events, groups, discussion forums, photos, videos, and probably 10 other things I'm forgetting. If you're unhappy with the "out-of-the-box" look & feel options that Ning gives you, you can pay those same developers to customize it. Or do it yourself. Trust me, it's not that hard.
With Ning, the Dartmouth Class of '96 could:
- Give each member his/her own custom profile page to keep classmates up to date on what's going on in their lives
- Convert the class newsletter to blog format
- Allow posting of videos & photos
- Publicize alumni events and any interesting tidbits from the college calendar
- Create custom pages that link out to related college sites and PayPal for dues collection
- Encourage class-related conversations via the discussion forums (this would have been a great way to debate the recent controversial trustee election)
- Create groups to focus on specific interests or geographic regions
The possibilities are virtually endless, and the best part is that all of the items I just described are available out-of-the-box with Ning. This way, the class officers can focus energy and budget on encouraging participation rather than driving technology projects.
Oh- I saved the best part for last: Ning works on the iPhone! This is a great way to counter that feeling you get when you look at your newsletter and realize you graduated before anyone had heard of Google, YouTube, or Twitter. Thanks to Ning you can flash your iPhone and show younger classmates that despite your advanced age, your class is still up with technology. :-)
OK, I'll stop pitching Ning to you now. Hopefully the points I've made here will be enough to convince my classmates that this is the right move for us. Big thanks to Twitter user @kfred85 for inspiring me to write this up.
By the way- if you've used Ning to create a social network for an alumni site or any other purpose, we'd love to hear about it in the comments!