National Writing Project

Digital Toolbox: Group-Based Social Networks

Date: April 21, 2009

Summary: Group-based social networks like Ning are online platforms that allow teachers and writing project site leaders to create their own social networking spaces that can be focused on particular content.


Social networking explained "in plain English"

Many are familiar with social networks like Facebook , MySpace , or LinkedIn , where members join the network, create a profile, and then make connections to other members to build a "friends" group. Group-based social networks like Ning or SocialGo differ from Facebook or MySpace in that members first create a group site based on particular content or purposes and then enroll members in the group.

In other words, you can set up an individual Ning for each area of interest, and each Ning will have its own community of interested members. Group-based social networks are relatively easy to create and manage and are used by a number of educators and educational organizations.

Why Group-Based Networks?

Nings and similar services have a number of features that make them useful to writing teachers:

  • They help facilitate group conversation.
  • They allow teachers to form their own interest groups and conversation topics within a broader area of interest.
  • They allow for the display of multimedia, such as photos, audio, and video.
  • Since they exist online, they can be accessed by teachers from any computer with an Internet connection and a standard browser.
  • Platforms like Ning typically allow users to customize the look of the group site.
  • Some group-based social networks may be free to use but others require monthly subscription fees.

On the downside, Ning and other providers may be blocked by your school's Internet filtering software.

Also, content you create on Ning does not appear to be easily exported into other online platforms. That means that it may be difficult to retrieve online material in your Nings should the company fail as a commercial venture.

Users are advised to retain copies of material they would want to archive outside of the Ning.

In addition, most group sites require members to log in to the site, sometime requiring multiple logins for members of multiple groups.

Requirements for Use

The NWP maintains several group-based social networks on Ning. To participate, users must register with to set up a Ning or to view content on Nings. This provides users with a central space to access their multiple Nings at Since Nings exist online, users must have Internet access and a Web browser to access them.

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