Ning Off Already

On Wednesday, May 6, 2009 the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (SFS) launched a boutique social networking site based on the Ning platform. If you aren’t already familiar with Ning, it is an enterprise solution that allows users to create their own social networking sites, think of it like a do-it-yourself facebook…

In order to find out more about the stuff folks really want to know about, I have plans to talk with SFS representatives about the project next week and will post details shortly thereafter. According to the PR announcement, the new website…is a place where musicians and music fans can meet each other, post profile information, add and view video, links, and photos, hear music and audio, start groups and discussion topics and add their own comments, post and share events, and organize their own events and music around a passion for classical music and the San Francisco Symphony” (that’s one long sentence).

SFS Executive Director Brent Assink is quoted saying,

“The launch of the new San Francisco Symphony social network is key in our efforts to be a nexus for classical music and music-making, not just locally in the Bay Area but also globally in the online space.”

I’m not entirely certain what an online space is exactly, but I’m sure I’ll find out next week (although it sounds vaguely like something a Realtor would say).

NingNonetheless, you really should stop by and take a look. It is obvious the organization spent some time on the project and there’s a good bit of interesting content already up waiting for new arrivals (a smart move). On the day of the launch, the site boasted 131 members although it wasn’t clear how many of those aren’t also SFS stakeholders. Even so, at the time this article was written, the membership had grown to 241 so – obviously – there’s some worthwhile initial interest.

Overall, the site is easy to navigate and fairly intuitive although it would be nice to see a more traditional platform for the discussion boards. The “ask a musician” feature looks intriguing but I couldn’t find any way to actually submit a question. A few members posted questions to an existing “ask a musician” video featuring SFS concertmaster Alexander Barantschik responding to the “best” questions from site members (I wonder what makes a question “best?”) but that’s all I could locate. Then again, I could have overlooked the submission form/page or it may be a member’s only hidden feature.

Lastly, I stopped by the Terms and Conditions page to see what sort of license the content was published and I was a little disappointed to see that nothing is licensed under a Creative Commons License but anything posted by members is subject to the following terms:

“By posting content or submitting material to the Site, you grant SFS a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, and fully sub-licensable (through multiple tiers), non-exclusive right in your copyright, trademark, publicity and database rights and a license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, and display such content throughout the world in any media now known or hereinafter devised.”

So essentially, you can’t take anything from the site and use it at say, a personal SFS fan site, but anything you contribute can be used any way the SFS sees fit. That’s a bit too much of an old-school “what can you do for us?” one-way relationship approach for my taste and I hope they have plans to adopt some more forward thinking terms of use language in the near future. Fortunately, we’ll learn about that and more next week.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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4 thoughts on “Ning Off Already

  1. Doesn’t “nonexclusive” mean you still have the copyright in the work you post? You’re saying you think SFS should license site users to take SFS-created content offsite?

  2. That’s a good question Lisa, I suppose my response is yes and no. I was thinking more along the lines of content that would be published under a Creative Commons License. The way it stands, a user couldn’t take anything from the site and use it at a fan site (regardless if it’s a personal website, blog, or even a social networking group at facebook). Instead, I think it would be useful to offer some content under a creative commons license to help encourage users to disseminate that content elsewhere on the web.

    However, it stand to reason that some content will have existing copyright protection that can’t be changed (or isn’t worth going through that process). It should be made clear which content falls under those guidelines and is therefore off limits for the sort of use mentioned above.

  3. An interesting development since the article was published is WordPress has released their own version of out DYI social network site building: http://buddypress.org/about/ It looks interesting but I haven’t taken much time to dig around yet. But if it ends up being as easy to use and offer as much variety as the blogging platform, groups like Ning should be very afraid.

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