Nings are everywhere. I’m not necessarily writing here about the virtue (or not) of the build your own social network tool. I’m in a few Nings, and technically/design-wise they have come along way from some of the first ones I recall 3 or 4 years ago when they first came out.

No, these is a mere observation, based upon an article.

No, not the written kind, the grammatical kind.

If you listen closely to the language of people who use these sites, especially from some students, you hear:

Now, we techies and teachers are aware there are lots on Nings (275,000 as of May 20, 2008 according to their blog), but to people who are heavily involved in one project or interest, there is only One, The Ning. Their Ning is THE Ning.

I don’t think this is trivial, but am open to disagreements or “so whats”. To me, it says that some is invested, and in the right sense has a feeling if ownership when it is “THE” Ning. Maybe not.

I recall this happened alot about 4 or 5 years ago when teachers started using blogs with their classes, not as much the kind of modern activity of students writing their own blogs, but in using a shared class/project blog, more often than not, the students referred to is as “THE” blog, not “a” blog, like it was the only one they knew. Did the ever say, “THE” Blackboard? Oops.

I am a pretty light Ning-er; I tap into a few interesting projects to review things, but am not all that active in them. I am cutely aware that it is not “THE” social network, and fear the further splintering of already fractured time- wondering about the Ning Death Syndrome (and please dont tell about how active your Ning is, I believe you).

At the same time, 275,000 Nings are not chump change. I actually have an outside of work interest that would make Ning ideal for what I have in mind. And in a recent mini interview I did with Vicki Davis she underscored how valuable her Ning was for the sharing of media and communications for the 2008 Flat Classroom Horizon Project. No, I am positive on Ning.

Or make that YOUR Ning ;-)

I am curious if there are other examples where technology ends up being referred to as “THE” ___________. Just curious, that’s all.

The last curious Ning Thing is the fact that one of its co-founders is rather subtle about involvement – the former Boy Wonder How Built Mosaic is a co-founder yet only his photo, no name, appears on the “About” page.

Maybe Mosaic was “THE” web browser… well at one time it truly was.

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Huzzah! The subtleties of grammar and meaning: one of my favorite topics!

    I agree with you that the use of the definite article does imply a certain familiarity, particularly when compared to using a demonstrative pronoun: “It’s on the Ning” vs. “It’s on that Ning site.”

    However, I’m not sure that that’s true when compared to simply leaving the article off all together. Articles can be funny like that. For instance, I would sound odd saying I saw some news on the CNN, or I read about it in New York Times. I think this distinction reflects the relatively more tangible, instantiated nature of a newspaper compared to a news channel–the difference between a a product and a service. It’s an interesting question, though.

    But I digress. Since web sites and services have traditionally gotten the same article-treatment as TV channels (that is, no article), perhaps saying it’s ‘on Ning’ simply indicates that the sayer sees Ning as a service. Indeed, perhaps saying “The Ning” may to some ears evince unfamiliarity with things web, akin to saying “the Google.”

    Also, “The One Ning” would be an excellent name for a social network of Lord of the Rings fans.

    Very interesting observation, and I wholeheartedly approve your foray onto the treacherous moors of Grammar. Well done, Good Sir; well done.

  2. I think on our projects we have to “the’s” — THE Ning and THE wiki. These two tools go hand in hand in a very powerful and tangible way.

    Sometimes I’m asked as we have various Nings in class which ning — however, rarely as students know that each project has a specific Ning for that project. Usually, they never ask and know what “The Ning” is — I think perhaps it is because The Ning and The Wiki link them to one another without which the connections would not even exist.

    The Ning and The Wiki are really like saying “the others I’m working with” because that is where the nexus of interaction occurs.

  3. I am a member of 6 ning communities. While it usually takes quite a while to update the main dashboard when you join a new community, you can move back and forth between all your nings fairly easily. Maybe that is why people think of “the ning”. After all, it is like “the house” even though there are multiple rooms inside and you spend a lot more time in some of them than others!

  4. I had an installation of MediaWiki for a collaborative textbook project in a couple of my history classes, and invariably the students would refer to it as “The Wiki”.

  5. Unfortunately, it seems that Ning–article or no article–isn’t doing a very good job of scaling to accommodate its success. Of late, I’ve regularly experienced multi-minute page loads. Invitations take 12+ hrs. to show up in the potential member’s email inbox. Reports of this kind of problem on their own network creator forum go back at least a year. I’m more likely to say “$%#&$ Ning” than “the Ning” of late. I hope that poor management doesn’t sink an otherwise promising enterprise.

  6. Mmmm, Darren, so perhaps Ning has caught the twitter flu. Too bad. I experienced some slowness, double loads on my last Ning fling.

    The notion of “scaling” in popular web 2.0 apps is complex; success becomes its own demon.

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