Interview with Ning... Musings on Social Networking.

Interesting interview I just did with I get to wax lyrical about my view that social networks are typically full of shallow crap - and some real effort is needed to achieve real business value of the "new networking" concept.

For your reading pleasure...

Howsit Will... You're speaking to Andy Hadfield, COO of the Virtual Works ( |

> Why did you decide to create your social network on Ning?

At The Virtual Works, we're extremely concerned that the shallow nature of large social networking sites is going to adversely affect it's take up in Corporate South Africa. Therefore, we're a firm believer in the value that can be generated by niche social networks. Ning provides that platform. Furthermore, we needed an open architecture upon which we could build widgets, query databases and have a large degree of freedom with branding and design.

> What is the biggest challenge you've had on the network?

Querying, sorting or moderating 1000's of members is tricky. The ideal of a niche social network is to create a eco-system of relevant business stakeholders in a particular industry. For some, it should be free, for others there should a charge to belong to this community and advertise their services. Trying to monitor this and keep control of "who's who in the zoo" is challenging.

The other issue we've had is trying to keep out unfocussed members (we've had a russian bride and a porn star join already - tough to explain to a network of professionals like those on DesignMind). We have resorted in this case to approve members before they join - which unfortunately adds an admin hassle - but is necessary to maintain the integrity of the network.

> What are your plans for the future of DesignMind?

To serve the entire building industry in South Africa - an industry that is crying out for this form of online collaboration and communication efficiencies. Grow the member base and add REAL business value using a social networking platform. We're among the first real niche business network in South Africa - and we plan to leverage that pioneering approach! In the mean time, Lesley Upton and her design team, responsible for the incredible work you see online, will keep refining our implementation of the platform - especially looking to add database queries and functional widgets to the network.

> How do you think DesignMind benefits from social networking?

Social networking allows people and companies to communicate and collaborate at a speed never before experienced. Speed is power - one of the only differentiators left for modern businesses and industries. The real trick - is to make your network RELEVANT and VALUABLE. Social networking as a movement is drowning in its own shallow content. We have a real chance to create a network of interlinked, focussed, valuable niche communities. Isn't that exciting?


  1. Hi Andy

    Very interesting, and I like the Designmind site too.

    Also working on a business network myself, as well as a sport one. Still very early stages, but I hope they will see some of the success you have there. In the meantime, the benefits you mention are exactly why I think it could add great value if targeted well, and if you can get people to participate.

    Only time will tell.

  2. The real trick here, I think, is the IP and value you can add from a consulting point of view. Anyone can start a Ning network. Designing it, structuring it and coming up with the supporting campaigns is the real trick - and hopefully, the real differentiator...


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