I've been working on CauseUP since it's beginning. CauseUP uses a "niche" social network platform called Ning. Here are my thoughts about how Ning can work for your projects.
I’ve used Basecamp and have tried a couple other options for project management, but have realized a completely different option for project management. I now use Ning for a number of reasons.
Ning was not designed to be a project management tool. It is a DIY social network, giving anybody the ability to build a Facebook-like site dedicated to a specific topic. (Besides CauseUP, other examples of a well-executed and populated Ning network, take a look at PR Open Mic, set up by Auburn PR professor Robert French to support dialogue between PR professors, students, and practitioners. Another is the Pickens Plan, with nearly 200,000 members.)
But as I began working on a communications project managed by my a friend of mine, it occurred to me that Ning’s features fit our project management needs quite well. First of all, I could opt to invite members of the project team and the client to the private network. In this case, the client was not included because audio and text transcripts of focus groups are included for team members’ review; focus group participants were promised their comments would be confidential. (More on audio in a bit.)
One of my friend’s criteria for a project management tool was the ability to create multiple projects. Since Ning is free, this isn’t important; you just set up a new network for each project.
One of the best features of Ning (and Facebook and other social networks) that I haven’t seen implemented nearly as well (if at all) on other project tools is a “latest activity” block on the home page as well as your own personal page. Just as Facebook will let you know that Tom has added a photo and Mary has posted something to Bill’s wall, the “latest activity” listing on our Ning network provides a chronological listing of the latest project activities (e.g., “Joe replied to the discussion, “Lastest Version of Managers Survey.”
Team notifications are handled through broadcast messages. One-to-one communication is easy—just leave a note on the wall of the appropriate team member. Not only is that note waiting for him when he returns to the site, he’ll be notified of the message by email. Every member gets an inbox to retain project-specific messaging.
While there is no calendaring per se in Ning, there is an event function that works just as well. We’re using events to list meetings, deadlines, conference calls, and anything else with a time-or-date component to it.
Ning supports the creation of groups, which makes it easy to break out the work of sub-teams and to house content in easy-to-find places. On our project site, we have a group for executive interviews, another for focus groups, and one for weekly team meetings.
There’s one more group I set up to contain links to all audio files. We’ve been using digital recorders to capture the audio from interviews and focus groups, and my first thought was simply to upload them to a LibSyn account I set up for project audio. Shortly afterwards, though, I found that you can add an audio module to a Ning network, so each audio file now simply gets added to an audio player that occupies a spot on the home page.
Forums allow for discussions on specific topics, such as each focus group, interviews, and the like. And, to seal the deal, you can attach documents to your forum contributions. So one of our project team members conducted a focus group, set up a forum for the that particular group, and attached her Word notes to the post. (Next time, we’ll probably use one forum for all focus groups, which each separate focus group listed as a topic within the forum.)
We’re using the photos module for official artwork (like the company’s logo, which we’re using on presentations and documents). There’s even a “notes” page.
There are more features we’re not using but that could prove valuable, such as live chat among project team members who are live on the site at the same time, blogs for recording observations maintaining status reports (far better than sending Word documents around), and an RSS feed of site activity (both of which, I suspect, would be more useful for large teams.
I mentioned that setting up networks is free. If you invite clients to the site and they’re sensitive to such things, you might want to consider spending $19.95 per month to get rid of the ads that provide Ning with its revenue. It’s also $4.95 per month to map the network to a unique URL and $9.95 per month for each 10 GB of storage and 100 GB of bandwidth (that’s how much comes with your free account).
After my experience with Ning as a project management tool for this project, I plan to use it for all upcoming projects with multiple participants. Its familiar interface (to anyone who has ever used Facebook, MySpace, or any other social network), its full suite of features, its flexibility and its price make it my top choice over any software designed for project purposes.
You can use CauseUP's site for your projects by creating a group
specific for your project. Alternatively, you can also create your own Ning network and invite people from your network on CauseUP to join the new network. If you create a new network, you will have more functions and flexibility as the network creator. Either way, Ning is a great option for all your project needs!