Ning Death Syndrome (a.k.a the Dead Shark Problem)

I’m a big fan of Ning, and lately I’ve been gearing up to launch an Alumni site in it. The first email invites will go out tomorrow.

Well, not exactly the first invites. And therein lies a story.

See, before I launched this, I tried a little experiment and invited a few of my alumni friends to a prototype site. The site grew by leaps and bounds until it reached 31 members, most of them not invited by me. Many invited by people not invited by me.

There were postings, reconnections, forums. For that period of time people were addicted, clearly stopping by the site obsessively. From February 13 to March 20, it was *the* place to be.

Then suddenly — not so much. I mean *really* not so much. Everybody disappeared, almost overnight.

There’s a number of reasons, I think. One being that initial activity was heavily about reconnecting and once new people stopped coming in, the site died. Another being that at thirty-one members, the site was just too small. The people that post the majority of content in things like these seem to number about one or two in a hundred — at 31 people, the flow of content was too unstable. (At Blue Hampshire we got well over a thousand members, and 600 readers a day, but the site is still dependent on 12 or so regulars who post).

I also think that a lot of times you set it up to have this explosive activity, but after the dust settles if you did it on a large scale you’re left with your regulars. So some amount of contraction is expected.

Still, I can’t help thinking of that Annie Hall quote about the shark (first 10 seconds of this trailer):

Do online social networks have to keep on moving forward or they die? It’s definitely something we’ll be looking at as we launch the alumni site. There’s nothing more unattractive than a dead shark.

5 thoughts on “Ning Death Syndrome (a.k.a the Dead Shark Problem)

  1. I’ve had this same experience w/several social networks. I think the community of practice literature is on to something. There really has to be a shared goal or practice that unites people – compels them to share, interact, and encourage one another. We’ve been working on and think that teaching and learning might be one factor that draw people to consistently engage.

    Also, regarding Ning, I think Andreesen has actually broken out just how many dead sharks there are. They seem to anticipate that X amount will simply be bombs. I’m not sure what the ratio is, but you can check out his blog at: for details.

  2. Thanks Glen, very helpful. I think you are right that there has to be a shared project of sorts — although I’ve also been thinking about to what extent these networks are sleeping vs. dead. An alumni site, for instance might be dead most of the year, but heat up just before reunion as everyone checks to see who is going (and there’s the shared project of the moment). And maybe that’s just fine, apart from people needing a seperate password for something they use once a year.

    Re: Ning — if I find the dead shark ratio, I’ll post it here. Thanks for the suggestion.

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