Last year, we did something a little different than we have in previous years: We published a public Product Roadmap. It was a big success. It bolstered direct customer-company communication, and it really helped Network Creators know what was coming next.
It was an ambitious roadmap, and by year's end we had finished all but one of the projects we initially listed on the roadmap (we're still working on Mobile improvements; it expanded in scope and became larger). All told, we completed many more projects in 2011 than we did in the two previous years combined. In fact, we actually added additional projects to the 2011 roadmap as the year went along, making it our biggest year of improvements ever. (All of those additional projects were based directly on the suggestions we received from people right here on the Creators Network. We get a ton of feature requests from our most dedicated customers.)
We're going to keep up regular roadmap updates for 2012, although this year we're going to do things a little differently. We're still going to keep you updated about what we're working on with our Product Roadmap page, but we're going to shift to offering a more "living" document that shows 1) what's already in partial release, 2) what we're working on now that's not yet released, and 3) what's still in the planning stages. The goal is to update it frequently as we go along instead of offering one giant laundry list of features. We want the projects we're reporting on to be focused on high quality — incorporating lots of feedback as we go along from Network Creators so we can be nimble and adjust what we're building based on your valuable input. And, we'll be adding to this roadmap as we complete projects throughout the year.
With all of that said, here's what we have partially released, are working on, and are still planning…..
Activity Feed: If you haven't seen it yet, we also recently added "Top News" as a beta in the Ning Labs section of your dashboard. Among other things, this feed pulls in Facebook and Twitter account posts into the Top News activity feed. We'll be making additional visual improvements to this feed, implementing some real-time abilities for new activity items, and moving this feature out of beta. Check out the latest set of improvements we released last week. There's more to come on this project that will help increase engagement on your network.
Member Categories + Badges: We know a lot of Network Creators want to create different levels of membership for their network. We'll be adding the ability for you to assign members to custom-made categories. The work on this project kicked off earlier this week with a reorganization of the member roles and moderation data to make finding and filtering members easier. Next, we'll roll out the ability to create and administer categories in this area. This project will also include a way for you to create custom badges (!) using your new member categories. This will be an excellent way for you to reward or identify admins, featured members, or just plain special people on your network.
Working On It
Mobile Update: Not everyone is aware that there is a mobile version of every Ning Network. (It's located at networkname.ning.com/m.) If you are aware of it, you'll be very happy to hear that we are working on a redesign of this mobile interface that will be a giant improvement. This is one of the largest projects we've undertaken to date, and it's vitally important. We want to get it right so that Network Creators won't just have a better mobile experience to offer their members, but will have a way to configure and customize the mobile version to really fit their network. (We'll be posting about this on Creators and accepting volunteers for the beta group.)
Help Center Redesign: Our Advocacy department is most excited about their revamp of the Help Center. It's time for a refresh of the content, the look, the advice — all of it is currently in the process of being redone to be more friendly. Let us know if there are specific resources you'd like to see in our updated Help Center.
Blog Update: The blog functionality on your network is ready for a re-do. We've gotten a wealth of feedback from Network Creators about what they'd like to see done differently with the blog feature. We have a lot of work planned to make the blog more powerful and much more visually appealing. We'll share more details as this project unfolds.
Sign-Up Controls: We'll offer expanded control over sign in and sign up options that will allow you to, for example, have an "open registration" during specific times and "closed registration" at other times. If you're more interested in using Ning as a publishing platform then a community platform, you will be able to turn off all "Sign-Up" links and messaging visible to non-signed-in visitors.
New Commenting Options: Provide the ability to allow non-members to join in the conversation by using third-party commenting services (e.g., Facebook comments).
How we move forward
One thing we want to do is invest more resources in beta testing and iterating on the design of each new feature -- very similar to what we did with the recently updated Chat. We started the complete Chat revamp with an early announcement about the upcoming feature, followed it up with the creation of a small test group, gradually opened up the beta to more people, announced our progress along the way multiple times ahead of final deployment, and then rolled the feature out to everyone. It was one of our most successful product launches, and it incorporated lots of opportunity for the most engaged Ning Creators to provide feedback. Being laser focused on one project at a time (rather than being more generally focused on a giant list of projects) helped us make chat even better than we had originally planned. We'd like to pattern more of our releases after that one.
We still plan to innovate in a big way, and, as always, there is additional work going on that's not reflected in this product roadmap. For example, it may not be apparent that over the past year we greatly expanded language support for our marketing pages (Ning traverse le monde! FYI: We'll be re-translating French and German soon), reorganized and consolidated domains, adopted new behind-the-scenes web services that make things run more smoothly, and a whole lot more. We continue to grow and become stronger as a platform when we do these types of essential but less visible projects. Building out all facets of our business — and not just the forward-facing product features — means a more reliable and robust product.
We'll be continuing the conversation here on Creators about these projects going forward, so look for ongoing announcements about beta access and updates on our progress. If you didn't find your favorite request in this update, we'll be updating the roadmap regularly with new items. As always, thank you for all of the suggestions and feedback!