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Q for NCDD Members: what value does the members network add for you?

Hi, everyone!  As you know, NCDD is doing a full site switchover from thataway.org to ncdd.org.  Our site design is revamped and much improved (in my opinion!), and even our logo has gotten an upgrade.

One of the few things left to migrate from the old domain to the new domain is the NCDD Members Network, which is at www.thataway.org/ncddnet.  The Members Network is basically an interactive members directory; a place where our members’ contact info, bios, and links can be found.  I often link to a member’s page in the network when I mention them in a blog post, but I sometimes feel like I’m the only one who does that.

The members network runs off of social network software (SocialEngine), so it has lots of other features:  each member can post to their own blog, upload a profile picture and even whole albums, form and participate in groups, message each other, and so on.  The groups aren’t really used, and only a few members use the blog feature and photo albums.

Today, a bunch of NCDD members emailed me to alert me that they received a spam message that mentioned that the sender “found their email on thataway.org.”  Email addresses are not linked, but they’re in there so they can be harvested if spammers want to do the work.  I apologize to anyone who receives spam because of this abuse of the network!  It’s happened once or twice before, but not often enough to alarm me.

So… given all this, I’d love NCDD members’ feedback on whether the members network is actually something you use and/or value? I’m wondering if it is worth the time and money it will cost to do the switch-over (we have to hire someone to do it) and make the tweaks I think the software needs to make it more useful and user-friendly.

Do you use the members network?  In what ways?  If the network was tweaked (making it easier, for example, to find NCDD members near you, or possibly adding email functionality to groups), would you be likely to use it?  Or would you rather keep using other NCDD resources (like the listservs, the blog, the events) and larger social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn to connect with other members?  What’s your take on this?  I’d love your feedback and ideas!

Also – for those of you who are tech oriented, what are some other ways to list members and help them connect with one another without expecting people to participate in yet another social network?  One of the reasons we’ve stuck with the network is that it is a great database of members, and we’re not sure what else would provide that functionality without all the extra stuff we don’t need.

Sandy Heierbacher on FacebookSandy Heierbacher on LinkedinSandy Heierbacher on Twitter
Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher is the Founding Director of the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD). Sandy has an M.A. in International Management from SIT Graduate Institute, and also serves as a Research Deputy for the Kettering Foundation. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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  1. @CKJ411 says:

    I think the network is of use. It shows a commitment to Dialogue and Deliberation that one can actually reference. It also provides for a service to find other people in an area that are committed to these types of solutions. It would be nice the login for the services on the site coincided with login info and profiles. I couldn't seem to find a way to login to comment that was related to my official profile.

  2. Ken Cissna says:

    I think the openness is consistent with our mission. Of course, as an academic, my email address is quite publicly available on my university and dept website, so perhaps I am more accustomed to these risks than most.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Cameron and Ken! How do either of you use the members network now (if at all)?

    Cameron – I think you were looking for a way to log in here on the blog with your same log in / password for the members network? That's not possible, since the members network is a social network run on its own software. Luckily, commenting on the blog or in the Resource Center doesn't require logins and passwords.

  4. Charlie Wisoff says:

    As an undergraduate student writing my thesis on deliberative democracy, I found the network helpful in finding people who were interested in what I am interested in and who could answer questions I had.

  5. I really appreciate all the options Sandy has created for NCDD community to connect in so many ways! Must admit I AM over loaded with all the emails, time I spend on the computer and social media ways to connect. And yet, I always take time to at least quickly look at anything that originates from NCDD or an NCDD member. However, I don't actively initiate and believe if I were more interactive it would enrich me professionally. I trust your judgement, Sandy, and thanks again.

  6. Thanks for your comments, Delia, Charlie, Ken and Cameron! So far, I'm hearing that the members network site is valuable, but I'm wondering what might make you more inclined to visit it more often, log in more often, add blog posts more often, etc.?

  7. Josephine Cooper says:

    Sandy, I'm a relatively new member (about 3 weeks ago), so I wasn't able to access the member network when I tried just now to see what it looked like. (Perhaps, I need to build a profile still or something.) However, it sounds convenient to use in the way you described and I can imagine doing that. I suppose it would still be possible to find the person in other ways via LinkedIn or Facebook; but that access would take more time. I think it would be nice to import it over onto the new website, especially if you could do it with some protection.

  8. Harry Manasewich says:

    Hi Sandy. First, thanks for your tireless and wonderful work! I've never used or plan on using the member network. I find the regional groups you've formed much more useful.

  9. Juli Fellows says:

    I've been a member for a number of years and I've never used the network feature, though I have a profile up. I think it's a nice service to be able to search for members in your area or who have a particular interest. But it seems to me that some of the features like blogs and groups aren't critical and haven't been well used. If it were my choice, I'd suggest keeping a simple searchable member directory online but saving money by cutting other features. Thanks for asking for our feedback Sandy!

  10. Thanks for all the feedback so far, you guys! Juli – what you're suggesting is exactly where our (Andy and my) thinking is on the Members Network right now. It's valuable to have a great searchable directory of our members that's accessible to all members and visitors. I'm hearing that echoed by most commenters.

    But we'd like to simplify what's there. Groups, blogs, albums, "friending" each other — all that stuff adds a confusing layer to the network and makes it less straightforward to just find people. We hope the person we hire to migrate the network over to the new website will be able to eliminate some features that don't seem to add value for the vast majority of members.

  11. Lisa Heft says:

    A deep bow to Sandy and Andy. Always.

    I have used the Members Network to find out who is in my region for face-to-face dialogue workshops – to find peers I want to invite to these learning exchanges. But I don't use the other stuff because I am not of the culture of folks who use social networks / online sites very much. With International Association of Facilitators I use the Members list only. With several social networks I am part of (yes it's interesting but I don't participate much) I find folks mostly use it to get in touch with each other – majority of folks don't use it for conversations even – a few of the same users are visible in conversation. With one social network I host (yes, odd that I should host it right?) folks use it to see each others photos plus a few issue-specific short-term conversations may happen there. Not a ton of users actively use it though they enjoy being part of it. Also since my work is across topics rather than about citizen participation in government specifically – that focus drives my interest in how I spend my time resources in writing, reading, receiving.

    Thanks for inviting our reflections and for your wonderful ability to always look at what is or remains useful and what grows away as something no longer needed. That's how life (and everything) evolves so beautifully…

    • Thank you for this thoughtful feedback, Lisa! I didn’t know you ran a social network. What is it? – I’m curious. I don’t know about you, but I’m finding that people are starting up WAY too many social networks these days. I wish we were better at using the networks (like Facebook) that most people are on already, rather than starting up all these niche networks that take a lot of resources to run. I’m really leaning towards paring our network back to a member directory (removing the blog feature, groups, photo albums, etc. that aren’t used much and I suspect just overwhelm people when they decide to log in). But even doing that takes resources since we have to hire someone to make that happen!

  12. Do folks have opinions on the “phishing” issue? Have you gotten spam from people mentioning thataway.org as a source that made it past your spam filter?

    One thing members can do if they want is to remove their email address from the members network. We’ve added new fields for facebook, twitter, linkedin and “other” profiles, so if you fill those out people will have other ways to connect with you.

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