My knee-jerk reaction to Thing 26 (and the voice in my head actually said this) was, "You can't make me, na, na, na, na, na," which is often my reaction to others' attempts to force me to socialize. Then I realized that it was childish and contrary to the purpose of the More Things program, and I headed off to join the 23 Things Ning. I will always be a child at heart, but I do try to act like an adult...at least while in public.
There's no debating that social networks are a powerful communication tool. With 24-hour access to messaging, blogging, photo/file sharing, and other tools, social networks are natural facilitators for sharing & gathering information, which is what a large part of what education really is. Not to mention that most students already spend a good amount of time on these websites, so why not put information where the students already are.
Personally, one social network (Facebook) is enough for me, but I think that Ning could be a very useful tool for teachers. In my school district and in many others in the area, social networks such as Facebook and MySpace are blocked or students are otherwise forbidden from using them. While I recognize the trouble that could be had by students using these sites inappropriately (as they normally do when not in school, IMO), I think that this is even more of a reason as to why schools should be allowing students to use such networks at school, i.e. we need to teach students to use them appropriately, safely, and even effectively. For those interested in the topic of banning technology in school, Doug Johnson's "A Proposal for Banning Pencils" is a wonderful commentary on the matter.
Anywho, with mainstream networks being out of the picture or perhaps not the best choice for an educational social network, I think that Ning could be an excellent alternative. Teachers could customize a Ning to their liking and it would be separate from a students personal networking sites (add even private, if necessary), but all the benefits and familiarity of a social network are there. One hurdle I do anticipate, however, is the fact that an email address is required to join Ning. Not all students have an email account, and being a middle school, it is not possible to require students to have one, as many are technically to young to signup for email services (many sites require users to be 13 years old). Now if I could only convince our district to use Google Apps, all problems would be solved. Seriously. But, that's a topic for another post.