Re: Ning: Phoenix or Fizzle?

Earlier today, my friend Amy Sample Ward wrote an amazing follow-up post to the changes announced by Ning back in April that led to the elimination of their free option.

It is always good to go back and assess the impact changes have had on us. In the case of social networking platforms, the change in business model Ning announced certainly sent shock waves through the nonprofit and education world. Since then, a few things have happened and I thought I’d take a moment to share in this post what I’ve taken away from it:

  • In May, Ning announced the details around pricing levels for their new model. As I mentioned to Ning back then, I was glad to learn the details about the new price options. They do cover a broad range of Network Creator needs, including an option running at $2.95/month for networks up to 150 members.

    A similar path has been followed by Grou.ps, as Amy pointed out in her post. They had been following the footsteps of Ning to give users tools to create their own social network. The cost of running the service appears to be too much to sustain free networks indefinitely at the expense of networks paying for premium services/features, so the freemium model doesn’t seem to work in cases of large scale/data intensive platforms that help users run entire social networks, as opposed to “simply” hosting photos (Flickr) or managing their social network updates/tweets (HootSuite).
  • As self-evident as it may be, it’s worth remembering once more that technology is not free. The change announced by Grou.ps shortly after Ning, eliminating their free service is a testament to this:

    “The big lesson for nonprofits and education technologists alike would be to keep in mind that if you want absolute control over the way a certain platform or solution works, the only way that can be accomplished is by housing it yourself,” he said. “Unfortunately that comes at an additional cost, and that cost has to be taken by someone.”

    This has not changed: the nonprofit and education sectors continue to be at the expense of changes in business models and will have to remain agile and flexible, ready to adapt on a moments notice (if possible) when/if the company hosting/running the service they offer changes or (even) goes out of business. The alternative is to run and host your own service with the additional IT costs this entails. So, as my friend Luis would say “there’s no free lunch!”

  • In July, Ning and WEGO Health announced a partnership through which WEGO started sponsoring qualifying health-centric networks. Seeing up-and-coming Health Networks benefit from a program such as this and Education networks on Ning made possible by Pearson feels great. But there are still far too many sectors that make social good possible that are waiting for their WEGO or their Pearson.

    My hope is that we will see more companies and social entrepreneurial spirits step up to the plate and help cover the cost of running these services to make them possible for groups that cannot still afford them.
  • Last, one area that I have seen Ning make some strides in is helping Network Creators (nonprofit and for-profit alike) is helping generate revenue through your network. I highly recommend anyone running a network on Ning to check out the detailed resource page they put together on this topic, stemming from collecting donations, to running your merchandise storefront or serving your own ads (leaving Google Ads by the side) within your own network.

    From our experience running TuDiabetes and EsTuDiabetes, I can tell you that even running Google Ads (which I am personally not a fan of, I admit) in a network of more than 100 members with a moderate activity level will help you generate enough revenue to easily pay for the lowest level on Ning, most likely helping you get the nearly $20/month plan so you don’t have to be limited by the 150-member ceiling.

So, are we out of the woods yet? Far from it… as Joan Manuel Serrat sings, “Caminante, no hay camino: se hace camino al andar” (Walker, there’s no road: you make your own road when you walk… -or something like that).

WEGO Health sponsors Ning Plus Networks for Ning Health Networks

Yesterday, I met an email in my Inbox with a BIG smile! Just as Pearson came forward to underwrite educational networks on Ning, WEGO Health, a social network for Health Activists who are passionate about health conditions, announced an exciting option for health networks on Ning.

Under this partnership WEGO Health will provide health-related communities with Ning Plus service. Jack Barrette, CEO of WEGO Health said:

“Since its inception, WEGO Health has been dedicated to empowering Health Activists to lead active health conversation on the web. The health networks built on Ning are a powerful example of Health Activists at work, and we’re thrilled to be able to extend our mission through this sponsorship. We look forward to collaborating with health-focused Ning Network Creators to expand their reach and impact.”

If you want to learn more about the partnership, read the announcement on WEGO health or apply for a WEGO Health-sponsored Ning Plus package.

Ning Changes: Lessons Learned

Today, the world of Ning Network Creators woke up with expectation to learn about the details of the new direction that Ning will be taking. A lot of reactions resulted from the announcement to cut free social networks and let go 40% of the staff, no more than 3 weeks ago.

The day following the announcement, after a night of little sleep, I wrote an Open Letter to Jason Rosenthal and Marc Andreesen, the CEO and the Chairman/Co-Founder of Ning. In the post I appealed to them, asking them to consider the impact the decision would have on small nonprofits and education networks.

Accompanying the post was a petition started by Jason Chmura, from the Society for Nonprofit Organizations, rallying to keep EDU and NPO Ning networks free. In no time, the petition gathered nearly 1,200 signatures.

Early this morning, the news broke on the Ning blog and the New York Times:

What does this mean for Network Creators? (completed details here)

  • Large networks (with thousands of members) were likely paying for some kind of premium service. In general, in these cases, the Ning Pro package is likely to be a great deal. As an example, in TuDiabetes and EsTuDiabetes we are currently using most of the premium services, which add up to around $80 per month per network. The Ning Pro option will bring that cost down to $49.95 per month per network.
  • Mid-size networks (under a thousand members but more than 150 members) that may have been paying for some premium services may find themselves saving some money too. Even if they were not paying $19.95, except for the inability to upload videos and music to the network (you can still embed players from other sites), the value you can get from this package (including the ability to run your own ads) seems like a great value to me too.
  • Small networks (under 150 members), unless they are a K-12 network, are faced with the Ning Mini option, which leaves out a few features (Groups, Events) and limits membership at 150 members and limits support access. Yet this option opens up the ability to run your own ads, which (even running Google Ads, believe me!) can easily cover the $2.95 that the package runs for.
  • Last, some networks will choose to migrate away from Ning and pursue some of the Ning alternatives that have been discussed in detail in recent weeks. Ning has stated:

We will be adding an automated export option to the manage page of each Ning Network by the July launch. You will have 30 days after the launch to select the migration option and export your Ning Networks content in an Atom syndicated format.

What does this mean for nonprofit networks?

The nonprofit technology sector has learned a few lessons. One of the important lessons goes in line with what I told to the writer of the New York Times (quoting from the article -I don’t get to quote myself from the Times too often!):

“The big lesson for nonprofits and education technologists alike would be to keep in mind that if you want absolute control over the way a certain platform or solution works, the only way that can be accomplished is by housing it yourself,” he said. “Unfortunately that comes at an additional cost, and that cost has to be taken by someone.”

Nonprofits outside of the US may face a mixed future, depending on their ability to afford the fees to be charged when the new pricing packages kick in.

What does this mean for Ning?

I think Ning has also learned a big lesson, as it shows in the way they managed the announcement today, compared to the way the first announcement was made.

Today’s announcement used every possible channel (email, the Creators network, their Twitter account, the NYTimes piece and even a press release that made it on a few other sites). They even scheduled 4 conference calls to answer questions about the changes in the coming few days.

They will still be charging for all networks (K-12 networks, they will just be charging someone other than the network creator): the essence of the information to be shared hasn’t changed. But the way in which is has been shared is much more appreciated by everyone.

What do YOU think about the announcement Ning made today? How will it affect your plans in connection with the Ning platform?