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Saturday, April 17, 2010

What is the deal with this Ning thing? (Reflections on the End of Free Networks)

Image representing Ning as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase
Lots of comments running through Twitter about Ning's decision to take away free networks from education.  While it would have been nice for Ning to notify us in a more direct way, they didn't and here are some of my thoughts.

1 - Ning SHOULD Make Money
First and foremost, Ning is a for-profit company and they have a right and an obligation to their investors to make a PROFIT. I appreciate that they understood the power of free networks where STUDENTS were involved as well as keeping politically favorable in treating those networks with kids under 18 with "kid gloves" so to speak as it relates to advertising.

While I disagree with their decision and point out that wikispaces has built a seemingly profitable model off of add-free sites for educators - this is Ning's company and Ning's right to do as they wish!

2 - Ning SHOULD Be Ready to Step Up
That being said, I think that Ning's lack of communication with educators who had free networks is going to have to change.  When we PAY for a service we expect a higher level of communication and thus far when you contact ning you receive NO communication.  I can say this because when we've had issues we've tried for months to get responses and nary receive an email.

The Fact is that Ning is CUTTING staff and CUTTING free networks - if they indeed are charging us - I for one will expect responses and to have a person who can actually help us with our issues for a change!

For anyone who has been deeply involved in administering Ning networks, this isn't really a surprise.

Additionally, Ning should offer backup alternatives and other alternatives for us that we WILL PAY FOR to keep a copy of what we have on the network.  They have a profit making opportunity here and should use it.  However, I think they are just going to downsize and go from there. 

3- Put our Heads Together and Make Wise Choices

I'm not one for panic mode - yes, Julie and I have 7 networks or so that we use with Flat Classroom™ projects that have thus far been FREE for all participants because of the sponsors and funders of our projects.  We'll have to look at what we can do to either keep it free or defray costs.  But one thing we're not going to do is panic.

This isn't the end of the world.  We can pull data out (rip the videos out with zamzar and download helper) and we can at least export the names of those in the network.

I'm hoping that Ning will be rational and make good business decisions but just as they have a right and obligation to make money they also have a right to make overwhelmingly DUMB business decisions and miss the potential profit that they could make. 

So, let's see what happens.  Meanwhile - this message from my friend Steve Hargadon bears printing in entirity here for those who are having level heads and deciding what to do with their networks.

Ning Changes and the Impact on Educational Communities
Posted: 15 Apr 2010 04:07 PM PDT
The news today of changes to Ning, based on a purported (but I think likely authentic) internal memo from the new Ning CEO, is reasonably going to cause some concern in the education community.  Ning has facilitated a pretty historic change in the connecting of educators, often in self-directed ways, through the ability to "create your own social network."

If there are changes coming to Ning, then as a community we'll want to work together to respond and to help each other.  Some initial thoughts are below.  I'm also going to open up a live Elluminate session on Tuesday, April 20th, at 5pm Pacific Daylight Time (US) / 8pm Eastern Daylight Time (US) / 12am Wednesday GMT (international conversions here).  Let's gather information and then use that time to talk about what is currently known and what the potential courses of action are for existing network creators.  We'll use the FutureofEducation.com Elluminate room:  log in at http://tr.im/futureofed. I'll open up the room 30 minutes before the event if you want to come in early, and we'll run as long as is needed. To make sure that your computer is configured for Elluminate, please visit http://www.elluminate.com/support.

Some initial thoughts:
§ If you have an exiting Ning network, while you can only export the networks membership, I'd suggest doing that now just to be safe.  (In your network go to Manage > Members and then look for the link at the bottom of the page to export.)  I don't think it's appropriate to import those members into any other system without their express consent, but you will want to have their email addresses in a worst-case scenario.
§ I'd urge some thoughtfulness at this stage.  It's not clear what Ning's long-term intentions are for educational networks, and once your user data is backed up, speculating before Ning makes any official decisions or announcements is not likely to provide you with a practical outcome right now.  
§ We know at Elluminate that our LearnCentral.org network's user interface does not yet match the Ning experience, but hopefully, for some of you, LearnCentral becomes an attractive alternative to Ning.  Our model is different than Ning's:  we're creating a single education-wide network with stronger group capabilities, and we're doing so for free because it's a great introduction to the already existing paid services that Elluminate offers.  There will be some scrutiny of commercial models right now given this turn of events, and hopefully we end up looking pretty good in this regard.
§ The Ning networks that I run are all ones where I pay for premium services.  While it's not clear from the above-mentioned Ning memo what or how many premium services will be required to continue your Ning network, I don't have any concerns about my existing networks at this point.  You can see a list of them some way down the left side of this blog page.  Some of them are generously sustained by organizations who support the financial costs, and I can explain how I approached and then have worked with those organizations in our Elluminate session if that's a route you want to go.  
§ I'm also glad, time permitting, to work with individual networks whose continued existence is important to our larger community, as was the case with the Library 2.0 network Bill Drew had grown for some years but which he was going to shut down and we were able to find sponsorship for (hurrah, Brentwood School librarians!).  Feel free to contact me directly at steve@hargadon.com in this regard if and when it becomes clear what Ning's new policies will be.
This does seem like a dramatic turn of events, but something really powerful has happened in the education world, for which Ning has been a great springboard.  Educational networking, however, is now more powerful than one company's services alone.  The road may not be completely smooth, but we will figure this out together. :)

I am not sure those who cover social media really understand what these networks have meant to education. It has meant that we could have safe, partitioned spaces to teach our students on-line safety without having to take them into the larger pool of social media. It has meant that we could connect in many places around the world that do not have access to social networks (China, etc.) and it has meant some amazing breakthroughs in global collaboration.

However, those of us that are committed to flattening the classroom and are driven to connect our classrooms on a global basis - this Ning situation is yet another obstacle that we must overcome because truly, the world isn't Flat - it is made Flat by those who scoop away at the hills one shovel full at a time.

Scoop. Scoop. Scoop.
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