Ning to end free networks

Cross-posted from Social Media Manchester

Many of you may have heard the news that Ning, the providers of this community’s social network, is intending to phase out their ‘free’ service, in favour of paid-for options. Jason Rosenthal, their newly appointed Chief Executive, said, in a staff memo:

“We are going to change our strategy to devote 100% of our resources to building the winning product to capture this big opportunity” — i.e being the premium service, not the one supported by advertising. (Guardian)

It is interesting then that at the recent first meetup of digital content creators in Manchester (“There will be blood“) the discussion around paywalls and the end of the ‘free/freemium’ model was debated. Now, we find ourselves very urgently coming to grips with this exact same situation. I’ll blog my personal thoughts on this decision separately.

Why are we using Ning?

As I blogged about in January, the Social Media Manchester network was created on Ning by one of the regular attendees of the Social Media Cafe, Rob Gough, as a way of keeping the conversation going outside of the monthly meetups and to help facilitate the networking that happens at the event. Ning was picked because it was free to set up, easy to maintain and very easy to scale. It is undoubtedly far superior to the wiki pages used when the cafe was in its infancy. And, of course, its success is in no small part due to its adoption as the primary channel for communicating and promoting information about the Social Media Cafe, which remains a large part of its purpose.

However, since then, it has become a platform for a number of spin-off activities that originated from people who met at the cafe, including the Social Media Surgeries and the Manchester Aggregator. With over 500 members (that’s double in three months since January), a number of events, groups and a growing blog network, I think that this site – the community it represents – has become an important part of the digital and creative media scene in Manchester.

What does this mean for our network?

The changes soon to be implemented by Ning will pose some difficult questions for the future. In his most recent blog post, Rosenthal says that we’ll find out more on 4 May. He also recognised the difficulties that this move is going to present for volunteer-run communities like ours:

“We recognize that there are many active Ning Networks for teachers, small non-profits, and individuals and its our goal to have a set of product and pricing options that will make sense for all of them. For Ning Creators using our free service who choose to move to another service, we will offer a migration path and time to make that change.” (Ning)

So the short story is, ‘wait and see’. It may transpire that the new offering from Ning is compelling enough to consider some sort of payment to maintain this network and, if so, we would have to consider how this is achieved.
As mentioned, this community is entirely volunteer-run, as are almost all of the events featured including the extremely popular Social Media Cafe, which regularly draws over scores of people from across the north west, and some big name speakers, but for which there has never been a cover charge or requests for sponsorship.
There is no proposal that this must change any time soon, though this type of change must be driven by the community. Undoubtedly, additional funding for the cafe, and therefore the development of this network, would be beneficial but this would also change the dynamic of the event and – in the case of sponsorship particularly – potentially require a number of strings that we would have to be happy to accept.

What next?

For now, I just wanted to let you know that we were aware of and thinking about how this change might affect the community. As ever, your feedback will help drive any changes and ensure that whatever decision is taken about the future of this Ning network or another solution is the right one.
Thanks to Daniel Bentley for flagging this up to me originally.