As someone that has helped others to create, and has created many networks on the Ning platform, yesterday’s news that the company would be dropping 40% of it’s staff and dropping the free service was incredibly alarming. The news from Jason Rosenthal, Ning’s CEO, stated:
My main conclusion is that we need to double down on our premium services business. Our Premium Ning Networks like Friends or Enemies, Linkin Park, Shred or Die, Pickens Plan, and tens of thousands of others both drive 75% of our monthly US traffic, and those Network Creators need and will pay for many more services and features from us.
So, we are going to change our strategy to devote 100% of our resources to building the winning product to capture this big opportunity. We will phase out our free service. [Read the full letter here.]
Join the conversation taking place on Manny Hernandez’s blog about keeping the network free for nonprofit and educational use. You can also read the news post on TechCrunch and the comments there.
Why this matters to me:
What worries me most about the pay-only option, even if it isn’t a huge $ amount is that ANY $ amount can be enough to mean no access for many. Here are a few examples:
- Grassroots groups: For many of the smaller, grassroots campaigns and groups that use Ning, there isn’t a one-and-only-one leader dynamic where there could be one person that would be paying. We are in the midst of change for community dynamics where people no longer need a director, a secretary and then a bunch of members. We can all be leaders and contributors to a network, a community, a movement. So the administrator on a group, at least groups I’m a part of, is not one person, but a long list of people. Responsibilities are shared and actually change fairly frequently depending on capacity and availability.
- Community groups: Very much like the dynamics at play in grassroots cause groups, community groups struggle with the same issues around administration and ownership. I’ve helped local community groups set up Ning communities online as a way to start building resources, connections, and storytelling in a local geographic community. And I see it working. But I also don’t see many of them with the capacity to pay (who pays, how do we decicde, etc.)
- Educators: This is not a new issue for this group. We all know that teachers and other educators use tools and supplies out of their pocket because they are determined to provide the best experience for their students and peers. That’s why we see things like DonorsChoose emerge. Making Ning a paid-for service could mean we see thousands of new donor requests asking for a year of service or something – totally not sustainable.
I really, really believe that Ning can deliver on their bottom line and focus on making money, as it sounds like they want to do, and still provide the service to educators and nonprofit groups for free.
I know there are lots of great examples out there like Basecamp and Huddle and many others that balance free and paid successfully. Please share your ideas, your stories and your examples. We really want to ensure this tool continues enabling communities, regardless of their budget.
If you haven’t already, please also sign the Change.org pledge here.