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Good News; No More Free Ning Social Networks!

Ning is doing away with the "Free Website" part of their business model... I applaud Ning for changing course for the better... Why? Because those freebie networks they have been providing like AOL CD's in the 90's seem to be most often the 1 and 2 member social networks with little to no traffic, that are rarely updated, nor do they ever seem to provide any valuable content. The Freebie Ning based sites do nothing more than clutter up search results and waste resources. As a frequent Ning Network Creator, I have built many "Automotive Communities" for my dealers using the Ning platform and have always chosen to upgrade with fee based options such as my own DNS hosting, my own Google Adsense inserts, support upgrades and when needed, extra hosting bandwidth... None of the Ning networks I have created rely on free hosting. Ning's announcement is a good move! If a website builder cannot commit to ensuring their Ning based site is worth people paying enough attention, so that the site traffic and membership can support the costs of hosting it through Google Adsense advertising and other revenue generating sources, then why should Ning pay the bill?

Here's an article from Mashable that explores Ning's recent announcement:

Ning: Failures, Lessons and Six Alternatives

by Jolie O'Dell

Ning, the network of social networks that boasted 20 million visitors a month, is making massive staff cutbacks and has announced a complete end to free services for its users. Those who pay for premium services will be asked to pay more, and those who are getting their social networks free of charge will be asked to fork over or phase off the Ning platform.

For a while now, we’ve been seeing Ning through rose-colored glasses. One year ago to the day, the company announced it had attained 1 million unique social networks built on its platform, along with a $500 million valuation. In May 2009, the company rolled out a developer platform along with 90 ready-to-go applications for network creators. On paper, their numbers were looking great.

Then, just last month, we got word that CEO Gina Bianchini had left the company. On the heels of this news came a 40% workforce reduction and a dramatic announcement from the new CEO, Jason Rosenthal:

When I became CEO 30 days ago, I told you I would take a hard look at our business. This process has brought real clarity to what’s working, what’s not, and what we need to do now to make Ning a big success.

My main conclusion is that we need to double down on our premium services business. Our Premium Ning Networks[...] drive 75% of our monthly U.S. 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. Existing free networks will have the opportunity to either convert to paying for premium services, or transition off of Ning[...] All of our product development capability will be devoted to making paying Network Creators extremely happy.”

VP Advocacy John MacDonald added, “I feel confident that this change in direction will be very positive for our premium service customers because Ning will be 100% focused on delivering the features and services which benefit you and help you achieve your goals.”

Currently, Ning’s premium offerings include express access to customer support starting at $10 per month, removal of Ning links at the bottom of pages at $25 per month, custom URLs at $5 per month, an ad-free interface at $25 per month and extra bandwidth and storage at $10 per month.


The Cost of Free


We’re not sure how pricing will change over the next few weeks, but what we do know is that the dotcom-era free-for-all of apps, services and content for end users is not-so-gradually coming to a halt. In the light of economic reality, nothing is free. Someone — be it an advertiser, an administrator, an investor or an entrepreneur — is footing the bill for every one and zero that’s electronically transmitted across this great Internet of ours. And at some point, most of those folks expect to see a return on their investment.

And just as we’ve grown used to paying for music through apps such as iTunes and getting cheap access to films online through Netflix, it’s about time we suck it up as consumers and start paying for the bandwidth we use, from web hosting to online storage to site creation and maintenance. As we all know, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

If you’re the creator of a social network, you should probably be passionate about the hobby, interest, community or business you decided to build a network around. And you should be attracting and enlisting equally passionate users as part of your community management plan. If you and your community can’t find a way to pay a modest monthly fee for the goods and services you use in your network, you might have one of two problems: You’re not passionate enough to moderate a community on your topic, or your topic isn’t inspiring your network to keep it afloat.

There are dozens of ways to have a self-sustaining community. You can run your own ads on Ning-powered sites. You can sell swag through a Ning-powered store. You can get micropayments from your community and crowdsource the $25 per month you need to keep your network in business. But make no mistake: Even if you’re a nonprofit or a hobbyist, running any kind of website is a business. If you’re not able to pay a small fee for the resources you use, you might want to consider a free or inexpensive multi-author blog instead.


Ning Alternatives


Of course, we want to provide some alternatives, but with this critical caveat:

Ning is one of the largest and most-visited networks of social sites in its class. If Ning can’t succeed in letting users build free social network sites, it might not be a viable business model for the other guys, either — and you might have to pack your digital bags again in another year or two.

With that in mind, here are some free, social network-building alternatives to Ning. In general keep in mind that there are two types of social network CMSes: The freemium, what-you-see-is-what-you-get, uber-user-friendly kind; and the open-source, do-it-and-we-mean-all-of-it-yourself, better-call-tech-support-if-you-can’t-code kind. The benefit of the latter is that, while it might be a pain to set up in the beginning, it will always be free. We’ll give you three of each variety.

Source: http://mashable.com/2010/04/18/ning-alternatives/

Editor's Note: In early 2009, a team comprised of myself and several others compared most of the sites discussed in the above article, including Ning and a few not mentioned in the Mashable story. We created a matrix of features and capabilities to assess which platform would work best as one of over 100 components in a social media reputation management business process outsourcing solution for car dealers. We chose Ning as the software provider for the purpose of creating automotive community hubs NOT because of the fees we would pay to license their applications and get technical support, but rather because there is currently no better suited platform available from any of the other providers. The SEO compatibility and application level integration with the major social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr combined with the flexibility of the robust Ning assortment of RSS feeds, widgets and compatibility with Google's Open Social web application standards are just some of the reasons that Ning provides a superior platform. Like I said in my introduction at the top, I am VERY HAPPY that Ning is getting rid of the free social networks they have been providing because the paid Ning sites, such as ADM have been subsidizing the millions of freeloaders not using the Ning Premium features... Good riddance to the freeloaders!

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Tags: Free Social Network, Free Website, Ning, Ning Network, No More Free, Social Networks

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Comment by Ken Gibson on April 19, 2010 at 10:08pm
Good recap Ralph.
Have a great DD8, sorry to have to miss it. I will be at DD9, hopefully speaking on social media marketing for independents, as I will be doing at NIADA and some state conventions.
See ya !
Comment by Ace Cars on April 19, 2010 at 2:59pm
If a community is valuable enough, people will pay for it.

I know of a paintless dent repair forum that decided to charge $75 a year for membership. Sure, some people left, but the majority found the idea sharing so valuable that they gladly paid the $75.
Comment by Mark Dubis on April 19, 2010 at 9:00am
Thanks for the update Ralph. By the way just want to let you know that your ADM Ning Network is very much appreciated and a valuable resource and forum for our industry. Keep on truckin!!
Comment by Brian Pasch on April 19, 2010 at 4:14am
@Ralph
I agree that this is a good thing and it will bring the whole platform up a notch in integrity. I also have a few NING sites up and I have been an advocate of the paid services model since I didn't want ads running on my sites as a distraction.

As car dealers start to use NING, they will see how easy it is to get hooked on the technology. I've also built a car inventory listing model using CarPort so NING can be a social community and place a dealers inventory on a tab just like Facebook.

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