Ning No More

It was sad news to me last week that Ning - the online platform for people to create their own social networks -  has announced some major changes.

It has only been a month since Ning CEO and co-founder Gina Bianchini was replaced by COO
Jason Rosenthal and maybe that's the reason for the changes. The company is ending its free product. Existing free
networks (I belong to about a dozen and own two of my own) will either have to change to premium accounts or move that network elsewhere.

Since the company also cut about 40% of its staff, it's hard to say if this is all financial or if it's also a philosophical change.

Ning (Chinese for "peace") launched in October 2005 and was co-founded by Marc Andreessen and Gina Bianchini. (Andreessen had two companies before this - Netscape and Opsware). 

I suppose that Ning competed with social sites like Facebook, but it really didn't compete because the appeal was for people who wanted to create their own social networks. Most Ning sites center around a specific interest like the or EDUCAUSE's Top Teaching and Learning Challenges Project or the Each free site had some freedom with the visual design, choice of features and member data.

Rosenthal, the new Ning CEO, sent an e-mail to staffers last week that got forwarded to the TechCrunch blog where he explains that Ning will be focusing on premium networks with additional features and that are not ad-supported.

"We are going to change our strategy to devote 100 percent 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."

Though certainly many of these existing networks will move to - well, I'm not sure what the free alternative is -  a good number of network creators have a huge investment of time in their network, and moving it might just destroy it.

The scariest part to me, as a creator, is that this might be a sign of a trend away from the the free and ad-supported services we have all become used to having to a new business/revenue model. And, following the drug dealer business model, now that we have a taste and are addicted, we are more likely to pay to continue. Maybe...


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