Tag Archives: ning

Ning Services Will Remain Free for Educators

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about the disappointing news from the Ning camp. The service had announced that they will be suspending their free service, and only offer paid-for services in the near future. There has been a lot of discussion and rants floating around the web regarding this sad turn of events. However, no group was more outraged than educators.

Today, Ning proved they are listening. The company has signed a letter of intent with a major educational publisher to keep its service free for educators. Thanks to people such as Beth Kanter, the network has realized that there is a serious need to keep the free services in some situations. “We have to ask, ‘what is the cost of free?’” she said. This is in reference to many services and sites like Ning who shut down free versions… often without any warning at all.

The new paid versions will roll out in July. The good news is that the premium package – now called ‘Ning Pro’ – is going to cost a bit less than it did in the past. There will be three levels of paid service: Ning Mini, Ning Plus and the Ning Pro. Costs jump from $3.00 per month to $50.00 per month for the Pro version. The mid-level form will run a user around twenty bucks every thirty days. Ning is also promising new features based on user demand:

We’ll start with many of the things Network Creators have been asking for and extend the service from there. The end of Ning promotional links, leading to a more customized, branded experience for you and your members. An ad free experience and the option to run your own ads — if you like. Easy content export and back-up. The end of Ning ID and ability to add Facebook and Twitter sign-in. API access for a more integrated experience. The ability to charge for membership and accept donations.

I’m happy to see a few of these changes, and am waiting for even more to come about. I know that on our Geeks Ning network, we have a serious need for better ways to deal with unwanted members and spammers. We need more control over how members are managed and removed.

What are your thoughts about this newest development? Are you an educator who makes use of this platform? If so… will you now be sticking with the service, or choosing something different?

Why Do You Have an Appendix?

Today I kept up the stream of silly questions on the Facebook fan page. The community seems to have been having a lot of fun answering these random little snippets that I come up with, and it’s fun for me to read the answers… usually. I have to admit that some of them are TOO racy or “icky.” When that happens, I resort to using the almighty “delete” button.

One of today’s questions was “The reason we have an appendix in our bodies is…” I loved the answer that had to do with cavemen. Someone quipped that we only have them to help doctors get richer. But the best comment by far had to be: “It’s like the end of one of those little balloon animal balloons that didn’t quite get filled up with air. It just hangs there useless and droopy. Sort of like Rush Limbaugh’s brain, only bigger.”

Now that is funny. What amused you today?

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The Future of Ning Communities

A startling announcement came today from the Ning network. Only one month after appointing a new CEO, the company has major reorganization plans in the works. In addition to laying off approximately 40% of its staff, the company is killing off all free accounts. Free account users will have the option to either change over to a premium membership, or move their network to another platform entirely.

As I read this news, I breathed a sigh of relief that both Geeks and Gnomedex are hosted on premium Ning accounts already. As of today, we have more than 27,000 members, 14,000 blog posts, 19,000 forum threads and countless photos and videos that all of you have contributed. That is a LOT of information sharing, folks.

In his message to staff members, CEO Jason Rosenthal stated in part that “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 judge ourselves by our ability to enable and power Premium Ning Networks at huge scale. And all of our product development capability will be devoted to making paying Network Creators extremely happy.

They want to make us extremely happy? That’s excellent news for our community. There are several things that we hope to see in the very near future. These are very basic things that will help our little slice of Ning continue to thrive. One of the most important things we need to see is a better way to control members. Currently, we have the ability to freeze or ban a member posting spam or other unwanted information. However, there is no way to ban a user by IP address. This is a HUGE problem.

Several times in the past few weeks, our site (along with many other Ning sites) was bombarded by a porn spam bot attack. We’re talking hundreds of posts being made in under an hour. Every single “member” came from the exact same IP address. Whoever was behind the attack knew full well that Ning doesn’t ban by IP. If they did, this attack would have been stopped in a matter of seconds… instead of taking over an hour.

There are several other smaller details that we would like to see worked on by the Ning team. I am happy to talk with them at any point in time in order to help contribute feedback and ideas. For the most part, I am happy with Ning and the features we have (although, half of what makes it a functional community are the “hacks” that had to be put in place). There is always room for improvement, though.

Then again, Ning has never really understood how communities work – and their platform strategy only reflects the lack of insight from the top down.

One large concern I have is the fact that many of our members have free Ning networks of their own. Most of them will not likely have the resources to convert their account to a premium one. What’s to happen to their communities?

Well, unless developers and designers put their collective heads together… Ning communities will remain stranded on a mostly-closed platform. There are ways to export Ning network data, but no translation tool to take those relationships elsewhere. What about a tool to import a Ning community into a WordPress 3.0 / BuddyPress installation?

Heck, I’d host a WordPress hackathon at my house over the weekend for the start of that – would there be any developers and designers interested. I live in the Seattle area, but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t work remotely with capable individuals.

Inevitably, we’ll have community hosting set up under Lockergnome’s Premium Services. Signing up now will get you a domain name, WordPress installation and hosting, includes many popular plugins, and Free / Premium themes. Packages start at only $12.77 per month (which includes the domain registration), and there are no contracts. You can cancel anytime you like. This is classic WordPress at the moment, but I’m making moves to go into full WPMU / BuddyPress / WordPress 3.0 hosting.

Sometimes, you get what you pay for – which is to say that freeloaders should probably stop whining.

How Should a College Newspaper Publish on the Web?

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I graduated high school many years ago, and first got online in 1992. The Internet was there, but not the World Wide Web at that point. I wrote a series of articles for the newspaper at my university about the Internet. Chris wrote me with a question about his college newspaper, and getting it online. Specifically, he is confused about them needing something simple to update with an easy interface. The reason is, they won’t always have a tech guy around. Chris feels that buying their own domain name is just too much for them, and they aren’t happy with the free WordPress package, as they don’t like the templates. Additionally, they have almost no budget. So, he turned to me for help.

I will agree that the templates available for WP aren’t very much to your liking. If you like WordPress itself, spend just a little bit of money and buy a more professional one. I’m sure you have some kind of campus IT department. They could host the site for you. You may be able to approach a local business and get hosting from them, maybe in exchange for free advertising. With WordPress, you can find a good template that will allow you to make it look very much like the professional online papers.

Any money you might have to spend would be quickly offset with advertising, local businesses, or even time donated by other students to help. The sooner you can get the paper into a system that will work for them and grow with them, the better.

A blog is just one level. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many social features in WordPress. There’s no profile management, certainly not like Facebook or MySpace. While you’ll still be somewhat limited on themes, you could take a look at having a Ning community. Ning is basically a large network of free communities. I paid for a few extra options, including the ability to use my own domain and to run ads. There are features for Ning including photo albums, profiles, videos and forums. You can turn features on or off, as well. It’s certainly going to offer you a lot more than just a simple blog would.

I don’t know what all is out there, but I would certainly want to point you in the direction of open-source options. This way, you have freedom to make any changes you feel you may need. If anyone in our community has better recommendations, I’m sure that they will write and let me know.


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