What to do about your Ning?

A photo of the Ning pageSo, in case you haven’t heard, Ning isn’t free anymore.  In the spring, Ning announced that they could no longer support its site through advertising alone and were moving to a subscription model.  They rolled out the pricing plans this summer and the prices will go into effect at the end of this week (August 20, 2010).  If you have a Ning and haven’t visited it lately, they will prompt you to select a plan when you log in.  I know a lot of instructors started using Ning last year and I’ve gotten a fair number of questions recently about what they should do with their Ning.  If you have a Ning and are wondering what to do, here are some different options that you may want to consider.  Choose an option that’s best for you based on your circumstances.

1.  Buck up and pay the piper. The Internet has been a smorgasbord of free stuff over the last couple of decades, but I think we may be seeing a fundamental shift in how online resources are funded.  Can advertising really support all of the tools we use?  Ning tried to use advertising to support its site and failed miserably.  For about $3 a month, you can convert your Ning to a Ning Mini and still have blogs, forums, and video embeds (but no uploads).  For about $20 a month, you could get a few more options (unlimited members, more storage, etc) but I really don’t know how people will utilize these features with their classes.  Ning also offers a premium plan for $50 a month but this is mostly targeted at businesses who want loads of options for their network.

2.  Apply for a free Ning. You read that right.  You can apply for a free Ning.  Technically, Pearson is supporting Ning Minis for educators.  If you have a Ning and you use it with your classes, you can apply for a Ning Mini here.  I applied for free Ning Minis for three of the Nings I manage and all were approved in a few weeks.  I’ll definitely have less flexibility with a Ning Mini but it’s still free.  And free is good.

3.  Switch to another social networking site. A bunch of sites have sprung up to take Ning’s place.  I’ve set up networks with a number of them and none strike me as being as easy to use as Ning or as customizable.  Webs is promising, but it has a pretty steep learning curve initially.  Spruz is a really popular option that is fairly easy to use, but I’m a little concerned by the size of the free sites they offer (10 Mb dedicated for uploaded files).  I think some instructors could extend this amount pretty quickly.  Grou.ps is probably the easiest to use of the Ning options, but it’s pricing structure is based not only on the amount of storage that a site needs but also the bandwidth used.  It offers a basic free site with video uploading (not just embedding from another site) but I wonder how quickly a network would extend the free account (10 Gb of space, 100 Gb downloaded) and need to start paying for additional space and bandwidth.  WackWall is an intriguing option.  It’s still in Beta (which means it’s still being tested before public release) but it has a great deal of features (video uploads, blogs, forums, etc).  From an aesthetic point of view, it is pretty bare bones but you can customize some colors and choose from five different themes.  My hesitation with this site is that it’s still in Beta.  Who knows if someone who moves their site from Ning to avoid paying a fee doesn’t end up paying more with WackWall in December?

4.  Back up your Ning. Regardless of the choice you make, you should probably archive your Ning data.  Not only does it allow you to hold onto all of the data in your network, it allows you to easily upload that data to a new site if you choose.  Archiving is a relatively new option in Ning but you can achive any of the features you use (videos, discussions, comments, etc).  To archive your network, open your Ning and select My Network.  Under Content is an option for Archive and it will walk you through the process.  You’ll need to install a few free pieces of software but it’s a pretty painless process.

5.  Call it quits on social networking. I hope this isn’t what most people choose.  Sure, this Ning pricing overhaul has caused some problems but consider all of the positives that occur by creating networks for students interact, collaborate and socially construct their understanding.  It’s not just anecdotal evidence, either.  Check out this work from Dr. Rey Junco, a professor at Lock Haven who studies social networking.  Like it or not, social networking is here to stay.  The question is whether we recognize it as a beneficial tool for our classrooms or not.

What are you planning to do?  I’d like to hear from some of you who are using Nings with your classrooms and who are deciding what to do.  Share your experiences and your thought process by adding a comment to the blog.

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