Ning: No More Free Networks

Ning, the service that lets anybody create a social network on any topic, is undergoing some big changes. The company, which hosts 2.3 million social networks, says that it will shut down its free version and require network creators to either switch to a paid plan or leave Ning. It’s also laying off forty percent of its staff.

Back in 2007, Ning cofounder and chairman Marc Andreessen visited PCWorld (where I worked at the time) and explained how Ning would be able to cover the costs of free networks through advertising. I liked the idea, and hey, he’s Marc Andreeseen, so I bought the idea. Here’s cofounder Gina Bianchini making the same case in a 2008 CNET video. But it looks like the strategy didn’t pan out.

When we chatted with Andreesseen, he was also passionate about the fact that Ning let network owners tinker with their network’s source code–but Ning eventually shut off that feature in favor of letting users install apps on their networks.

It’s yet the latest evidence that it’s dangerous to assume that free services will be around forever, at least as free services. I wonder how many Ning networks will convert to paid services, how many will move elsewhere, and how many will just go away?

I run Technologizer, which has its own Ning network--but not one that’s very active or inspiring. That’s at least partially our fault, for not promoting it more aggressively. Mostly, though, we discovered that the social side of Technologizer was going on in article comments as well as on Twitter and Facebook. Even though we’re already paying Ning customers, we may quietly close down our presence there at some point–let us know if you think that’s a lousy idea. But I’m still a fan of the idea, as expressed both at Ning and its competitor SocialGo (which already focused on paid services).

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