Ning Shares (Some) Details on Its Future

This morning, I received a cheery e-mail from Ning CEO Jason Rosenthal with more information on the build-your-own-social-network’ service’s decision to end free networks in favor of focusing on ones whose organizers pay a fee to Ning.

(Maybe a tad too cheery–he refers to “new and exciting changes.” The prices look reasonable if you were already paying Ning or were inclined to start doing so, and the company says it’s going to add a bunch of new features, such as HD support. But an acknowledgment that most of the people currently operating free networks won’t be instantly thrilled with the idea of losing them might have been in order.)

Starting in July, there will be a $50/month Ning Pro plan that removes ads and Ning promotion, adds “premium support” and is comparable to services that currently cost $75 a month; a $20/month Ning Plus one that ‘s similar but with less storage, less bandwidth, and “Help Center” support; and a $2.95/month Ning Mini option with fewer features, a 150-member limit, and “community-based” support. In all three cases, there are discounts if you sign up for a year at a time.

It looks as if plans may be in flux: At one point in the FAQ it says that free plans are going away…and then it says that an unspecified “major educational company” is offering to subsidize Ning Mini networks used in primary and secondary education.

What happens to networks whose owners don’t want to pay and don’t qualify for the educational company’s sponsorship? They’ll have to figure out an exit strategy within thirty days of the new plans’ arrival in July. Rosenthal’s e-mail refers to a “clear migration path,” and there’s reference to a data-export option, but it’s not clear if there will be any easy way for a Ning network to reconstitute itself elsewhere. I’ll bet still-free alternatives such as Lunch would love to figure out a way to suck in exported Ning networks so that emigrees can bounce back as easily as possible.

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