Thursday, November 01, 2007

Big News from Ning: Ad-Free Student Networks

I've been working with Ning as an educational consultant for a couple of months now, and run their Ning for Educators network. I really like both their model of "creating your own social network," and their responsiveness to the education community. While the big public news for Ning this week is their participation in and support of Google's Open Social platform (will have to save talking about that for another day), yesterday they made a quiet decision which will greatly benefit the educational community: to provide ad-free student networks to K-12 educators. (Update: see new notes and procedures below.)

Ning has been a great example of the how Web 2.0 applications can be free to use, supported by the ubuiquitous Google ad network. There are several upgrade options, the primary one being the ability to run an ad-free network, or to host your own ads, for $19.95 a month. While this is a reasonable cost, most educators exploring the (great) uses of social networking in education have a hard time jumping through the administrative hoops to get this approved, and up to now have only been able to experiment with Ning by using the ad-supported version.

Yesterday, in a flurry of email exchanges, Ning's Gina Bianchini and Athena Von Oech, Flat Classroom superstars Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay, and I worked out the details of a trial program to remove the ad component from any existing or newly-created K-12 student-centered networks. If we can show them ad-free networks are something educators really want (that won't be hard!), they will continue the program and create a more automated, stream-lined process--but in the meantime, here is what you can do: (no longer current, skip to below)
  1. Create your student network, if you don't already have one
  2. Go to http://help.ning.com/?page_id=27
  3. Use the subject line: "Ad Removal Request for grades 7 - 12 Education Network"
  4. Put in your network ID at the beginning of the "Describe your issue" box, then just give a one-sentence description of your network usage. For example, you could put:
    "flatclassroomproject.ning.com - a global collaborative project founded by Vicki Davis (Westwood Schools, USA) and Julie Lindsay (Qatar Academy, Qatar) in 2006 to use Web 2.0 tools to facilitate communication, interaction and collaboration between students and teachers from all participating classrooms."
  5. Email me at steve@hargadon.com if your network isn't ad-free within 72 hours (let's just say three *work* days!). [This is an update as of 1/18/08.]
  6. Join the Ning in Education community to get help, hints, and tips for using Ning in educational settings
  7. Consider thanking Ning by placing a "Ning in Education" badge on your frontpage by following the link on the right side of that network that says "Get a Ning in Education Badge!" You can then add the HTML code into a text box on your network.
Huge thanks to Ning, Vicki, and Julie!

UPDATE 11/1/07 6:00 pm:

Ning has had to modify this program for the time being because of COPPA concerns. For the time being, Ning is not COPPA-compliant so it is intended for people ages 13 and up, and this ad-free trial program will only be for networks geared toward students between the ages of 13 and 18 (grades 7 - 12).

I've pored over COPPA, and am trying to decide the status of private networks, with no ads, where teachers create login accounts for student use, and that don't specifically ask for "personal" data. It would seem they might be in compliance. Any thoughts?

Also to note: while this program is a trial, and Ning may or may not decide to make it a permanent offer, Ning has assured me that any networks which qualify and are converted to ad-free will stay ad free. :)

Update 9/16/08:

Ning has upgraded their online help system, and so the instructions for requesting an ad-free educational network have changed:

  1. Please sign in to the Ning "Help Centre" first: http://help.ning.com/cgi-bin/ning.cfg/php/enduser/ning_login.php. This will also allow you to see the status of your "ticket" or request. You can submit a ticket without signing it (use the "skip" link next to the "sign in" link), but you won't be able to track the progress of your request.
  2. Click the "Contact Us" link at the top of the page.
  3. The "Ask Our Team a Question" form then appears.
  4. In the first field (“I have a question about”) select “a network that I have created.”
  5. A new field with a pull down menu will appear (“I specifically want to know”) and you should choose “General Question.”
  6. A window will appear where you need to choose a specific topic. Please choose “other” at the end of the list.
  7. You may skip the "I'm Feeling" field if you'd like.
  8. In the "Network URL" field please give the network address of the educational network you are asking Ning to make ad-free.
  9. In the message portion of the ticket, please specifically write that you are requesting an add-free network for education.
  10. Click the send button!
  11. Join the Ning in Education community to get help, hints, and tips for using Ning in educational settings.
  12. Consider thanking Ning by placing a "Ning in Education" badge on your frontpage by following the link on the right side of that network that says "Get a Ning in Education Badge!" You can then add the HTML code into a text box on your network.
  13. If your network isn't ad-free within three working days, please check the status of your help request at the same web address under "View Tickets."
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