Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ning Changes and the Impact on Educational Communities

The news today of changes to Ning, based on a purported (but I think likely authentic) internal memo from the new Ning CEO, is reasonably going to cause some concern in the education community.  Ning has facilitated a pretty historic change in the connecting of educators, often in self-directed ways, through the ability to "create your own social network."

If there are changes coming to Ning, then as a community we'll want to work together to respond and to help each other.  Some initial thoughts are below.  I'm also going to open up a live Elluminate session on Tuesday, April 20th, at 5pm Pacific Daylight Time (US) / 8pm Eastern Daylight Time (US) / 12am Wednesday GMT (international conversions here).  Let's gather information and then use that time to talk about what is currently known and what the potential courses of action are for existing network creators.  We'll use the FutureofEducation.com Elluminate room:  log in at http://tr.im/futureofed. I'll open up the room 30 minutes before the event if you want to come in early, and we'll run as long as is needed. To make sure that your computer is configured for Elluminate, please visit http://www.elluminate.com/support.

Some initial thoughts:

  • If you have an exiting Ning network, while you can only export the networks membership, I'd suggest doing that now just to be safe.  (In your network go to Manage > Members and then look for the link at the bottom of the page to export.)  I don't think it's appropriate to import those members into any other system without their express consent, but you will want to have their email addresses in a worst-case scenario.
  • I'd urge some thoughtfulness at this stage.  It's not clear what Ning's long-term intentions are for educational networks, and once your user data is backed up, speculating before Ning makes any official decisions or announcements is not likely to provide you with a practical outcome right now.  
  • We know at Elluminate that our LearnCentral.org network's user interface does not yet match the Ning experience, but hopefully, for some of you, LearnCentral becomes an attractive alternative to Ning.  Our model is different than Ning's:  we're creating a single education-wide network with stronger group capabilities, and we're doing so for free because it's a great introduction to the already existing paid services that Elluminate offers.  There will be some scrutiny of commercial models right now given this turn of events, and hopefully we end up looking pretty good in this regard.
  • The Ning networks that I run are all ones where I pay for premium services.  While it's not clear from the above-mentioned Ning memo what or how many premium services will be required to continue your Ning network, I don't have any concerns about my existing networks at this point.  You can see a list of them some way down the left side of this blog page.  Some of them are generously sustained by organizations who support the financial costs, and I can explain how I approached and then have worked with those organizations in our Elluminate session if that's a route you want to go.  
  • I'm also glad, time permitting, to work with individual networks whose continued existence is important to our larger community, as was the case with the Library 2.0 network Bill Drew had grown for some years but which he was going to shut down and we were able to find sponsorship for (hurrah, Brentwood School librarians!).  Feel free to contact me directly at steve@hargadon.com in this regard if and when it becomes clear what Ning's new policies will be.
This does seem like a dramatic turn of events, but something really powerful has happened in the education world, for which Ning has been a great springboard.  Educational networking, however, is now more powerful than one company's services alone.  The road may not be completely smooth, but we will figure this out together. :)
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