John McDonald, the VP Advocacy for Ning, has sent me the link to an online survey that they are hoping educators will fill out to tell them about their use of Ning for educational networks. The survey is at http://www.surveymethods.com/EndUser.aspx?B793FFE5B6F7E1E3B7, and if you have created or run any Ning networks, I encourage you to fill it out. Ning is asking for responses by this Monday, April 26th. (I encountered two error while filling out the survey, but have alerted John and hopefully they'll be corrected quickly. Currently, you can't indicate having created more than 18 networks, and the email and membership responses for network #7 create errors.)
John called me earlier in the week, having heard about our live event, and we talked for about 45 minutes. I think it's hard for a company like Ning, since they are really not in the education market and don't have a background there, to fully understand how much of what takes place falls into the category of the "gift economy." I also tried to communicate that much of the work that has been done to build up Ning networks--as creators and contributors--has been done by individual educators, without institutional support, and on their own time. Many of those who have created and lovingly cultivated Ning communities don't have someone they can turn to who would fund the cost of premium services; and those who do have institutions behind them may have a hard time justifying the costs of their networks, as they often cut across traditional institutional boundaries.
I also expressed concern about the content which has already been created under assumptions of it being freely available. When he asked how many networks I thought were classroom versus professional development focused, I really had no idea. My guess is that we lean heavily toward the latter because of COPPA, cultural, and practical concerns around classroom use.
John seemed genuinely interested in understanding the education market, and mentioned a couple of times that he was going to watch the recording of our event. I hope he does, as I think he'll see a rich and nuanced picture of the education community using Ning.