Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Alternative Social Networking Platforms for Education

Last night I interviewed Derek Zabbia from Ning and Steven Gross from Pearson to talk about the changes to Ning's services and the sponsorship by Pearson of Ning "Mini" networks for K-12 and Higher Education networks in North America.  It was a good, albeit slightly confusing, session.  Because Ning's changes and the Pearson sponsorship are happening (and need to happen) in conjunction since they are tied to the timing of free networks going away, Pearson's role hasn't been well understood.  The event last night should give some clarity, although I would argue that neither Ning or Pearson have done a great job so far proactively explaining what is naturally confusing.  (Event recordings:  Full Elluminate or Audio-only.)

Because I think the broader community of educators still wants to know more about what the options are for educational social networking in light of the Ning changes, next Monday night we'll hold another session exploring:  the alternative platforms network organizers are moving their communities to; how you are handling privacy, licensing, and technical issues relating to transferring members and content; what your experiences have been so far; and if any networks are needing "rescuing" right now.  If you have made a transition, or are planning to do so, please attend so you can tell us about it.  Vendors are also welcome to attend, but let's agree that those of us who are vendors (me included, since I represent Elluminate and LearnCentral.org) will not toot our own horns but be there just to listen, learn, and answer any specific questions that might come up.  Details for the meeting are below my notes.

In the meantime, here were some quick takeaways for me from last night:

  • It seemed to me that some number of the participants last night didn't really understand the Ning changes nor did they understand Pearson's role.  While a careful and close reading of all the material on the Ning site does provide answers to most questions, neither organization has done a great job of making things really clear.  I'm sure Derek has a LOT going on right now, but he wasn't able to answer some questions--notably, about the ability to turn networks back on later if they've not converted by August 20th, or about the archive function (which I still don't see on my networks) and the archive format.  OK, so if Derek doesn't know these things, then I think we can forgive ourselves for not knowing all the details here...
  • Steve Gross from Pearson made it clear that Pearson does not have a legal right to nor will they attempt to contact the members of educational networks that are accepted for their sponsorship, although they will be able to contact the network creators and there are no restrictions on the amount of that contact (Steve did say he doesn't think it will be much).
  • Steve also made a compelling case for their sponsorship being an opportunity for Pearson 1) to do something good, and 2) just to watch and learn about how educators are using this type of platform.  I did a poll of the audience to gauge the trust level around this motivation, and I think they have some work to do.  As Steve said, the proof will be in what they actually do.
  • Derek said that they estimate there are roughly 11,000 educational networks on Ning, 7,500 of which are North American.  This is obviously a pretty small drop in the larger Ning bucket, but they decidedly feel the influence of the education market at Ning to work so hard to put this deal together with Pearson.  So far they have had about 2,000 applications for Pearson sponsorship of Mini networks.
  • I took a poll of how many of those present in the session (we had just over 100 at our high point) who were using Ning for educational networking would be able to move forward with the limited feature-set of Mini networks, and about 1/3 said that they would be able to but 2/3 would not (would need one of the higher service levels).  I'm guessing this will be a helpful number to Ning as they look at the response rate to the Pearson program.  I'm also concerned about that portion of the 2/3 who might not have a plan to be able to pay...
  • E.g., a number of folks indicated that the one-month grace period for education, ending August 20th, was putting them in a real bind--since they won't be able to get approval by their educational institution since school won't yet have started for them.  
  • I'm also curious to know if anyone else, like me, has procrastinated decisions about networks--since I currently run several that won't be able to use the Mini but for which I'm not ready to pay the $19.95/month fee for Ning Plus (in particular for me:  using a custom domain name, having groups, and having more than 150 members).  I just honestly haven't spent the time to go through my networks to figure out a plan for each, in part because I think I'm going to have to make some hard decisions on some personal and family networks (I'm already paying fees for my professional Ning networks so they won't change).  Are there some really valuable educational networks that are going to run the risk of being turned off?  If so, do we need to mount a "rescue" operation?  How will we even know which networks are in danger?
  • I remain concerned that those who contributed to educational networks when Ning was in the "freemium" model did so believing that their contributions were part of the "civic" engagement, not unlike contributing or working on Wikipedia content.  To have that content "go away" now because it's not going to be paid for still feels to me like the breaking of a social contract, and I remain disappointed that there wasn't any kind of "grandfathering-in" of existing educational networks.  I also wonder how many non-institutional educational networks will be created knowing that non-payment at some point in the future will result in this same disappearance of content.  I'll be sorry to see that creativity and experimentation go away, if they do.

Date: Monday, July 26th, 2010
Time: 5pm Pacific / 8pm Eastern / 12am (next day) GMT (international times here)
Duration: 1 hour
Location: In Elluminate. Log in at http://tr.im/futureofed. The Elluminate room will be open up to 30 minutes before the event if you want to come in early. To make sure that your computer is configured for Elluminate, please visit http://www.elluminate.com/support. Recordings of the session will be posted within a day of the event at the event page.
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