Ning, heroes and villains…and a survey

I don’t follow the TV Show, “Survivor” that closely but I do know that the current show is about “heroes” and “villains”.

I have been mulling over Ning’s decision to end their free services and how that will impact education, the Clovis Online School, the California e-Learning SIG, countless other education related organizations and myself.   Some of the excellent analysis out there includes this post from Wes Fryer  and this post from Jennifer Wagner as well as this post from Alex Couros.  I participated a bit with the Classroom 2.0 Elluminate forum this past week.  Most comments seem to fall into one of two camps: 1) oh well, they are a company and the economy is bad, so we’ll have to find something else OR  2) Let’s work with the Ning people.  No doubt there are other perspectives.

If you have a Ning, you have this weekend to give them some feedback via a survey thanks to a conversation Steve Hargadon had with Ning VP of Advocacy, John McDonald.  It is good that Ning is collecting more information and I hope this does make a difference.

I think the first Ning I became part of was Classroom 2.0 and then joined Library 2.0 and other library related Nings.  During conference times, especially when I could not attend in person, I joined the K-12 Online Conference, NECC Ning and even the Learning 2.0 Shanghai Conference.  In each of these cases, I increased my knowledge about what was going on in education, how to connect with others who were doing the same thing, and hearing about the daily issues from people across the world who were working to improve education at every level.  All of my Ning memberships have been related to education since that is my field.  In California, many educators are learning about the importance of online learning as a delivery system for students so we created a Ning to share this information.  It is currently in its  beginning stages of development, but Ning provides us with a common place to meet.   We had tried a wiki, we had tried a blog, we tried Google groups, but none of these places served the purpose of bringing people together for the common topic of providing online learning opportunities for students in California.  Then, when the Clovis Online School was being established, I set up a Ning for parents, teachers and students as a place where all could communicate with one another.  I created this as a “walled garden” so students and parents could learn how this online area works and they knew it would be just for parents, teachers and students in the online school.

I can certainly appreciate Ning’s perspective and financial challenges, but when I read books such as The World is Flat or Wikinomics or Free or The World is Open or Drive , it seems to me that Ning will gain more in the long run by continuing to give some version of Ning away for free.  I don’t pretend to be a business guru but I can’t help but think that all of the examples  in the above books by these gifted authors can’t all be wrong?  Or, then consider Clay Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation that many read in the book,   The Innovator’s Dilemma and then, how the theory of disruptive innovations is applied to education in Disrupting Class. Doesn’t Ning want to be this disrupter?  As many have pointed out, the Ning product is good at many levels.

Personally, I have appreciated being able to blog on wordpress for free, create wiki pages for free, set up Moodles for free (or minimal technical costs), established a Facebook account for free, set up a Gmail and iGoogle page for free, read and received Edutopia for free, and initially, set up a Flickr account for free (after using Flickr for several years, I decided it was worth paying the $25 per year fee for a pro account).

I really hope that Ning does not close it’s free accounts for education and non-profits.  As the book, Free, points out, it will be difficult to now pay for something that was once free.  There must be a sliding scale or minimal service that Ning can provide for free. The Ning company says that Ning network owners will have 10 weeks to save their content after their May 4 announcement.  For those of us in education, the six weeks in May and June are among the most stressful times since it is the end of a school year.  So, if Ning is going to close the networks, give us at least until the end of August to make this decision (fiscal years begin July 1 so if there is going to be a cost, school systems may find a way to fit it into budgets then).

Ning can really be the hero to education if it remains free.  However, it will be difficult to think of Ning as a hero if it says, “sorry, we are closing your Ning unless you pay us.”

I hope Ning becomes the hero!

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