It wasn't too long ago that I was promoting Ning in the educational space for as a great, free, walled-garden approach to bringing social networking to schools. Overall, it was a complete flop. When people are already completely invested in Facebook, they don't want to have to look/check somewhere else.
The best example of this came from a February interview with two students who spoke to an HP panel about social media (among other things) in education.
When I mentioned Ning and the other social media tools that educators often try to leverage to provide social functions without the worries and stigma of Facebook, both students were clear: it’s been tried before and it won’t be successful because students are on Facebook anyway. The utter ubiquity of Facebook certainly makes it a compelling platform for continued learning beyond the classroom. Students have no motivation to check yet another social site; they can barely be bothered with Twitter, let alone 4 Nings for their classes. One more page on Facebook, though? This makes sense.
Facebook, good sites built around CMSs that invite user interaction, and Google's offerings are far more compelling than Ning ever managed to be in terms of promoting collaboration and community building.
It's not surprising, therefore, that Ning is abandoning it's free accounts and moving to a completely paid model. According to the Ning Blog,
As part of this change, we’ll be phasing out our free service. On May 4, 2010, we will share with you all of the details of our new offering, including features and price points...We recognize that there are many active Ning Networks for teachers, small non-profits, and individuals and its our goal to have a set of product and pricing options that will make sense for all of them.
While I'm no longer convinced that Ning has much value as an educational tool, simply because the ubiquity of Facebook makes non-Facebook social media irrelevant for most students, I have seen some very nice sites use Ning as more of a CMS than substitute Facebook. This is where the premium model came into play anyway. I think the move makes a lot of sense for the company and is the only path to survival in a Facebook world.
So Ning is gone, folks. At least the free sites that Ning acknowledged were used by many teachers. This wouldn't be an issue if schools were able to embrace Facebook and other mainstream tools. However, this remains difficult territory in an age of cyberbullying and continued poor understanding of the potential of Facebook. Yet we have to connect students, parents, and staff in modern and accessible ways. Time for progress, kids!