Ning, according to former co-founder and CEO Gina Bianchini, is the Chinese word for "peace." It's also a social-networking platform that allows users to create networks around their personal interests.
Currently, Ning is not feeling any peace.
The first sign of trouble occurred in March when the company's COO, Jason Rosenthal, replaced Bianchini. Ning then cut 40 percent of its staff. After a month of taking a "hard look" at Ning's business services, Rosenthal cited the company's intentions moving forward.
"My main conclusion is that we need to double down on our premium services business," he said. "Our Premium Ning Networks drive 75% of our monthly U.S. traffic, and those Network Creators need and will pay for many more services and features from us."
Although not a household name like Facebook or Twitter, Ning counts "more than 45 million registered users." According to Alexa, it ranks 61st for U.S. traffic. Despite the fact you may not know Ning, a good chance exists that you may be part of the Ning network. (I didn't think I belonged to any Ning networks and then found that In Social Media, a site started by Chris Patterson, is part of the Ning platform.)
Ning, a start-up founded in 2005, began offering both free and paid services. When a new social network was created on Ning, it was free by default and ran Google ads that Ning controlled. If the social network's creator chose to pay for services available from Ning's premium platforms, the ad-serving duties would then default to the social media network's "owner." The owner would then run ads of his or her choosing and could opt for extra storage, greater bandwidth, and a non-Ning URL.
These premium services include custom URLs at $5 per month, advanced tech support at $10 per month, extra bandwidth and storage at $10 per month, and an ad-free interface at $25 per month.
Now that Ning has announced the termination of their free services, current users have two choices: Upgrade or move off of the Ning network.
The problem with this live-or-die option is that Ning is popular with educators and charities who don't have the option to continue on as a paid site. The responses to Ning's announcement have been less than favorable, ranging from the lack of time social site owners have been given to make the switch to a paid service to finding out about Ning's new policy via secondhand sources rather than being personally notified by the company.
Others complained that while the company's changed their policy, they haven't announced how much users will be expected to pay for the switch.
A couple comments on the company's blog surmised the sentiments and future fate of many.
Don't be surprised if a small social network you're a member of either disappears or requests that site members pay a monthly fee for continued access.