In a few hours time I will be bidding farewell to my Ning networks. I will also stop advocating Ning as something people should look at in order to start building their own networks and communities.
This is because Ning is no longer free and thus no longer an experimental tool people can use to explore the potential for digital community formation. This is happening right at the time when bespoke community formation is about to take off (in my opinion).
No doubt Ning is doing this because some accountant has looked at the books with an eye to a future sale and predicted that the busiess will be more valuable with a dramatically smaller user base paying up to $500 for the service. My instinct is that this is shortsighted. The commercial dynamics of social media tend to favour models based on high volume and low price (often no cost to user, but with revenue from advertising or additional services or upgrades). Not having a free entry level service if you still wish to attract a large user base is a problem. I suspect it means that Ning is abandoning the mass and simply tring to squeeze a bit a revenue out of the base they have attracted.
This is a mistake. In the future people (i.e. the mass) will form communities in order to manage their relationships with institutions rather than gather together in communities created for them by institutions. Anyone who facilitates this process stands a chance of success. Ning, unfortunately, is siding with the institutions and there are many better institutional products already out there. It is probably making the classic mistake of being neither one thing nor the other and misunderstanding a gap between markets as a gap in the market. However, accountants rarely understand markets and people – only numbers.