Ning announced today that it plans to “phase out its free service“. What this means for the educators who use Ning for free (or even pay for some services) is uncertain at the moment although it was stated that a detailed plan of the new services will be released within two weeks.
Right after the announcement, Twitter was buzzing with people wondering about viable build-your-own-network alternatives. A few services were mentioned and retweeted, but I felt that something more proactive should be done. Seeing that Google Docs has gone real-time, I thought it would be great to collaboratively build a document with Ning alternatives, including examples and comments on services other have tried. I created a new Google Document and tweeted a call for collaboration.
Within minutes, we had several pages of options for both hosted and self-hosted social networking services. Six hours later (the time at which I write this), there have already been hundreds of collaborators/viewers and hundreds of edits. There is now a good list of alternatives for those that would like to migrate to or use another service. As well, those involved were able to see first-hand the power of real-time collaboration. From my perspective, this process was truly awesome!
I have noticed that Ning’s announcement has made some people angry which has caused others to temper concerns until more is known. No matter what the outcome, or the options within Ning’s new pricing plan, there is a more important issue here. I do not see a future where there are more free (of charge) services available. It is more likely, at least for the short term, that more Web 2.0 companies will focus on premium services. For the many teachers who have benefited from the wealth of free services available over the last few years, this ‘less free’ reality becomes difficult, especially when schools are increasingly budget-conscious.
This is why the F/OSS movement becomes important (again). With all of the free services that have been available, fewer educators have likely felt that the time and expertise needed to install, maintain and host open source software is worth the trouble. However, with this impending shift, I do believe that this is the time for schools & educators to (re)consider and (re)discover the importance of F/OSS and self-hosted software.
Update: Sylvia Curry made a screencast of the “Ning Alternatives” document being edited in the first few minutes. This process really was quite incredible.