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Ning the Bell - Free is Dying

David Silversmith
David Silversmith

Ning, the network of social networks that boasted 20 million visitors a month, has announced massive staff cutbacks and a complete end to free services for its users.  So the bell tolls once again for the end of free Web 2.0 services.

While Ning has yet to announce new pricing (they said that will come on May 4th), this is another sign that Web 2.0 free-for-all of apps, services and content for end users is nearing the end.  At the end of the day, nothing is free.  Every website needs to pay for servers, software and staff so somebody, from an advertiser, an investor, an entrepreneur or a paying customer, has to eventually pay the bills.  Nothing shows this more than the news from Ning's CEO that "as a consequence of this change, I have also made the very tough decision to reduce the size of our team from 167 people to 98 people."

Ning claims that 75% of their traffic is derived from paid applications, but that remaining 25% consists of tens of thousands of small trafficked sites. There are many active Ning Networks for teachers, small non-profits, slubs and individuals that fill a niche - but don't attract much traffic. New Zealand sites include places like Theosophy, New Zealand PoetryYoung Greens and Real Beer. While some of these sites may already be premium sites, undoubtedly many sites like this will soon have to pay some cash or find a new home.

In the words of CEO Jason Rosenthal, "existing free networks will have the opportunity to either convert to paying for premium services, or transition off of Ning."  While there are several other free services, transitioning from one website vendor to another involves a lot of work and before switching from Ning to another service they have to consider if they believe these services will remain online and free. Services like, Spruz and SocialGO all offer free services - at least for now.  There are also a number of open source solutions - but those typically require more setup and configuration - issues that led many non technical webmasters to Ning in the first place.

Spruz is rolling out the welcome mat with the bold statement "we would like to officially roll out the welcome mat to our new friends coming over from Ning. We will continue innovating and leading the way in social network technology. You are FREE to stay as long as you like!" Amazingly, their claim seems mild compared to SocialGO's CEO, Dominic Wheatley, who about Ning that "Their recent decision is only the latest insult in a long line of Soviet-style dictations" and he encouraged Ning to reconsider their decision.

While Ning's members may complain and competitors may grandstand for publicity - the bottom line is that if you want to run a website you have to pay for it!  You may pay in cash, you may run ads, you may use a free service and pay with hours of labor to change when the free service ends.  You may choose HOW to pay, but in the end you will be paying as the heyday of the dotcom era finally comes to an end.

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