The end of Ning

One of the worrying things about ‘free’ online tools is that one day you may have to pay the price. Which is what is happening at the moment with NING, an online tool that educators have taken a lot of interest in,which announced last month it would be discontinuing its free service.

It took me a little while to understand the potential power of being able to create your own social networking site but once I ‘got it’, I saw the power. I’ve talked a bit here about some of the Nings I’ve joined and even some I’ve created. Some haven’t worked. For example, the Ning I created for me and my cycling mates was a total disaster with interest level petering along about the level of my puncture stories. I wont even link to it; it’s too embarrassing.

But, some have been great. I created a Ning for a network meeting that I attend twice a term and it’s worked really well. The Expanding Learning Horizon Conference Ning was very handy and the ASCD Conference ‘Edge’ website, modelled on the Ning ideas, was better and more useful than the official website. So, I understand now.

But some day you’ve got to pay the piper, and last month Ning announced it was discontinuing its free service in favour of a paid model. Bad. Bad for me and time I’ve put into my cycling site and the network site, but worse for large, well developed Nings like Classroom 2.0 which currently has over 42000 members. I guess you could say that with that many members the site should be paying (and maybe they are) but bad for those people who’ve invested time and energy and content into something that is now likely to disappear. The screenshots below from Classroom 2.0 show it as a lively and interesting place.

Ning’s latest blog posting ‘Mythbusters‘, sounded just a little defensive to me as they tried to claim that they would still have a model for educational and non-profit organisations. We’ll see next week.

Meanwhile, don’t start any new Nings until you see their new pricing plans and be aware that some of the tools we’ve all become pretty reliant on (Gmail, Wikispaces, Wetpaint etc.) might one day decide they want to update their business model or simply fold up the tent and slip into the night.

I’d be worried about Wetpaint next. Take a look at the most recent look of my Peninsula Creeks Wetpaint site. A giant, inappropriately contextualised ad for ‘Glee’ and Google Ads taking over the navigation space down the left hand side. Hmm. Maybe we’ll all go back to building our own web pages again. Now, where’s that book on HTML got to? And, WordPress and this blog is safe. Isn’t it?

New Tools

I’ve commented on Twitter about a couple of these things but I thought it worth detailing here some web 2.0 tools that I’ve been impressed with lately and that have become party of my daily work on the web.

NING

Ning is a tool for you to create your own social network.  I didn’t get it at first. I thought: what for? Do I really want to compete with Facebook? I envisaged maybe using it as a site to connect the extended family. I tried once to set up a multi-user blog on WordPress for the family and half of them failed the login test! So I turned to myfamily as an easier alternative.

But recently I started using NING in a couple of different contexts; a group of like-minded cyclists first up, then in a network of learning technology teachers. It began to make sense. Forums, multiple blogs, pictures, videos, even chat. You can set up a network in a few minutes, and teachers are beginning to use it with their students.

NING describe NING like this:

Ning empowers people to create and discover new social experiences for the most important people and interests in their lives.

Ning was started with a simple premise: when people have the freedom to create a new social experience online, uniquely customized for the most important people and interests in their lives with no effort, no cost, and infinite choice, the world is a better, more colorful and certainly more interesting place in which to live.

With Ning, people are creating new social experiences that are:

* Infinitely customizable
* Beautifully designed
* Easily created and moderated

By providing people with a better way to discover and stay connected to the most important people and interests in their life, Ning represents a new chapter in how people create, organize, and communicate online.

Tonight I joined Classroom 2.0 Ning, ‘the social network for those interested in Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in education.’ I thought I’d give them support and join in; then realised they have 24,000 members in that network already! Okay, maybe I was wrong about Ning.

ning_classroom2

Transferr

Transferr is a pretty way to organise your favourite web sites as icons on your start up screen. They say:

Transferr is an online application which allows you to add your favorite websites as icons to your own personal page. You can customise your icons with colors, share them with friends and drag and drop them to keep them in order. You can also organise your icons into tabs which allows for your own organised system

Okay, I know that Safari and Chrome do something like this by default, but it’s only the sites you most often visit, not necessarily the ones you want to keep in your head. And what about the tabs you can create with pages on things that interest you? Note below I’ve got tabs on cycling, shopping, tek, curriculum etc. To be honest, I tried this out thinking it would last about a week. But it’s been over a month now and I’m still using it.

A long while ago now I created my own start.htm page using Dreamweaver, based on the simple Craigslist template. A couple of colleagues along the way have asked how I did it and wanted one themselves, but couldn’t be bothered with the html. I can now show them this.

transferr

Jing

Over the last few weeks I’ve had the need to create some screencasts and went out looking for the best tools. One of the wikis I’ve been working on has as its audience member of the public often with very low tech skills. I needed to SHOW some users how to edit a page, insert an image, link to other pages.

Jing is a great solution. A free tool that allows you to create screen shots or screencasts up to five minutes long.

They say:

Elegant and simple, Jing’s minimal feature set keeps the focus on instant sharing. We think it’s the perfect companion to the casual, fast-paced online conversations we all have every day.

It works beautifully, has a pro version if you want more features, and links to Camtasia if you really want to get into editing it all. But,  as a simple tool for capturing screenshots or movies, it’s hard to beat.

There’s a number of YouTube videos around showing how it works. (search JingProject) This is one:

I would talk about Feedly too, a Firefox extension that works with Google Reader to create a magzine like start page, but I’m not qualified. I just started looking at it today. I love it already, and will talk about that some other time.