To Ning, or not to Ning?

In the past few days, I have been assessing the pros and cons of using a white label software solution like Ning to create an online social network. I have used Ning myself to set up one group, and have been an active participant in another Ning group (for which it served the purpose beautifully) but I am developing a new major new multi-platform project called TURN YOUR TOWN UPSIDE DOWN and wanted to find out if white label tools like Ning and KickApps would cut the mustard.

I participated in AFTRS Laboratory of Advanced Media Production (LAMP) in February this year and my wonderful mentor Laurel Papworth told me there that she had yet to see the evidence that Ning is sufficiently scalable. Ning social networks tend to number the tens or hundreds, rather than the thousands. Of the top ten most active groups listed on Ning’s Network Creators home page today, most have fewer than 30 members. Only one – the Ning Developers Network – has more than 100 (357 members to be precise).

Despite its popularity (some 67,000 + networks up and running), I wanted to know whether Ning had been used for really big networks (in excess of 100,000) and if not, why not. So I started with a Google search for "Ning sucks" to quickly track down the critics, and found a number of posts on blogs and developer forums such as Tech Crunch. I also found an excellent critique on Poynter Online.

A number of comments on these blogs and forums suggested that white label solutions like Ning would not give us sufficient control over either security or reliability of service.

Indeed, Ning’s terms and conditions state:

To enable a great experience for all Users on the Ning Platform, you, as a Network Creator, must ensure your Network(s) don’t unduly degrade the performance of the Ning Platform. If your Network(s) exceed the quotas and limitations set by Ning (e.g., API calls or bandwidth) or otherwise degrade performance of the Ning Platform or other services in any way, we may suspend your Network(s) at our sole discretion.

As far as I can tell, it is also not possible to effectively ban members on Ning (given that you do not get access to granular security detail like IP addresses). Given that TURN YOUR TOWN is a site that will include many members who are minors, it is very important we have complete control over who can belong to the community.

Finally, Ning’s terms and conditions would appear to preclude us from monetising our community:

You agree not to use any Personal Data disclosed to you by Ning for any purpose other than using the Ning Platform or a Network in accordance with these Terms and the Privacy Policy. You agree not to harvest any email addresses from Networks or the Ning Platform for the purpose of sending email.

I also consulted developers’ forums and a number of developers expressed views similar to this: ‘I can’t see the ability to build a system of any non-hack scale in that kind of sandbox.’

So while Ning is ideally suited for smaller, amateur networks I think it’s clear we need to build our own customised system for this project. This will enable us to exploit our intellectual property rights in other international territories, which is very important given that we intend to develop this as a multi-platform format.

Disagree? Then leave me a comment 😉

12 thoughts on “To Ning, or not to Ning?

  1. Build your own. Don’t kid yourself. Whitelabel? I see ning written all over all the ning websites.
    It’s not your social network. It’s the ning social network.
    For the rare few who are successful with it… they will have a problem migrating to something else when the web shifts gears and changes yet again in the next two years.
    You can’t roll with the punches if you can’t control the technology your business runs on. Look what happened to all those people who decided to move from myspace to facebook. What happened to all those years of hard work? Where did it go?
    I could be wrong. But I see more people jumping to and from instant gratification solutions than producing anything of long term value. Keep it in your domain and your control if you have the technical capabilities to do so.
    If not… maybe ning is right for you. But for the love of god. Use your own domain name.

  2. (Found you by Googling “Ning Sucks”.)
    I am pretty horrified by Ning’s behavior and lack of professionalism or security. They seem not to require any kind of email validation, and in the last week two of my close friends have discovered that spammers had already created Ning accounts using their email addresses. One discovered this after trying to create an account; the other after getting spammed.
    And as one of them just pointed out to me, Ning’s “change password” page doesn’t use SSL, but sends your old and new passwords in the clear.
    I would steer far clear of these clowns.

  3. I strongly recommend not to use Ning because:
    1. You pay for everything but they still advertise their name “Ning” in many ways on your site.
    2. You do not have real control on a Ning site you paid monthly to make it yours:
    a. You cannot really ban or block any user. A banned user can simply register again with different or same user name and you can not stop that. He/She can pretend as the administrator and can do a great damage on “your” Ning site.
    b. A user can send any number of emails to any number of users such as advertising/promoting his/her new ning site … stealing hundreds of your members right from “your own” site.
    c. Ning in many ways encourages your members to create their own Ning site and there is nothing you can do about it. You thought you are having a social network but primarily you are advertising for Ning so that as many people as possible can create Ning sites and hence pay for many additional services hoping they too can control their site.
    3. Ning is very deceptive social network service. Think of it as a service that hatches your competitions. These members create their own Ning site and pay for additional service and the cycle continues.
    So who is winning, only Ning and all the Ning social network creators are the losers.
    STOP CREATING YOUR SOCIAL NETWORK WITH NING.
    SAY NO TO NING

  4. You are right that Ning does not really give you complete control over your site. Hosted platforms always have this issues to a degree, but even relative to other hosted platforms, Ning gives you very little ownership.
    That isn’t necessarily the end of the world. It is something to be aware of.
    What you didn’t really address is the alternative. There are (so far as I can tell) no mature alternatives. DIY is an option for only a very small number. Ning has a lot of features. Developing & maintaining a site of that kind of complexity is a big job. It isn’t the equivalent of developing a blog from scratch. If you want to have it developed for you, it will be very expensive, prohibitively so for many of the businesses and organisations that want to.
    Ning gives you something easily, on a platter that you can get going without any technical people.
    Basically, I share your concerns. I think people should be aware of them. I definitely don’t think it’s a good idea to build a Ning as a stand-alone business. But, there is no realistic alternative.
    If you have the capacity to build your own. Do it. Great. Don’t kid yourself though. Replicating all that functionality is a big job.
    If what you want is a Forum or Blog, use something else.
    If you want a facebook-like site with feature you cannot get elsewhere, Ning might be the right choice.

  5. I canceled the only NING account that I had but they still try to charge my credit card each month, even after they confirmed that the site was canceled. I’m still waiting for my refund. I used to have several social networks with them, and I’ve been trying to migrate them to another platform using their archiver to backup my data, but the files they produce are purposely corrupted so you can’t take your network to a different platform. This is just a lame attempt to keep you from leaving them and hopefully make you want to stay with them and not lose your members and your site’s data.
    They never reply to the member support emails you send them unless there’s money involved for them. NING SUCKS

  6. Somebody essentially help to make seriously articles I would state. This is the first time I frequented your website page and thus far? I surprised with the research you made to create this particular publish amazing. Magnificent job!

  7. I have been trying to fix an issue on my NING for 9 months. Today, I was banned from NING Creator for saying NING Sucks. Ning sucks. I am not allowed to invite anyone, and I have not reached the 20.000 limit for the owner which is totally none of their business. Now member can only invite 200 and can not invite from their Outlook or Linked Address books. Only Admin can but NING support does not even know that, as they say they can not let anyone do this. NING service is terrible I am Pro. I complain and I get banned by Eric Suesz.

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