Hawaiʻi's Technology Community

We've received dozens of inquiries today about the recent announcement from Ning that they are cutting their free service, and if this means the end of TechHui. It does not. TechHui is a premium network paid for by the generous sponsors you see on the right of the page. Premium networks are unaffected by the changes at Ning.

Ning has been paying for the infrastructure to host literally millions of free networks for years despite the fact they only generate 1/4 of the company's ad revenue. Clearly the math just didn't work so they had to make a hard decision. It is unfortunate for the members of free communities, and we feel for those who have spent their valuable time building those communities. Luckily, TechHui benefits from sponsorship and will be unaffected.

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Comment by Ken Mayer on April 18, 2010 at 7:28am
You can explain to your customers that you can't afford the free ride any more, offer a premium service for a fee and schedule a phase out of the losing accounts. You can do it in a way that shows that you care about your current customer base and want to continue the relationship. You'll still lose customers, but for those that stay, they won't feel abandoned. Or you can react without thinking, botch a major PR event and make things worse. What happens six months down the line when ning realizes it still can't make a profit, that other services have surpassed them and their current customer base doesn't believe they won't be abandoned, again, perhaps this time overnight and with a total loss of data? I'll bet some customers are already working on an exit strategy just to protect themselves from that.
Comment by Tetsuzan Benny Ron on April 18, 2010 at 5:26am
So who's next? Google? Can we trust anyone to give us all Open Access for information and sharing without paying?
Comment by Alex Salkever on April 17, 2010 at 7:44pm
It is, however, *highly* ironic that this is a Mark Andreesen company. He has gone on record publicly as saying that, for the big publications, the only Internet content play that works is free and that companies like NYT and WSJ must not put most of their content behind a paywall. Ning is also, at its core, a content / media company (same revenue streams as newspapers, no? Subscriptions or ads). And Ning just told the world that advertising part of its business wasn't worth enough to keep it up and running. So what does all this mean? I am writing a longer piece about this for AOL DailyFinance. Stay tuned.
Comment by Daniel Leuck on April 17, 2010 at 4:53pm
Legality, morality and what is smart from a PR perspective are distinct questions. I don't think there is a legal issue. The TOS clearly states in section 25, "Ning reserves the right at any time (and from time to time) to modify, suspend, or discontinue providing the Ning Platform or any part thereof with or without notice. Ning will not be liable to you or to any third party for any modification, suspension or discontinuance of the Ning Platform."
Comment by John on April 17, 2010 at 4:39pm
It seems to be a trend in the freemium space to end or cut the 'free' element. For instance, local company, Sprout, made a similar move in February.

As Dan mentioned, migrating is not simple, increasing lock-in and risk. This raises important concerns for using SaaS applications. If your landlord raises the rent, you usually have many options and a straightforward transition. If your SaaS provider does so, you may have much fewer and more painful options.
Comment by Paul Graydon on April 17, 2010 at 12:01pm
To my mind "You get what you pay for". If you're using a free service you really ought to have no expectation that it will continue to be so.
Comment by Nate Sanders on April 17, 2010 at 10:34am
I think Westley is onto something even if this isn't "bait and switch". "Dumping" is the concept that may apply here.
Comment by Daniel Leuck on April 17, 2010 at 8:18am
Hi Paul - Yes and no. We investigated this, but there are some critical things that can't be moved including password hashes, friends and content. Ning provides CSV export of basic user data, but they left out some important pieces.

You could screen scrape for content, but if you wanted to maintain the details (ownership, structure, etc.), it would have to be a relatively sophisticated script.
Comment by Paul Graydon on April 17, 2010 at 8:02am
If the data was completely locked away, I would be more inclined to agree, but there are free community services out there that can import Ning data completely. It's not like you're forced to use Ning any more :)
Comment by Daniel Leuck on April 16, 2010 at 9:35pm
Paul - I agree they could have handled this better. They have created a lot of uncertainty and speculation unnecessarily. To be frank, I agree with the decision, but I think Gina would have handled this better.


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