Open letter to Jason Rosenthal, CEO of Ning and Marc Andreesen, Co-founder and Chairman of the Board of Ning
I am directing this post at the two of you not in a personal way but as the visible heads leading Ning, a platform that has given network creators the tools to create and maintain millions of niche social networks.
Yesterday some of us learned of the announcement made by Ning about the 40% staff reduction and the elimination of free networks. In my case, I learned about this important decision through a tweet posted by a colleague network creator that linked to the TechCrunch article breaking the news.
I could dwell on how surprising it was to learn of such important news through others (not from Ning directly), especially after more than 3 years of using and telling others about the platform and its benefits; after having written Ning For Dummies; and being an active part of the recently created Network Creator Council program.
But I want to focus on what I think is most critical about this announcement. Two groups that I deeply care about that will be affected significantly by the decision to eliminate free networks are nonprofit networks in general and, more specifically, education networks. I was glad an update was posted addressing the concern voiced by many network creators in Education. But I am not clear yet as to what this will mean for all types of nonprofits.
It appears that nonprofits that currently pay for premium services will not have to worry too much about the change in Ning’s strategy. But I am wondering how many (thousands, perhaps) small nonprofits and grassroots groups will be unable to stick with Ning on the basis of cost. I am thinking of groups that run networks that fall in the “long tail”, well outside the 75% of your monthly US traffic generated by the tens of thousands “Premium Ning Networks” alluded to by Jason on his email to Ning employees.
Jason’s message went on to say “… those Network Creators need and will pay for many more services and features from us. So, we are going to change our strategy to devote 100% of our resources to building the winning product to capture this big opportunity.”
This language speaks of a service that is different from the concept that I first learned of three years ago: a service that empowered all people to create and discover social networks for their interests and passions. This language speaks of monetizing alone and leaves out the small groups trying to do good through Ning.
Just because something CAN be done (both, technically and legally) and because it makes business sense, doesn’t make it the RIGHT thing to do in the big scheme of things.
I know you have a fiduciary obligation to make the company profitable for the shareholders and you want to make sure the 98 employees remaining on staff can continue to keep their jobs for a long time. But I urge you to consider the impact your decision will have on the nonprofit space and ask you explore options comparable to initiatives like Google Grants, YouTube’s Nonprofit Program and the Salesforce Foundation so that the nonprofit groups that have been increasingly adopting Ning (while possibly buried in the long tail) will not be left to fend for themselves.
Don’t hesitate to let me know if you want any input in the coming weeks, as you prepare a more detailed plan to move forward.