So, we've had an unruly member complain to NING of possible copyright infringements so that now we have their eyes upon us. Furthermore it seems that NING is getting ready to possibly meld all NING social networks into one big general network like Mein Space or Facebook. Facing dissolution into a sea of directionless general claptrap our friendly neighborhood administrator, Adap2k, has asked me to write up a blog on some ideas I had to move us offshore at a reasonable price. No doubt, many of you will have some input on how to make such a move or whether it should even be done for that matter. The only sure thing at this point is we should all take a minute to put our two cents in on this discussion figure out what we want to do.

Here is one possibility:

There is a website similar to the American freelancing service guru.com called getafreelancer.com run based in Lidkoping Sweden which, unlike guru, is very open to all-comers from around the world. Most buyers are from the US, UK, and Australia. Most providers are from India, Eastern Europe, Asia, etc. So, yes, I am suggesting outsourcing here. Our current situation may require it as much as we may hate the idea.

Get a Freelancer (GAF for short) has many Eastern European, and Indian rip-off artists among both their providers and buyers, as you might well imagine but the GAF system has a few features that allow for such people to be avoided most of the time if you're smart about how you deal with others there.

First of all the GAF escrow system allows for project fees to be held in an escrow account. For those of you who are unfamiliar with escrow this means that the buyer puts the agreed upon project fee into a GAF account where it is held until the end of the project. Once the account is loaded the buyer cannot get the money back without the provider's approval and the provider can't get at it without the buyer's approval. When a project goes well the provider does the work, sends it to the buyer, and the buyer releases the funds in the escrow account funds to the provider. If a project goes bad they can either agree on a distribution of funds and release the appropriate amounts to each other or take it to GAF for arbitration after a sort of online mini-trial where each side makes it case and GAF makes the final judgement. In this case the funds may be tied up for weeks or even months as the case is resolved but eventually the money will be disbursed as GAF sees fit. This alone does not guarantee a smooth transaction but it keeps the worst offenders from getting away with anything as long as it gets used. I is also common for larger projects to be split into split into a work/pay schedule where partial payments are released to the provider upon reaching certain milestones in the project. Payments in advance should never be considered wise.

Another way to help assure your getting a decent provider is to start off by using a few small test projects to see the work that a few different providers can do and how easy it is to communicate with them. Some can be discounted immediately based upon the broken English used when placing their bids. Once a provider is selected for a small test project you will have their contact info from GAF and can have a teleconference with them through Skype for a few minutes of online face to face time, otherwise you may never know if you are really dealing with a large indian company, a fourty year old independent freelancer or a smart but cocky and inexperienced 16 year old in an internet cafe in Bangladesh.

The last big safety feature is their rating and feedback system - pretty much like you might have seen on eBay or other sites. Using a provider who has completed 300 projects with only occasional complaints in their feedback on GAF is generally safer and more a bit more expensive, Using someone who has not yet been rated at all or has a significant amount of bad feedback is generally riskier and cheaper.

The competition for projects on the GAF system is very intense however and even good well rated overseas providers often work very cheaply.

___________________________________________________________________

So, If we want to move this site we will first and foremost need someone who can build us a an implementation of the open social networking platform that NING is based on. It would have less features to begin with of course but over time additional features could be added as separate small projects by the original provider (assuming the work has been adequate so far). I think GAF is going to be the cheapest way to get this done.

First we would need to know exactly what we want so the providers know exactly what they are expected to deliver for an initial bare bones site. Which of the features of the current site are most important to us? What can we live without for a little while? How much storage space and bandwidth do we need for the current site with room for future expansion? Will we be able to get an .iso backup image of the site from NING when the time comes?

Next perhaps a $30 test project where we simply lay out the scope of the full project and award the project fee to the bidder with the best over all itemized proposal including porting current content over to the new site, and yearly hosting.

I've looked at many offshore hosts lately and I'm convinced that a package deal with the same provider who builds the site is probably the way to go.

It's only a guestimate but I think we could probably find a decent provider who could pull off the initial move for somewhere between $350 and $500 with the first year of hosting included along with the initial barebones site and maybe $120 a year for hosting thereafter. Additional features thereafter could be achieved in small $30 - $100 projects as required.

________________________________________________________________________

So how would we fund this? I suppose we could all sell flowers at the airport like hare krishnas but the initial funding would most likely have to come from member donations. Either that or possibly fade away forever which would be one hell of a shame in my not so humble opinion.

Personally I can offer time and talent to help make this all happen but unless I hit a windfall $5.00 or $10.00 donations are all I will conceivably be able to squeeze screaming out of my grocery money any time soon. So we probably need to take a pole / pledge drive to determine how much we might be able to scrape up on short notice amongst those of us who are willing and able to help fund our continued existence as a community.

How to fund future maintenance and expansion (ads. t-shirt sales, selling cups at other peoples keggers?) can probably wait a bit for now.

So what do you all think? Should we try this? Do you have other suggestions or alternatives?

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We must do what we need to do to keep this site alive whether on ning or elsewhere! I wish that I could give some kind of advice but my knowledge of this subject is nill to void. I put faith in you Marklar, Adapt2k and the many others that are computer literate to figure out what is the right pathway to take at this time.

I will definitely support any new venture in the future by the way!
I'll start one up and see what it looks like and make a report back. Sure would be nice to be out from under anyone else's rules but our own though.
Well Jinity isn't working at all for me but I'll try some of the others.

Paying someone to start and open social implementation is pretty much the same as installing premade on server but not having created an open social network from scratch I'm not sure how much of this site is open social and how much is Ning building on top of it.
You could also consider providers like Kickapps who will take care of the technicals of hosting the site. That way, you won't run into niggles every now and then to keep the site in working condition.

Kickapps.com
Agreed tweek. Hoping here is someone with Linux / Unix background who can take up administration full time. Creating a social network site seems simple enough with Joomla or one of the other software. I'm a bit of a hack myself and can help with programming in PHP, Python if you decide to go this route.

I'm leaning more to AroundMe because of the plug-in system in place.

Jamie.
MGM, Good idea to save your piece if you need it later. We can put together a site with kickapp like features to start with and expand the site when there is a specific need.
That's choice, and we wont get that with cookie cutter providers as tweet has pointed out. Jamie
Whatever you guys decide to do, you have my support. I know i'm a new member here, but I do enjoy the excitement and participation this site offers. I have limited funds, but I would gladly make a small contribution to help cover the cost. Keep us posted...

~Vince
Thanks Mark and everybody. I hope we have some time to get a back up ready. Here is the article, which really only makes assumptions at this point.

Ning Exposed - Tech Company Scams its Clients

Clients of Ning are outraged over a  decision that Ning made public last week. The software maker sent out an email to all of its clients, those who have created a social network on Ning, stating that they would email all members of all websites who use the Ning software to promote the newly designed Ning.com.

“Please do not send the email to my members. I pay you not to advertise on my site and I don’t think you should target my members directly,” says one Ning network creator and paying customer. Ning charges network creators to keep all Ning promotional links off their site. Some members have been paying this fee for years and so are even more upset at the direct email marketing campaign. Why pay the fee?

To make matter worse, the new Ning.com combines all member data from all websites created using the Ning system. The owners of the websites have no option to opt out or remove their members. There’s going to be a lot of explaining to do when members see their own picture, profile, and information on Ning.com, a website that most members have never even heard of.

Is Ning a scam?
There’s a theory that Ning’s actions are part of a carefully planned scam to make the company the next MySpace or Facebook. Instead of spending millions of dollars advertising and gathering enough members to compete with MySpace or Facebook, why not create a social network platform and rely on the ambition of thousands of other network creators to up  build membership. When the time is right,  simply take all of those members and combine them into one super-site, Ning.com.


The structure that Ning has set up is somewhat like a pyramid scam. The thousands of network creators do all of the work, spend all of the money to benefit those at the very top.

pyramid8ballsvg

If they are going to use members which were gathered by the hard work and money of the Network Creator’s, shouldn’t Ning be paying the network creators? Why do the network creators pay Ning?

The unraveling of Ning

April 2008: Ning raises $60 million in funding. The fat and lazy syndrome kicks in.


August 2008: Ning shuts down app maker “Widget Laboratory.” Ning had some kind of dispute with WidgetLaboratory, who designed applications for the Ning platform. Ning decided to ban WL and so all of the applications were removed. This caused havoc on hundreds, if not thousands, of websites who used addons by WL. Ning would not allow WL back nor would it consider allowing the apps back. They received hundreds of complaints.

WL wrote in a press release:

We have achieved a level of market penetration into the Ning community that has made WidgetLaboratory a somewhat “essential” resource for add-ons and widgets. Based upon the personal phone calls and correspondence from the entire Ning team, including their entire Executive staff, it would appear that they decided to eliminate WidgetLaboratory for anti-competitive purposes alone. This is truly ironic to us, given the fact that our products have demonstrably INCREASED the popularity of Ning and caused more customers of Ning to purchase their Premium Services.


Strengthening the claims made by WL, Ning announced a partnership agreement which it entered into with WL’s biggest competitor, Scripts4Ning. News of the joint venture was announced within weeks of banning WidgetLaboratory.

August 2008: Ning bans access to all PHP files. If you own a website which uses the Ning platform, you can no longer access your own website files! This policy is still in place. You aren’t allowed to see your own files.

November-December 2008: Ning shuts down the Network Creator forum making it impossible to voice opposition in a meaningful way. The creator forum was the single most visited site for network creators. They would meet to discuss ideas, talk about new updates, get help,  and voice criticism.


Ning has been known to remove entire posts which are critical of the company, as well as ban members who post them. This recent note on a Ning group complains that  Ning is deleting comments “As fast as we post them.”  The member is referring to the 200 comment post complaining about the direct email campaign. Members complained that as many as 17 replies were deleted by Ning last night alone!

December 2008: Ning reverses its policy against meddling in the content of individual networks. The change is a complete about-face. Ning announced that it will no longer allow websites which are “Adult” in nature. Thousands of websites, who believed that their content was fully compliant and secure received notices from Ning. They were given a few weeks to transfer their sites out of the Ning platform. Small problem- They didn’t have access to any of their files and couldn’t move. Ning, realizing the dilemma they created, made an exception and allowed those network creators access to their websites files.

This is quite a change from a company who’s co-founder Marc Andreessen was quoted only a few months earlier saying:


To prevent porn, you have to take an activist stand against freedom of expression — you have to get in there and judge content, judge people, judge intent, and take action based on your judgments. I would never criticize a company for doing so, but I don’t want to do that, and we as a company don’t want to do that.

Oh, by the way, they didn’t remove ALL adult content from Ning, only the content they didn’t like. If your name is 50 Cent and you own the largest social network on Ning, you can have all the porn you want (BEWARE: Link is NSFW).  I guess you can’t really blame them. How do you argue with 50 cent?

[Update]February 2009: Ning Changes its Slogan (Axes Social Network Platform Motto)
“Create Your Own Social Network for Anything”  was the long time slogan of the software company. If you visit the new Ning.com, however,  you’ll notice that they’ve removed their slogan and now make no mention of the fact that they are a social network platform. NONE AT ALL. The new slogan reads  “Ning lets you create new social experiences for the most important people and interests in your life.”

For those who thought that Ning’s recent policy decisions were just a fluke, THINK AGAIN. They are taking steps to recreate their entire image as an independent social network (In direct competition with the very clients they are charging).

Spam-Spam-Spam: If you are a member of a Ning site, you will know about it quickly. Ning networks are bombarded by spam invites to join other networks on Ning. Your inbox will be flooded by emails that say “Come Join Me on XYZ Network.”

There is a hole in the system, which is convenient for Ning, which allows people to gather friends across any website using Ning’s technology and then invite them all to join their website. The invites are sent directly to email address, even though you never gave out your email address.

Imagine if all of your friends on MySpace have their own MySpace sites and each constantly invite you to join them? The invites are sent to your email inbox, and because of the way Ning is set up, its hard to tell which friend on which site actually sent it to you!


Ning has refused to deal with this problem. Its actually a convenient problem for Ning. The more social networks that people join which are run by Ning, the better the chances are that these members will know who Ning is and ultimately use the new Ning.com.

The Business Plan Will Fail
Ning should stick to what it does best. They have an excellent and unmatched platform to create a social network. People are very willing to pay Ning for the software and their market will continue to grow as they become the dominant player.

As the company shifts direction, they will anger their existing clients, and diminish their brand in an attempt to achieve something which is unachievable for Ning. It will never be a MySpace or Facebook. Most of the social networks on Ning are comprised of a few hundred people (Maybe less). These small networks tend to be niche areas which are made up of communities of people with specific common interests. If they wanted to be on MySpace, or Facebook, then they’d be there. The appeal of the small Ning network is the community of like minded people.

Ning Must Act

If I were the VC firm who pumped $60 million into Ning, I’d have serious concerns. Ning is clearly not the same company they were when the funding began. They have since proved to be erratic and unpredictable in policy, willing to damage their client base and brand to pursue a non-core agenda, and they’ve compromised the trust and data provided to them by the network creators. This company needs to change course -  and fast. I wouldn’t be surprised if we heard about a flood of lawsuits filed against Ning in the coming weeks.

PS- If you’re wondering why we’re writing about a private company, it’s because no one else will. We received comments and notes about this subject. One person mentioned that they tried repeatedly to submit this story to the major tech blogs, but they wouldn’t respond or write about it, so we did.

Update 1  :  Inflating Their Numbers?
It’s been brought to my attention that Ning claims to have nearly 1 million social networks yet the website dedicated for network owners has a total membership of 24,000. The large difference in numbers suggests 3 possibilities:

1. Each network creator has an average of 47 or so social network sites on Ning (Not likely)
2. 98% of social network creators never sign up to use the website dedicated for them?  (Also not likely)
3. Ning is inflating the numbers (Most Likely).

Remember when Ning got rid of all of the adult networks? Those networks were a large portion of Ning’s overall traffic. Did Ning begin to drop the number of total social networks? NO. The number, according to ning, has been skyrocketing without any declines. That’s impossible if they got rid of such a large amount of networks.

[Update 2] Are you a Network Creator on Ning??
If so, let your voice be heard. We are hosting a discussion to propose a “Network Creator Bill of Rights” We need your input!

Just let me know what you guys plan to do.
Can't have freedom on the net...

That would be insane !!
haha yea its someone who gets paid to be stupid and to be a trader to humanity.
Thanks for all the suggestions guys. I'm going to be out of the loop for the next 16-20 hours or so, so I'm going to leave you with a few notes I made on the few I have looked at. If you think I'm wrong in these assesments don't take it personal - just my impressions from what I could see.

Jinity - Finaly got them to let me create a network - complete crap as far as I can tell.
Maybe with a whole lot of work it could be something.

Barnraiser/Around me - Sounds good - couldn't sign up to see their demo because they
say two valid emails addresses are invalid.Does not bode well. Software developed by
High School computer club in the Grenadines - big minus.

elgg and Budokin Samples - Looks pretty good. A few plusses a few minuses
compared to NING system but I only looked at the Budokin Sample for the moment
so some of the minuses may simply be due to the way they decided to implement elgg.

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