This might get a bit controversial. I just read another discussion where I realized Ning has finally made the "Powered by Ning" footer mandatory on all new Ning Mini networks. Now I have an older Ning Mini, so apparently I'm not affected by this change. I had to think long and hard before I barely...and I mean just barely...decided to pay for the Mini. For those of you who do not know, When Gina Bianchini was the CEO of Ning it was a freemium- you had up to 10 free networks that were essentially fully loaded with things you now pay for such as groups, events, chat, etc. It was a different business model back then, and the trade-offs included forced ads and branding that you could pay to upgrade & remove.
Now there are about 4 primary elements of Ning branding that I have on my Ning Mini. There's the top-left 1) NING and 2) Create a Ning Network! There's also the 3) Create a Ning Network! underneath my site's About section. All these apparently are part of an incentive structure for me to upgrade. I understand they may also support marketing for the platform, and perhaps contribute to some kind of industry related metrics? Whatever. I always assumed the main reason was someone at Ning knew most creators would not like them- strongly prefer to go whitelabel- and would be compelled to upgrade. Forced branding and adserving are industry norms on freeware websites- actual strategic business models that are respected by venture capitalists and platform developers who view "people" as "end-users". Yeah, I think there's just a tad bit of disconnect there, but I've always viewed that as opportunity for someone like myself or one of my consulting clients to come in and do better.
Now 4) is the interesting one. That's the Powered by Ning footer that's apparently become mandatory. I won't check to see if I can still take it off and put it back on though. Last time I ran a check on one of my site's features, my Sign Up box and About box got switched around in some kind of glitch nightmare. Yeah I had thought my page was finally perfect and then this. Ning support just told me as a Mini user that I did not have access to change these around. I tried to tell them that's precisely why I was surprised it changed, that it must be some kind of system glitch, that I just wanted it back to the way it was for the previous 3 years... but, you know, blank stare, ostrich hiding head in a hole, ticket resolved, "__it happens" kind of thing. I just sat back in awe an have tried to get used to it.
Here I am someone who actually promotes Ning voluntarily by opting-in to this footer. You can't pay people for that kind of brand loyalty and advocation. I always wondered- why was it optional? I mean, did Ning realize there was a qualitative measure of "end-user" satisfaction there? That other thread suggested maybe this has become more of a numbers game, which would not be surprising given the recent Glam Media acquisition. I'm a student of modern business, so I scrutinizing it all to see how it plays out. Could be kinda cool actually. On the other hand, this little twist on what used to be an option for the footer "innie vs. outie" is not a good sign IMHO.
My business plan which is transparent and currently accessible to anyone on my site talks in depth about the Ning platform. I actually promote the indirect association with the brand. It's a matter of necessity to leverage the cost/ benefit. In other words, you can't beat them then join them! Since my site is yadayada domain.ning.com, I'm pulling a little Inspector Closseau, and making it seem as if "I meant to do that". I want people to wonder about it, for it to help them remember the address, to be somewhat intrigued by this social networking platform. Most people still do not recognize what "Ning" is. When they go to your site, they likely think YOU are Ning, lol! When they see your whitelabel site without the Ning branding, they probably think YOU designed it from scratch! That's one way to make a strong first impression...that is until Ning runs through a bad month-long stretych of e-mail serving. Then, maybe it's better to have someone you can point the finger at, lol!
In my business plan I make it clear that I'm not all that impressed Ning will be around 5 years from now. That's just the nature of the game in the Silicon Valley/ Bay Area tech culture- my niche BTW. I advise my clients to take ownership of their content and relationships- to keep in mind an exit strategy in case Ning or my own proprietary site have to shut down. I do suggest I'm satisfied "just" enough to proceed as is. I keep my site ultra-simple to mitigate the impacts of changes. I'm a brand fan and champion- why not! We as a Ning Creator community are actually pretty phenominal. Ning's made improvements along the way too, like having people such as Eric to come online and swim among us (whether we be minnows or sharks). Just maybe Ning is listening...just maybe they have more foresight than a bunch of tech geeks and advertising media investors.
FYI, I also used to be a big champion for Microsoft Office Live Small Business etc. That is until they took their freemiums and started dissecting them out...MSN Groups-gone, Windows Live Spaces-poof!, MSN Soapbox...your videos will all be deleted, my free blog...we just exported that to WordPress for you, my free website...we're gonna have to charge you a small annual fee, my paid website and e-mail...we're actually going to have to charge you alot more, and you're going to have to manually transfer your domain, all your e-mail, oh yeah and sorry but you'll have to rebuild your website. Don't worry though! We've got all kinds of new features you don't want bundled into the price, and although we recommend you pay an expert to help you with the migration, you can download this step-by-step instruction manual as though you had the time and risk tolerance to handle it yourself.
Yeah...riiiiiiiiiiight...I ask for frickin sharks with lazer beams attached to them. Ning's done alright to get us to this point I have to give them credit. There's still plenty room to screw it all up. If I were you, I'd look real close into criticisms and complaints for opportunities to improve, get it right, and distinguish yourself from the competition through smarter service and responsiveness. We're kind of in the same boat together. Me powered by you. Ning Powered by Me. Together, we can make a more beautiful web!
For me, I encourage that people know I use Bing. I need competition out there for a little bit of an activity booster. Nobody does what we do. Not even close... sadly. There /are/ benefits for that, but there are also strong disadvantages to being the Tigger on the scene.
However, I don't endorse the "forced upon" concept, just to clear name sake in the market. You don't have to be a business guru to see that this isn't a good move. Let's look at a few developer or housing sites that have recently seen major declines in their activity because of over zealous name branding on their products: Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple... want some more? Let me go dig in my bag of names real fast...
The point is, the general public doesn't care about your commercialistic name branding on everything you own. In fact, they shy away from sites that are getting to big or to popular. Online, there is such a thing as being to well known. Ask Mark Zukerburg, who had more tweets than facebook likes on his new relationship status. And it still wasn't as much many as the hater hater groups in his name.
I for one think it is bad business, and a restriction of freedoms on their own model. People will leave for little things like this. In fact, I bet I can name a couple of them that float around here.
Right on Cyto,
A modern business should strive for competition. People that hide the fact they are using the Ning platform as some sort of proprietary advantage will eventually find those benefits shortlived in my professional opinion. Just another reason why I recognize your project as "hot". You're just ahead of the curve to the point you could practically fall over without someone to push back against you. That's the kind of thing venture capitalists ought to be looking for- people that offer transparency and actually want to compete on the merits of their excellence.
I agree- there is a diminishing return on forced branding strategies. As the economies of scale that come with quantitative ad type metrics go up, the personal value of the increasingly discretionary qualitative end-user go down. Current success is not necessarily the best indicator of viability and competitiveness. Often it may have more to do with a lack of superior alternative. This can become rather immediately clear though when people notice something they actually really like and want.
So just sayin... if there is someone up there making decisions and accepting the fact that some people will not like it and leave- that they are collateral damage necessary for long-term sustainability- then I think maybe we are in trouble after all. If you're ever lucky enough to hear from an unsatisfied customer, no matter how seemingly little the details, you have to factor a lot more would just leave without saying a thing.
i agree with posters, i will not tolerate nings links on my site, therefor i need solution. My business model is to charge members subscription, but whos gonna pay me $25 per month when they found out that the site is hosted on 14 dollar platform ?
Thanks for chiming in...
That's a good question. It would seem the answer for you is to upgrade your Ning to keep the branding off, keep your rates high, and just take the cut in your margins.
There is the question of value though. Let's just say that's $25 for access to a dating site... the value has to do with the concept, access, and expectations from the community. In that case the Ning branding should not diminish. If you've got a model that suggests a value in using the platform itself as if that were a proprietary construction of yours, I personally think this is a mistake in positioning.
In my case, I've positioned around the Ning platform which leaves me equally exposed. However, access is free- just conditional- and what I charge for has more to do with my time, my service, and other values completely unrelated to the platform itself. My problem is how professional risk like promoting my site yadayada domain.ning.com could backfire on me simply based on decisions being made at Ning. I've adapted to the constraints, and I've got my exit strategies for the eventuality of changes such as rate hikes, but I'm also pulling for them to hold the value of what they have as is for as long as possible.
The question they should be thinking about is why anyone associates their brand with intolerable? It should not be forced. In fact, even if/when my own site justifies upgrading for capacity, I would keep the Ning links. I would do this now even if they were all optional on my Ning Mini. Advocating the platform and brand serves my interests, and that's why I sometimes push back on them to change their thinking and improve- I'm vested.
The "power" of the Ning brand ought to be something people actually want to be associated with- something that adds value to people, their social concepts, and their decision-making for going with the particular platform. It needs to reflect positively on me, and people who look into it or even start their own as a result of discovering it through me, should be glad they did & associate their positive experiences with the platform to me as an individual. - A
NINJA, you don't understand, it is now impossible to remove NING branding from the bottom even if you pay 'PLUS', what i always do
You're right. I didn't understand that it's forced on PLUS too. Sounds like a help ticket issue...craziness.
I dig the cut of this cats jib.
Awesome video, back in the day!
Yeah! Jen's got it! That's it right there!
Jen's position on this is also extremely important and kind of goes without saying. Not only did she embrace the Ning branding in the beginning, she quite literally featured it and built a network around it. We have a product roadmap for what Ning promotes as upcoming enhancements, but what kind of early warning and discussion about the shift from freemium? Was this seemingly minor adjustment in forcing the Powered by Ning branding also on the product roadmap? We are real people working within designed constraints, often over years positioning our brands to align constructively with an online platform service provider that throws powerful changes on us sometimes overnight. What happens to me, for instance, when Ning announces they've modified my mini to yadayada domain.glam.com, or even just yadayada domain.ning without the .com extension anymore. The answer is my concept will be completely ruined. Jen learned that it's smarter to go white label, brand around yourself, and to be more inclusive of other social platforms.
Snap...the sound of one hand clapping...
I also kept my "Powered by Ning" label. Simply because I want my members to know that the technology comes from somewhere more serious than down the road. (Note: this is specific to my network. It doesn't necessarily apply to everyone)
To suggest that having Ning references on your site means that competitors will steal the idea (which of course, they will) is to suggest that your network is good simply because it uses Ning, which isn't the case. Just think of all those hours you put into developing your community.
However, I still strongly support the idea of a paid white label option.
Thanks Ed, good points.
I spent a fair few thousand having a custom site built and it failed on every level from usability to functionality, then I discovered Ning and, god I wished I had discovered it a year earlier cause I could have saved myself thousands of pounds and months of development work.
The point I'm making is, tbh, I don't advertise that it is a Ning easy to do site, mainly because I don't want word spreading to competitors who have crappy sites that they have paid thousands for. I'm not worried that members find out it's ning, because all they are interested in is the user experience, do they want me to have a £10000 site that is rubbish or a £17 a month site that is great for them and helps them generate more business and contacts - clearly they want the latter.