Today, we're thrilled to unveil one of the largest projects ever undertaken at Ning: the re-imagining of our product. Please join us in welcoming Ning 3.0 into the world!
Ning has been running as a web app for over seven years. Can you believe it? During that time, we've grown and matured from a scrappy start-up experimenting with social networking tools in a sandbox environment (Ning 1.0) to a full-fledged business with tens of thousands of paying customers and serious long-term goals (Ning 2.0). While the Ning Platform has been stable and functional and humming along smoothly for a long time, we knew it was time to reinvent a few things.
Why we're redesigning Ning
Why change? The landscape of the Internet in the last seven years has changed. How our product fits into that landscape has changed. The needs of our customers have changed. When Ning got its start in 2005, MySpace was the leader in social networking. Everyone was blinging out profile pages, poking friends across continents, and trying out wacky third-party widgets. There's still plenty of fun to be had in social networking, but these days people who want online communities are less interested in creating their own "Facebook in a box" and more interested in how published content can be successfully intertwined with community-generated content. They are increasingly less focused on the ease of creating brand new online communities and more focused on how they can cultivate and grow their existing online communities. We felt this was something we needed to respond to. With Ning 3.0, we created the kind of product that combines publishing and community for the social web in a way that no one has done before.
Evolving to meet the needs of the marketplace is probably the biggest reason for our redesign, but there are others. Ning needed a makeover. Sites created in Ning 2.0 often look outdated. You could do quite a bit to jazz things up, but you needed to have some serious CSS chops to create something unique. Most people don't. Also, our customers demanded more flexibility in how their sites could be designed. We needed to break out of the "main page" paradigm and provide ways for customers to create multiple instances of features, extensive privacy controls at the page level, and flexibility with how members navigate through Ning communities.
Clutter happens to the best of us. Software of nearly every stripe has a tendency to become bloated with features that try to do everything for everyone. Like so many others, Ning 2.0 has suffered from this fate over time. Years of brisk development brought a whole lot of features and options, but this also made our platform more complicated. Continuing to add features to the Ning 2.0 product didn’t increase the performance of the platform, and it didn’t serve anyone well without an overhaul in both functionality and design. So we felt a need to simplify and focus our product into something our customers would use more effectively.
What we're releasing today
Ning 3.0 is our next generation product. It's geared toward social leaders: people who already have — or want to attract — a community of people to gather around compelling content and conversation. It's a full re-launch of the Ning product. We invite you to start a free trial to test drive it. (Although obviously you can cancel before your free trial is up if you don't want to continue!)
The new Ning offers powerful flexibility for publishing and populating sites with multiple kinds of content and layouts, as well as multiple instances of features. You want 10 forums? You've got it. A community blog and an official blog? Done. That's the kind of flexibility we've built-in that was never possible before. But most importantly, it offers the kind of stunning design choices that our customers have consistently requested from us. The design options alone are the single biggest upgrade, and we know that will be a huge game changer for beginners who are intimidated by CSS and experts who have longed to create communities with forward-thinking design sensibilities.
Ning 3.0 begins its life with a strong focus on the features most used by our customers: forums, blogs, photos and members. More features will be added as they are redesigned to meet the standards we've set for appearance and functionality, and new features will be developed to incorporate the wealth of requests we've received from Ning Creators. We've got a ton of data that shows how our customers use Ning, and all of that will influence what we make next.
Here are a handful of things that will probably stand out to you, our long-standing customers:
- Unique designs: Ning 3.0 is a big improvement on the Design Studio, which itself was a big improvement over the old Appearance Editor. With Ning 3.0, anyone will be able to create stunning and contemporary designs without knowing a lick of CSS. While you will see plenty of options, you'll find that the default theme (Aloe) will probably be all you need. It includes 1,400 background images to choose from (!), balanced color palettes, and cool translucent options. It allows you to easily create a sharp-looking header without having to code. That alone is a huge upgrade.
- Better blogging & commenting: We've long been a platform that's good at fostering community, but the publishing tools have lagged behind. Adept bloggers who need more control over how blog content is presented will be much happier with Ning 3.0. For example, if you've always wanted to give non-members the ability to participate in the conversation, Ning 3.0 lets you do it with Facebook or Disqus commenting. It's a serious step up for bloggers. (And commenters!)
- Fantastic photo galleries: If you're a photo fanatic who wants your images (and your members' images) to look sharper, cleaner, more professional, and more responsive on every device out there — from standard desktops to mobile phones — you're going to love what you see.
- Public, private & everything in between: If you've always wanted additional privacy options, you're going to be very pleased with how you can control the public/private nature of nearly any page and feature. Mix and match to create teaser pages, restricted features, and exclusive content. Need four forums, six photo galleries, and a ridiculous number of categories for your content? You now have the technology to do it.
- A very smart grid: Designers with some chops will be pleased to discover an updated, logical HTML grid that allows pros to create radical, custom designs. This new grid is sliced into so many pieces you could probably create a working 6-column design if you wanted to — although that might be insane.
- Responsive design: If you follow web design trends, you'll know that responsive design is where it's at. It's a way of designing websites that can resize automatically to fit every device out there — not just sort of fit but truly scale content to fit any space. We're jumping on this massive redesign as an opportunity to make responsive design a crucial part of Ning's ongoing development.
- New dashboard: Ning 3.0 has a fully redesigned administrative dashboard that feels infinitely more intuitive than the old one. It also has plenty of room to grow as we add analytics and data to give community managers more insight into both the activity of members and content performance.
Evolution in design, revolution in pricing
Ning 3.0 is a step forward in another way: pricing. Ning 2.0 pricing was confusing. Details like extra storage and bandwidth were particularly difficult for new customers to estimate, and people sometimes felt overwhelmed about deciding between multiple plans offering different feature sets. Perhaps more to the point, our customers who purchased plans with fewer features tended to end up with lower customer satisfaction. We want to see everyone succeed, so we're eliminating the Plus and Pro plans. Everyone who starts a new community gets all the same core features. And the pricing plans for Ning 3.0 (Basic, Performance, Business) follow an activity-based model. Customers pay based on community size (membership and admins), with higher priced plans including higher levels of support. Aligning pricing with success in this way allows everyone to start small and scale up (and pay more only if they need to).
Obviously, Ning 3.0 begins to put in motion some big changes — all for the better, we think. Take your time and thumb through DIVAlicious and Eliza Dushku to get an idea of how your site might look when upgraded to Ning 3.0. Better yet, create your own free Ning 3.0 trial and go to town with customization.
So… What happens to Ning 2.0?
We know this question is at the top of your minds. We anticipate you will have a zillion questions (give or take a few). So we’ve put together a Ning 3.0 news page, FAQs and roadmap that will hopefully answer most of your questions. The long and short of it is that nothing changes for you today. In fact, we won't even begin allowing the upgrade of Ning 2.0 sites to Ning 3.0 until we have put in place all of the infrastructure to seamlessly automate that process. We anticipate this upgrade process will be ready by mid-summer and you'll have at least a year to make the transition to Ning 3.0. You'll be able to choose when that happens for your site.
Why did we release Ning 3.0 without an upgrade process ready to go? Development will take several months. Rather than wait, we decided to release Ning 3.0 without an upgrade process so that new customers could start benefiting from the improvement immediately – and we could get valuable input from all of you to refine the product. Of course, you can create new Ning 3.0 sites today. If you've ever wanted to try out a new community idea or would prefer to simply start over from scratch, that option is always available.
In many ways, Ning 3.0 is the rebirth of the Ning Platform, and we're incredibly excited to be starting this next big phase of innovation. We hope you will be just as enthusiastic about the possibilities this holds for your existing community, and we imagine the news will get some of you social leaders out there thinking about tackling a whole new idea with Ning 3.0.
Do I have to upgrade to Ning 3.0?
Yes, eventually. We will be asking all of our current customers to upgrade to Ning 3.0. But you'll have plenty of time to think about when you'd like to transition. Once we release an upgrade process this summer, we'll give you at least a year to make the move, and you'll get to decide when your upgrade to Ning 3.0 happens.
Is Ning 3.0 going to cost more?
It depends. Since usage of Ning 3.0 isn't based on storage but on community size and level of support, some customers will actually end up paying less. If you're a small community and don't require a higher level of support, it's possible you'll pay less. If you've got a million members, you'll undoubtedly pay more. We think this activity-based model will make much more sense for the vast majority of our customers.
Is pricing changing for Ning 2.0, too?
No. You'll continue with your current Mini, Plus or Pro plan at the same price until you decide to upgrade to Ning 3.0.
Will x feature be available in Ning 3.0?
We're releasing Ning 3.0 now with the features we know are most used by our current customers. But we are already retooling other features from Ning 2.0, both in functionality and design. We plan to add Groups, Video, Events, Chat and 4 additional languages by summer. You can keep track of development by visiting our Roadmap page.
Is Ning 3.0 a full rewrite of Ning 2.0?
Not entirely. Some of the oldest Ning code is still some of the best performing. It's still good code! What Ning 3.0 gives us the opportunity to do is entirely change the way things appear on your site, so in some ways it is a rewrite of the design of the platform — as opposed to the functionality. But functionality is important, too. This upgrade lets us keep the functionality that we know has always worked great in Ning 2.0 but remove all the extra stuff that few people used. It's simplified code and a totally new design grid.
Are you going to stop development on Ning 2.0?
Yes, mostly. We're shifting our focus to Ning 3.0, our next generation product. We will continue to fix major bugs and perform regular maintenance on Ning 2.0, but we're aggressively shifting our focus to Ning 3.0.
Can I try out Ning 3.0?
Absolutely! Go to www.ning.com and start a free trial.
More questions? Check out our full list of FAQs.