Ning, you are lucky you are in existence. In short, self hosted for those of you whose curious about going down this road, isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Rather than complain about what doesn't work, and give prays to what does. I'm going to just put it out there. Here are facts related to self hosted solutions that make Ning more attractable as a company every day.
1. Email delivery. Forget newsletters. If you run your own email such as email@example.com for example, or firstname.lastname@example.org, the first newsletter you send out will never work. And you'll lose sending abilities through your organization's email address. I found that out the hard way. You need to buy dedicated email hosting, just so that you can use the head ache that is SMTP services to do anything with the customer base that's already subscribed to your network. Especially, when you're moving from one server to another. Or if you've decided to archive your content, and take your actual network to another company altogether.
2. Database issues. Say, 3 months in to your company. Everything's going well, until you need support for an upgrade that broke your site. If you have to buy a dedicated server, or VPS, chances are it's unmanaged. You have to first of all, ensure your server is running the minimum requirements for your platform. then troubleshoot the platform issue itself. Which can often happen unexpectedly at times when you expect it not to. Especially when installing an incompatible non up to date add on for your site. Something said company doesn't tell you about.
3. Pricing. You think Ning is expensive? It's more expensive than it used to be, yes. but the average cost for a Ning site is about the same as a high end VPS. that's virtual private server. Which is, ironically, exactly what you get, as a managed solution or script. Accept, it is on a shared IP, making it a hybrid of sorts between shared hosting or really expensive web hosting, and virtual private networking functionality.
4. Support. Forget it, if you have no technical admin on your side. you're on your own. Ning has excellent support agents. Sometimes it takes awhile, but if you persistently handhold anyone willing to help you through an issue, together, you walk yourselves out of any problems you face. Working together as a team is key with any support agent. Some companies, such as Name Cheap, offer support only to do with some server basics. Taking it online and offline, as well as payment plans. But that's where it ends. Unless you pay for a managed solution.
5. Liability. Now days, this is more on par with other hosting solutions. But you're liable if something happens to your site with self hosted. not so much, if you have a managed hosting like Ning. If something breaks, you don't necessarily have to fix it if you tell someone who manages your site for you, what happened.
Ning is more of a guardian, or protector if you will, than they are a hinderence. Think about how many times you've wanted to do something but couldn't on Ning? then think about the alternative. If I'm liable for it, why then must I be on my own for everything? Here's some top 5 reasons to choose shared hosting to coexist with Ning.
1. Company email only. You want a brandable email, you got it. The difference is, you pay to have it. Subsequently, with a brandable email, you also have a brandable domain. This is something you can use for any type of redirection to your site you want, if you know how to configure DNS records in the zone editor of your domain control panel. Similarly, Cpanel provides the best interface to do just that.
2. Cpanel itself. With the ability to host an unlimited amount of add on domains, technically, your server could be used to add more domains to your Ning site than the 3 permitted through Ning's domain mapping tool. This lets you branch out as a company, and support your own infrastructure. Something you could host many networks on through Ning, especially given their new light.ning.com plans and pricing structure at potentially no extra cost to you. while keeping your company organization intact and on budget.
3. Brandable support. Having email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org as an email address to reach out to your own, in house support team, offers security benefits. The key difference being, you separate your regular web hosting, from your brand email. This way, they are on separate servers so the day to day business requirements for communicating directly with customers, is never interrupted.
4. Sellable networks. Users, if you plan to sell your site, won't need to remember a new domain. this keeps your existing business in tact. this could become a bottle neck if you forget to pay your site. but in time, the new company taking over your domain, will have their own results in search engines should the branding change. this is why it is very important to brand your site, for maximum customer engagement opportunities internet wide.
5. custom spam filters. On some servers, you have the ability to obtain WHM access. this means, you're able to regulate what spam filters are enabled for your account and what ones are not. This means you have no need to sift through spam sent to your publicly available brandable email address, as a custom score threshhold for automatically dealing with problematic emails, is something you can fine tune. This cannot be done on email addresses hosted by Google, Outlook or Yahoo.
All in all, ning is perfect if you are willing to agree to their terms of service, and provide feedback where necessary to keep both Ning team members, and other network creators and our sites running smoothly for years to come. Ning is truly, one of a kind. And it is home to the internets best social networks.