Tuesday, April 20

Swirling Communication: A New Ning Taste Test


What's in the promise of a lollipop? Something sweet? Something sour? A little swirl of both?

Messages are often like that. And Jason Rosenthal, chief operating officer at Ning, Inc. (Ning), which is a platform that once allowed people to develop their own social networks for free, provides a near perfect illustration of a candy-coated message that only looks sweet on the surface of a plastic wrapper. Let's open it up.

Hi Everyone,

1. Flavor: Sounds sweet. Tastes sour.
2. Aftertaste: Most networks only post salutations when things are bad. Very, very bad.
3. Verdict: By everyone, Rosenthal means people who pay and 60 percent of employees who still have jobs.

As many of you know, we made a decision yesterday to focus 100% of the company on enhancing the features and services we offer to paying Ning Creators.

1. Flavor: Sounds sour. Tastes like unsweetened cocoa.
2. Aftertaste: Surprisingly bitter about the reaction to date.
3. Verdict: Ning has no empathy for anyone who doesn't pay. It's a brave new network.

The tens of thousands of you who already use our paid service represent over 75% of our traffic, and we’ve heard repeatedly from you ways that we can deliver a killer service to help make your Ning Network more effective.

1. Flavor: Sounds sour. Tastes like orange peel.
2. Aftertaste: Did he really call Ning a killer service after killing the service?
3. Verdict: Ning has/had 2.3 million networks. It intends to keep a small percentage of hundreds of thousands.

Some examples of things we are working on that you’ve asked for include new APIs, a new mobile experience and new advertising and revenue opportunities.

1. Flavor: Sounds sweet. Tastes laced with MSG.
2. Aftertaste: Chemically altered air, with a hint of chalky residue.
3. Verdict: There will be more space for new programming features once the deadbeats who made us popular are gone.

As part of this change, we’ll be phasing out our free service. On May 4, 2010, we will share with you all of the details of our new offering, including features and price points, through a series of blog posts, emails, and conference calls.

1. Flavor: Sounds fresh. Tastes stale.
2. Aftertaste: As dry as coarse sand.
3. Verdict: They've been plotting the demise of freemium services for almost two years; spam to follow.

We recognize that there are many active Ning Networks for teachers, small non-profits, and individuals and it’s our goal to have a set of product and pricing options that will make sense for all of them.

1. Flavor: Sounds sweet. Tastes metallic.
2. Aftertaste: None, beyond utter numbness.
3. Verdict: It's alway pointless to sound altruistic when you plan to squeeze blood from stones.

For Ning Creators using our free service who choose to move to another service, we will offer a migration path and time to make that change. We will still continue to allow free trials and test networks on the Ning Platform.

1. Flavor: Sounds hearty. Tastes like nine parts water.
2. Aftertaste: A hint of ice cold chicken stock.
3. Verdict: The moving truck will be here soon so we can make room for transient renters.

We look forward to talking to you further on May 4th.

1. Flavor: Sounds like peppermint. Tastes like uncrushed pepper.
2. Aftertaste: Acidic, causing indigestion.
3. Verdict: They haven't figured out what to say, but someone is hoping people cool off by then.

Jason Rosenthal

1. Flavor: Sounds savory. Tastes like an imitation.
2. Aftertaste: Sometimes the messenger is the message. And Rothenthal isn't a co-founder.
3. Verdict: Given his experience being on the acquired end of acquisitions, the writing has been on the wall for almost two years. Marc didn't write this one for a reason.

Ning is no more. At least not the Ning you knew.

There is much more to the story, enough to constitute a living case study as it seems pretty clear the company's communication is already past the expiration date. No one seems capable of talking their way past the plastic wrapper. It seems obvious someone wants the company primed up and ready to sell. But there is a good chance all these plans will backfire.

After all, Ning doesn't seem to consider how often paying Ning social networks recruit new network members from non-paying networks. And, in addressing the future migration solutions, they've already set themselves up to break another promise. They know any such move will hardly be seamless. In the meantime, here are five more voices.

Re-Align-Ning: Is “Free” Eroding? by Doug Haslam
Ning and Customer Betrayal by Valeria Maltoni
Ning Reneges On Its Core Promise, Shatters Customer Trust by Shel Holtz
Traffic Isn’t Revenue: Twitter and Ning Reach Different Crossroads by David Crotty
• The Free Internet Loses Another One: Ning by Alexa Salkever

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