The Ning Violation: Is it Ethical?

by John Zajaros on August 19, 2010

The Ning Violation

Is Ning’s Decision Good Business?

I usually write about Internet marketing, inbound marketing, online business, offline/online business, and the like here at The Internet Marketing Quest Revealed. This blog post is related to all of those topics and more.

The decision Ning made, and will enforce tomorrow, will affect people from all walks of life, many who simply built a wonderful little, or not-so-little, online community.

The Ning Violation is, in fact, a violation of a commitment, an agreement between Ning and all of those little online communities and their members. It will affect many people and it has been handled badly. It is not about the money.

It is about an implicit contract, a social contract if you will, between Ning and its users.

That is why I call it The Ning Violation!

The Ning Violation

I awoke this morning, went through my usual routine, and then went to my email box. I always put off email until I have accomplished my two major tasks of the day, so as not to be distracted. Email is the bane of almost every marketer’s existence. You can’t work effectively if you focus too much time and attention on email, it will suck precious minutes and hours out of your day; and, conversely, you can’t do business without it, email is a crucial component in today’s interconnected, online world.

So, on to my email inbox and what do I find?

An email announcing The Ning Violation, a take it or leave it upgrade policy. I have Ning pages and have set them up for clients, so naturally I was concerned. Several things popped into my head almost at once, the first was a twinge of anger at the prospect of my work being held hostage; and, right along with that thought was the thought that, if this was rubbing me the wrong way, it had to be affecting others the same way.

Mountain out of a mole hill?

Tempest in a teapot?

Perhaps!

After all, at first glance I can upgrade for as little as $2.95 per month or $19.95/year.

Peanuts!

But then, I looked at what I get for “peanuts” and it seems pretty obvious where I am being pointed by the marketing team at Ning.

Next, I reviewed Ning Plus with Advanced Features for $19.95 per month or $199.95/year and it looks a bit better.

Until I realize that Ning has conveniently left out the capability to add new videos or offer music, two of the most popular Ning features. They do allow access to current videos, so they do appear to understand the concept of grandfathering, but it appears to be too little, too late.

Finally, we get to Ning Pro, announced as being Built for Scale. Ning Pro os $49.95 per month or $499.95/year…and I save 17%!

API Access, unavailable at the lower levels is offered as an upgrade at the Pro Level, as are additional Bandwidth and Storage.

Ning offers sponsored networks for Education at the Mini level and Health at the Plus level. Both sponsorship networks require an application process and a sponsorshiop acknowledgement must be placed on the header of your Ning Mini or Ning Plus page.

If it is in one of those two categories and if it qualifies.

Several questions popped into my mind:

  1. Why was this notice the first notice? I am very good about catching this sort of thing and even go through my spam folder before deleting it to make sure nothing important gets trapped. But I will concede this point, perhaps I was missed or missed the announcement.
  2. Why am I getting this notice one day before the cut off?
  3. How are my clients going to react to an increase in fees, however small, for something they perceived as free?
  4. Is this ethical?
  5. Is this good business?

The Ning Violation

This is clearly not a lot of money and we all have more important things to occupy our time.

So, why do I feel violated?

This is the heart of it:

This is bad business, plain and simple. The cost is irrelevant, the threat is, take it or leave it. It is unethical. Interestingly, if you have a Ning page and you do not upgrade to the appropriate level? They are holding your content. You can’t see it, it isn’t available to anyone through their network, but it is there and you can download it to your computer.

But then what?

We all know who the content belongs to. It belongs to the creator of the page and the members. That content is as much a part of their lives as anything they have built online and now they either accept Ning’s terms or they have no vehicle for expression.

Yes, I am sure Ning has that tied up in the Terms of Service (TOS). I haven’t checked as of this writing but it is irrelevant at this point because they have lost a user, several actually.

Ning obviously knows what a Grandfather clause is.

Why didn’t they use it in some way, shape or form?

Let’s look at a possible scenario:

A community develops a soccer program and tells everyone in town they can play and the community will pick up the bill, play on the community fields. etc. Coaches can create the best team possible from the available pool of children who want to play. To build the program and the individual teams, everyone will invest their time to get the program going and make the individual teams successful.

Now comes The Soccer Violation

After a couple of years the program has been built and the teams are flourishing.

Now, the community steps in and says:

“Things are going to change beginning tomorrow. Beginning tomorrow, you can play in the pasture over by the barn for $3 a month per child or you can play in the baseball diamond outfield for $20 a child or you can continue to play on the nice, new community soccer fields for $50 a child. Up to you, take it or leave it…the new program starts tomorrow.”

There will be a lot of kids out of soccer in that community…today!

I am willing to bet, there will be a lot less Ning pages in the online community tomorrow and a lot of ill-will for a long time to come.

Here are the questions that started rattling around in my brain as soon as I read the email and as I dug into this deeper:

If Ning can do it, who will be next?

If Ning can pull off The Ning Violation, why not Facebook or YouTube or Twitter?

Perhaps it is coming, in one way or another. Bit by bit and drip by drip, things will change, they always do. But many have asked this question, faced this scenario head on, and balked.

Why did Ning push the envelop?

Are they in trouble financially?

Hard to say!

But the question I come back to time and again is:

The Ning Violation: Is it Ethical?

This is not what I had intended to write about for this blog today…but I think the question deserved the space.

I hope you agree!

Thank you for taking the time to visit and read this post/rant.

Please, feel free to comment and don’t forget to subscribe…we have an awesome ebook coming out on September 7, 2010 and it is only available to subscribers…free.

John Zajaros
The Ultimate Internet Image
Lakewood, Ohio 44107
216-712-7004
Skype: johnzajaros1

PS, Check out our newest blog at Ultimate Inbound Marketing. It is still young but will grow fast…I hope you will grow with us!

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