Ning’s Self-Contradictions

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

About Ning’s decision to scrap free networks and for alternatives to Ning, see End of Free Ning Networks: Live Online Discussion: Apr. 20th.

Three plans

Ning sent an e-mail entitled “Important news about your Ning Network” to Ning network owners on July 28, 2010, telling them about three choices that will remain available to them until August 20, 2010: Mini, Plus and Pro.

Actually, the Mini plan also comes in a for-free version sponsored by Pearson — but only for eligible North American K-12 and Higher-Ed Ning Networks — in spite of all Pearson’s boasting about being

the global leader in educational publishing, providing scientifically research-based print and digital programs to help students learn at their own pace, in their own way.

Whether this Pearson-sponsored Mini version is worth going against the core principle of the Web, i.e., worldwide access to knowledge, is for potentially eligible North American educators to decide.

As to the paying Mini plan, coughing up $2.95 a month or $19.95 a year for the Mini plan may not seem a lot. However, with only 3 text boxes and ONE RSS feed on the homepage, and no possibility to create groups, wog educators excluded from the Pearson-sponsored version might well find it not worth it.

No more Ning Terms of Service…

And then there are the Changes to Ning Terms of Service:

It’s your network: A central premise from the very beginning of our company has been that Ning is an online service provider and that these are your networks. You have the freedom to create and control the content and members on your networks. We have revised our terms to further reflect this central premise and to clarify that it is the Network Creator’s responsibility to manage their networks and members. In keeping with this concept, the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy will no longer persist in the footer of your network. Rather, each network will now have a general set of terms. Soon, Network Creators will be able to customize it to suit their network’s particular design and focus.

In plain English, Ning folks are washing their hands of any liability so you’ll have to carefully check the TOS elaborated by each creator before joining their network.

…but “No Nudity” rule

In spite of the above declaration, though, Ning has now also pronounced a diktat:

No more nudity: We will no longer permit nudity of any kind on the Ning platform. A little over a year and a half ago, we prohibited the upload of adult content and pornography to the Ning platform. At the time, we said that nudity that wasn’t adult in nature would still be allowed. Unfortunately, many of the issues that caused us to stop supporting adult content in the first place are still arising on networks that post content with nudity. We believe that the implementation of this policy will further reduce abuse on the Ning platform and will create a clean, well-lit environment for Network Creators as well as the advertisers and partners you choose to work with. Network Creators and members will have thirty days (until August 20th) to remove any nudity they may have uploaded to the Ning Platform prior to today or to transition their networks off of the platform.

This “no nudity” rule makes it hard to use a Ning network for science or art education. And it is also silly because, by having this rule, they are giving up the privilege of provider’s neutrality, i.e. they will have to take action any time someone reports a nude pic, maybe after having planted it themselves in the network of someone else they don’t like. There was plenty of that going on in the old MSN communities/groups.

Detail from Botticelli's Birth of Venus, with naked breast covered  by Ning Logo

In the — now closed — comments to the Changes to Ning Terms of Service announcement, most people had a field day ridiculing this “no nudity” rule. However, some, who have already paid for a network because they believed Ning’s declaration that it would be “[their] network,” where they were going to “have the freedom to create and control the content,” seem not pleased at all — even though “Jenny,” apparently a member of the Ning team, wrote:

If you decide that you won’t be able to operate within our new policy, we’d be happy to issue you a refund.

But what about compensation for the time wasted in adding content to a network on the basis of Ning’s declarations prior to this “no nudity” ukase?

The quotation from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself at the beginning is  great poetry. Whether it  makes a sensible road map for a social network platform like Ning remains to be seen. Especially the part about containing multitudes.

4 Responses

  1. After the comments to the Changes to Ning Terms of Service announcement of July 20, 2010 were closed on the same day, a new discussion was started by BadBoyRalphy on July 29, 2010: TOS. Ning has now closed this discussion too.

    The conversation about Ning’s Terms of Service is presently going on in Jaap Verduijn’s Private Community for Niche Marketers, in its Ning Creators group (see Worried about NC’s position on NINGarchived 2010-08-03).

    However, Jaap is also using Private Community for Niche Marketers to test Ning’s enforcement of its “no nudity” diktat:

    I’ve noticed on the “official” Ning forum that many, many Network Creators feel the same way I do. Many threads are going on about the subject, threads that are either closed or deleted by Ning instead of dealing with the problems the NC’s have with the recent ukase. Art sites, photography sites, sites about traditional African cultures, and many others will either have to move, take the majority of their pictures off, or be deleted by the Ning morality police.

    I don’t accept such a situation: I will leave Ning. In order to save myself the trouble to delete this community I have posted the animated gif above [FlashTits1.gif], which will serve a double purpose. Firstly it shows that I consider tits delightful (happy grin!), and secondly it will induce Ning to delete this site instead of me having to do it.

    So maybe that site will get closed by Ning. But maybe the TOS issue does not need to be further discussed.

    By now, Ning administrators have amply demonstrated that paying for a Ning network is a high risk investment as the TOS on the basis of which you decided to do so might change at any moment, making your use of the network impossible.

    By censoring discussions on said TOS, they have also amply demonstrated that Ning is not a social networking platform that might be used for educational purposes. Notwithstanding all the cant by Derek Zabbia from Ning and Steven Gross from Pearson about wanting to learn from educators in order to offer them a better service in their interview by Steve Hargadon on July 19, 2010 (recordings available from his Alternative Social Networking Platforms for Education 2010-07-20).

  2. Jaap Verduijn has transfered his Private Community for Niche Marketers (URL: http://www.fornichemarketers.net) Ning network (mentioned in the previous comment) to Nifty Network for Nice Niche Marketers (URL: http://www.fornichemarketers.org, a Joomla!-powered site. It has a Forum, with a board for Ning-related issues.

  3. Jaap Verduijn has been suspended from Ning Creator‘s forum. However, all his contributions to this forum are still online: full, impressive list at http://creators.ning.com/forum/topic/listForContributor?user=jaapverduijn.

    The paradox is that Jaap has been a staunch supporter of Ning, even in its decision to drop free networks. As a Ning network creator, he did bitingly criticize the “no nudity” diktat, and beside the point answers from the Ning team in that forum. See e.g. his last contribution, in the Admin needs help re. paying (archived at http://www.webcitation.org/5ruezUi2G:

    Eric, as happened so many times before, you don’t reply to the person’s question but to what you think is the person’s question.

    He states that in his Network’s “Donationans PayPal fund” is not (yet) sufficient money to pay for a full year. His question: Can we pay whatever there is in the fund and let it cover whatever period of time it would correspond to? Correct answer: No.

    The above being impossible and monthly payments becoming necessary, he is concerned that the NC who controls the “Fund Paypal Account” should take action every month to pay. Correct answer: No, don’t worry – it’s a subscription system and the monthly payments are made automatically.

    Your original “answer” being useless because utterly irrelevant, I hope the above paragraphs are a bit more useful.

    This kind of nonsense, Eric, causes what you call my “unrelenting negativity” towards the happenings here at Ning. If you would first read what people ask, then think about, it, and finally produce some relevant answer, a lot of complaints and negativity would be forestalled.

    As for myself: please stop sending me irritating PM’s about my “negativity”. Firstly because it takes time and brainpower away from your real job, secondly because at the end of this month I’ll be gone from Ning anyway.

    As always: be well!

    Jaap Verduijn.

    I haven’t been sent any personal messages about my “negativity”, though I have been at least as critical as Jaap. Should I feel offended?

  4. Update: Eric Suesz has now called me a troll in a private message (archived with Diigo).

    Thus I don’t feel discriminated anymore. Yet if Eric Suesz objects to my reply in End User Guide question, it would be nice if he – or someone else from the Ning team – answered if. And this also obtains for my own question about suspended members’ content and network data, triggered off by the case of Jaap Verduijn’s contributions still being displayed on Ning Creators after his suspension (see previous comment).

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