Ning, Glam, and the future of the Offbeat Bride Tribe

By on Sep 21st

Fall of 2007, I read an article about a service called Ning, an out-of-the-box social media platform. I thought "Huh, that sounds interesting. Offbeat Bride readers have been asking for a forum. Maybe I'll fiddle with Ning for a bit."

That passing curiosity lead to four years, 20,000+ members, and a LOT of frustration. The concept behind Ning was indeed interesting — a hosted social network that anyone can set up. It's got blogs, forums, events, groups, member networking, yadda yadda. It all sounds quite good. Unfortunately, however, the execution of Ning's feature set has always left a lot to be desired. Also unfortunately, once I set up the Offbeat Bride community, my readers (now members) made it immediately clear that they LOVED IT, and would kill me in my sleep if I ever took it away. Ha ha ha? Actually, I'm only half kidding. I've heard again and again that the Offbeat Bride blog is fine, but what people REALLY love is the Offbeat Bride Tribe. Which is stuck on Ning.

I say "stuck" because platform-wise, Ning is what's known as a walled garden — as a Ning network creator, I'm at the whim of what Ning's developers decide to prioritize. I can customize a few things, but most functions are set by Ning's engineers. The company has gone through some serious rocky periods over the last few years (laying off 40% of their staff being just one example) and development has been agonizing and slow. Significant bugs (like forum threads reappearing after repeatedly being deleted) linger for 6-8 months, and feature requests go ignored for years. (Example: shouldn't I be able to move a forum thread called "Question for Seattle brides?" into the Pacific Northwest group? 'Cuz I can't.) Support is shoddy, export tools are weak, and it's generally half-awful.

Last year, fed up beyond measure, I invested thousands of dollars in investigating moving my community off Ning… but ultimately the sacrifices (basically, we'd have to start from scratch) just weren't worth it. (Related note: HURRY THE FUCK UP, BUDDYPRESS DEVELOPERS.) For now, the Tribe is stuck on Ning, held hostage by poor export tools, at the whim of developers who may or may not care about my community's needs.

And then yesterday, it was announced that Ning was purchased for $150 million. By who, you might ask? By Glam Media, the company that made Offbeat Mama profitable. Based on my experiences with Glam, I'm trying to feel optimistic. They're a company with a lot of resources, and maybe they'll finally empower Ning's developers to start making Ning suck less. As a longtime Ning user, I guess that's what it's come to: please, just make this service I'm stuck with suck less.

My hopes are for improved developer response to feature requests from Ning network creators. I'm hoping for easily integrated CPM advertising from Glam. I'd love access to Ning developers who could be hired to develop custom tool sets for my community. I'm hoping for improved export tools. I'm hoping for updates to Ning's clunky back-end management tools. I'm hoping for bugs that get fixed, and feature requests that get delivered.

My fingers are seriously crossed. Bailing on Ning completely always remains an option, of course — a painful, expensive, drastic option. But I'd love it if the service just stopped sucking, and started living up to the promise it had four years ago, and I could finally stop answering Tribe member questions with answers like "Erm, well, see… I can't actually fix that thing you're complaining about, because Ning sucks…"

This is all to say, COME ON, GLAM! Let's make Ning not suck. Let me know if there's anything I can do to help.

Update
I realized that in writing this post I failed to acknowledge the genuinely positive experience I had working with Ning's product managers on their recently-launched Paid Access feature. I was an alpha tester on the feature this spring, and worked pretty closely with the product's team of engineers and managers… and the exchanges I had with these folks were seriously the best Ning encounters I've had in YEARS, and gave me a lot of hope that good things may be afoot behind the scenes. Paid Access is how I operate the Bridechilla eCourse we've started offering, and it's been a big success. No denying it's been a long, frustrating road with Ning, but this experience was solid — and could bode well for improvements to come!

Follow-up

January 2012, I made the decision to abandon Ning and migrate my 21,000 members to a custom-built BuddyPress Community. Read more.