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

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.

  1. Pretty, pretty please, Glam?
    Yeah. The back end of Ning is… awful. For any of you members out there, trust us when we say we spend a lot of time just dealing with that, with things we can't do, that don't work or things we can't find. It's frustrating but we do our best. I too hope that Glam gives the Ning platform a good kick in the pants so we can just have a functional network that doesn't make us want to tear our hair out without Ariel putting in crazy amounts of money and time to relocate us.

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  2. It just occurred to me while reading this: Is this why there is no "tribe" feature on Mama or Home? Because you don't want to develop another forum in Ning? I personally would love more tribe features on the other Empire sites, and wondered why they weren't there.

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  3. May I ask what features you need that Buddypress does not have currently?

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    • The most obvious is powerful privacy options. Tribe members are adamant about the community being private, and at this point privacy features are still on the BudddyPress roadmap… coming someday, as they have been for a year and a half.

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  4. Are all 20,000+ active members? It can be a bit frustrating sometimes (like A LOT of stuff on Ning) when there are profiles from '07 and the user hasn't contributed for years. Frustrating, because it makes ot difficult to network with other brides. I doubt there's any solution to this, but it would be nice if there were archives for such profiles. Anyway, it comes down to being more curious than anything.

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    • In a given month, we usually have 10,000 unique visitors. Some of these uniques include members visiting from work and home computers, so let's say maybe 6000 active members each month? Still pretty significant.

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  5. In light of this posting, let me just say thank you thank you thank you for dealing with all the obstacles anyway and providing us with this amazing forum!

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  6. I have been trying to fix an issue on my NING for 9 months. Today, I was banned from NING Creator for saying NING Sucks. Ning sucks. I am not allowed to invite anyone, and I have not reached the 20.000 limit for the owner which is totally none of their business. Now member can only invite 200 and can not invite from their Outlook or Linked Address books. Only Admin can but NING support does not even know that, as they say they can not let anyone do this. NING service is terrible I am Pro. I complain and I get banned by Eric Suesz

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