Friday, August 20, 2010

Last Day of Free Ning Networks - What Should You Choose?

Today is the last day of free Ning Networks. To date I’ve mostly considered other hosted options to replace Ning, however, recently I was challenged as to why I prefer a hosted platform vs self-hosted. The answer is simple. Because they’re free and easy. Of course on the other side of the issue is any platform that is free today can be gone tomorrow or charge tomorrow. Network creators affected by the Ning disaster know this first hand.

However, like a breakup with a significant other, I don’t see all other service providers through scorned eyes. I’d like to believe there are other companies like Wikispaces and Google Apps for Ed who really do believe in free for educators...and not faux free like Ning i.e. you can get for free something that isn’t really enough for most of you, but we’ll look good and so will Pearson. So I wrote this post The Innovative Educator’s Learning Network (Alternatives to Ning) Top Picks where I suggest my top picks which are hosted and this post Death of Freemiums at Ning Could Mean Better Opportunities for Schools where I also explore the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) and suggest some ways we can use learning networks with pre-teens.

For most network creators, I’m still love struck enough with the “free for educators” idea and believe that we can trust sites like Grou.ps, especially when enough educators hop on board, but clearly if they go the way of Ning, I’d readjust my thinking. The other issue is the superior level of customization and integration that is available with self-hosted platforms. The downside of this is that to realize the benefits you need to 1) have a higher level of techspertise then many of us (including me have) and 2) It requires installation in your own web server or that of your web hosting provider. So while the software is free, you will still have to spend for web hosting to be able to maintain an online community site. Typical cost is between $4-$7 per month and gives you unlimited storage, bandwidth, emails, and access to simple scripts, a one button tool for installing the latest open source software for everything from project management to wikis to survey/form software and more.

So, while I’ve dug my heals into the ground picking free and easy, I realized it was time to look more closely at the self-hosted solution, but where to start? I have no experience with a self-hosted solution so I asked the brilliant and knowledge members of my personal learning network to contribute their input in a Google doc as I recently shared in my post The PLN Matures. The Progression of the 21st Century Personal Learning Network.

Here is the result which you can see live (and even contribute to) by clicking on the chart below.



Special thanks to @funnymonkey, @don_watkins, Evan O’Donnell, Jim McDermott and all the others who you can see in the revision history of the comparison document. You can read a more detailed analysis of which solution to select over at The Techomnivore in his piece, “For your educational network, personal learnin network, or special interest social network, you’re missing an opportunity if you leap from ning to another hosted service before fully considering Buddypress.”
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