In 2005, in the height of Myspace’s social networking boost, Ning launched it’s DIY social networking website, allowing anyone with an interest to create a specialized networking site for others that might be interested in the same thing. The sites offered many of the same features that Myspace had including personalized profiles, personal blogs, forums, chat, groups, music, video and photo sharing, and the ability for users to add their own widgets and other internet gadgets. The site helped people of many different interests, especially Wiccans, Pagans and other magickal practitioners, to create very special and unique homes for those of like mind looking for an online community of their own. As of July, that will all be gone for most of those groups unless they want to shell out some big bucks.
Some Pagan sites on Ning like PaganSpace.net and WitchSchool’s online social network will survive and thrive. They have strong advertising campaigns in place and membership incentives that have been working for them for some time, however those created by the average person not looking to create a mega-network or looking to make money off their ventures will probably find themselves out in the cold in a few months. And those who enjoy these sites will be without a home soon unless they want to join some of these larger, established sites. Some sites are working hard to try and get their members on board with small yearly membership fees, trying to get them to make daily visits to their sites clicking on per-click Google ads, and seeking out donations and advertisers as quickly as possible to see if they’ll be able to sustain for another six months to a year. And that was before Ning even announced their new pricing plan!
Ning has always offered a variety of “premium” services for a price, and those prices went up over the years. They have ranged from $5 to $25 a month for things like priority branding (losing the Ning logos), using your own domain name, and having control over the ads that are on your group. Now the site will offer plans at a monthly rate ranging from $2.95 to $49.95 a month with their Ning Mini, Ning Plus and Ning Pro plans. The difference between the three is significant enough that it will really hit those small, independent groups hard. The Ning Mini plan is $2.95 a month however you are limited to 150 members on your site, no control over branding on your site, you will access to music sharing, chat and groups, loss of advanced customization (no custom CSS, logos, graphics, etc), no premium support (community support only meaning you can post to a community area for site owners if you have questions or problems and hope those in the community can help). The Ning Plus, which runs $19.95 a month, is a massive jump in service; the member limit is lifted, the branding control is granted, you are given access to Ning apps for your page as well as all the standard features while music and groups are given back to you as well, CSS customization returns and the ability to run your own adds along with using your own domain name and the removal of all the Ning links is given to you. This is more what many site users and networks creators are used to, but currently they pay little to nothing for it. Now you’ll have to pay over $200 a year to have that freedom with your social network.
Many of the Pagan themed Ning sites I am part of are either shutting down (which I will be doing with my own Ning network that I have had since 2007) or they are moving on to other networking sites that offer free services on par in many cases with what Ning is taking away from their current users. One of these sites, Spurz.com, is happily helping Ning’s free site refugees come over and transition to their site, offering a migration script and everything. This could be where many of the Wiccan and Pagan sites that have been run as free sites will find themselves in the next few months. The nice thing is that Spurz offers a search feature, something that Ning took away some months ago, so even if you’re not migrating a site, you can go there and do some searches for groups that might interest you.
Will this hurt social networking for Pagans? I think it might for those that want to start something of their own who don’t have the money or advertisers to be able to afford their own site, but I think that large groups like PaganSpace, who will have no problem with the new changes that Ning is making, will grow and become even more relevant to the community. With this change to Ning and the closing of Covenspace earlier this year, sites like Spurz will happily welcome those looking to persevere through their attempts at independent social networking and the number of Pagan and magickal sites there are sure to grow by leaps and bounds through the rest of the year.