About a month ago we started to see some announcements from Ning that made us wonder whether trouble was brewing. Today Ning announced the end of their long time free online community service and a cut of nearly half of their staff. Although this bodes well for other online community platforms, there are a lot of nervous Ning customers out there today – some of our clients included.
Given today’s events, I thought I would take a moment to discuss one of the core values of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS): Free. As in Libre.
Free as in Libre
The “Free” in FOSS is not a reference to cost (although there’s no licensing fee, a sizable advantage, there are implementation and maintenance costs) but, rather, a reference to free as in “without restriction.” Although there are many different licenses, open source generally gives the user the right to deploy and improve the software without restriction.
- Deploy the software on a server of their choice
- Customize the software to meet their requirements
- Access all source code and data at any time
Why Does it Matter?
It matters because it puts you in control, not your software. If your hosting provider goes out of business, you are free to move to another provider. If you are unhappy with your implementation provider, you are free to move to another vendor. If you get tired of your system and want to move to a new one, you are free to extract your data and move it around as needed.
That’s not to imply that such tasks are easily accomplished by non-technical staff, but the option is always there, and in some cases, quite simple with the right set of skills.
Today’s announcement by Ning is making a lot of customers uneasy. Ning customers are faced with a situation where:
- Their software is owned and operated by a struggling company, and cannot be moved to a new provider.
- Virtually any customization completed on their software is written for a proprietary system and will not be portable to another platform.
- There is no clear path for Ning customers to move all of their data to a new system.
What Should Worried Ning Customers Do?
Consider open source, of course! Drupal and BuddyPress are highly scalable, viable platforms for building online communities. So reliable, in fact, that we’re seeing very high profile installations of these platforms being deployed constantly.
The BuddyPress and Drupal development communities are already gearing up for the anticipated Ning exodus. In fact, just this afternoon, BuddyPress developer Boone Gorges announced the development of a Ning to BuddyPress member import tool on Twitter. Expect to see similar announcements from a variety of sources over the coming weeks.
Alternatives like BuddyPress and Drupal are certainly not Free, as in cost. They are Free as in Libre. If you’re considering either of these open source options, we’d love to speak with you: you can reach me at 401-228-7660 x1.
By Chris Murray
Chris has started several companies and been involved in sales, marketing, and product development strategy for several others. He has spent nearly fifteen years working with web technologies on projects of all shapes and sizes.