Darn. The other day I read that Ning networks will have to be paid for - you can read it for yourself here. Now I always wonder just how all these wonderfully useful sites actually make any money for their creators - how they even pay their way at all - though I know that advertising comes into it. But I'm sad about the Ning story simply because I've just created a new network for a small group doing distance learning for a module on reading the Bible. It's a closed network, so that I have to invite people to join it, and as such provides a safe space for homework, work in progress and discussion about difficulties and enthusiasms.
It is particularly important because the members of this group are scattered over such a wide area, with only two of them even in the same part of Argyll. It would be prohibitively expensive, not to say draining, to meet face-to-face as frequently as the course requires, and it is actually quite difficult to share relatively complex ideas over a telephone conference. The Ning network gives members a chance to experiment with, among other things, writing styles in preparation for the formal assignments which will have to be assessed, and it gave me as facilitator the opportunity to offer a bit of practical help on essay-writing. I have yet to try out the chat facility - haven't managed to coincide online with anyone yet - and would be interested to know if anyone out there has used it. Ideally, it'd be great to be able to be reading someone's stuff and commenting on it live.
I know there are other options for this kind of thing, but I plumped for a Ning because it is relatively unthreatening for people who tend not to use any kind of social networking sites. It doesn't really work for the one person on the course who doesn't yet have broadband, and there are still hiccups with people learning where to put comments, but I was optimistic - until now. The participants on the course have already paid to be on it, and the budget is small. Is it only a matter of time before we have to pay for all our social networking?