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Ning Comparison

Posted by Dave Richards on May 13, 2010 10:40 AM EDT
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Read the fine print

We have attributes like Ning but MANY differences.. I feel the need to clarify this after several people recently commented, "aren't you pretty much the same thing as Ning". We're not. If you're some one who's forming something like an online garden club, the differences likely don't matter much.  But, if you're a business, the differences matter A LOT.    Let me focus on just two. 

First, Ning's CEO is Mark Andreesen. World re-knowned technologist.  Concursive's is me.  Second, Ning effectively owns everything you do in their environment (they're actually really smart though, so they don't say it that way) we don't. Your stuff is your stuff.

#1:  CEOs 

From wikipedia:  "Mark Andreesen is an American entrepreneur, investor, startup coach, blogger, and a multi-millionaire software engineer best known as co-author of Mosaic, the first widely-used web browser, and founder of Netscape Communications Corporation.

I'm not even in Wikipedia.  The most prominent David Richards is some old race car driver in England. They clearly win in that regard.

#2:  Your Content

We're a software company.  If you deploy a community, aggregate a number of users (employees, customers, vendors...) put in a lot of really interesting content, we have no rights to any of that.  Period. It would be pretty presumptuous, some might call it over-reaching, to claim otherwise.

Consider Ning's "Terms of Service" agreement. Carefully read Section 5 as it relates to Content. Actually, you don't even need to be that careful with a passage like this:

You hereby grant Ning, during the course of your usage of the Ning Platform, a nonexclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, sublicenseable and transferable right and license to (i) use, reproduce, create derivative works of, distribute, publicly perform and publicly display Your Content (a) for the sole purpose of operating and making Your Content available on the Ning Platform and in all current and future media in which the Ning Platform may now or hereafter be distributed or transmitted or (b) for our internal business purposes; and (ii) disclose metrics regarding Your Content on an aggregated basis for advertising, marketing and business development purposes. If you wish to grant Users or the general public additional licenses to Your Content, please include the license terms with Your Content. Without limiting the foregoing, Ning reserves the right to retain copies of Content for archival purposes after termination of the Agreement.

Think about that if you're a business and you're putting in anything approaching sensitive or proprietary information. I had to underline that one section above as you can drive a truck through that hole from an IP/rights point of view.  Does this passage imply that they could take your content and create a new web community aggregated with others like you? Thereby maybe even competing against you with your own content? And charge for it?  It doesn't imply it, it says they can; that's what a "derivative work" is.  What about if you put in financial data, forecasts, employee comments, or god knows what else, could they repackage those?  Yup.

Now to be fair, the paragraph in the license prior to what I quoted does say that Ning doesn't "own" your content.  What they've done is much more clever -- like I said, they're smart. They've reserved the right to pretty much do anything they want with what you own. So, it's even better than ownership. Consider this twist; if what you put in is wrong, slanderous or defamatory, and they were to create a derivative work from it, it appears (though I'm no lawyer) that they probably don't even "own" the liability around that.  You do, you're the author.  What irony.

Finally, Ning has thrown you a bone.  When you're NOT using their system, they can't use your content. Yeh, I had to read that one twice, too.  Why would one even suppose they could or would.  Think I'm making this all up?  Read it for yourself.  Or better still, have your counsel give you feedback. 

Which Leads Me To...

... what must have been an intereting revelation. Our largest customer (a global products company) came to us from Ning after their legal and compliance folks read the fine print pertaining to this cool, free system that a number of their internal work groups had organically begun using. One can imagine their chagrin when they realized Ning's terms of use allowed the content their financial folks were collaborating on could actually be shared.  Not that Ning would necessarily do so, but they can. Maybe it's just me, but I'm not that trusting.

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Ning doesn't cut it does it?

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Joe Antle

8 years ago

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