Ning Has Eviscerated Their Platform

On October 21st, 2008 Ning announced that they would no longer allow Network Creators to customize the functionality of their Ning sites via PHP development. The only option to add new features is now through OpenSocial Applications. And the only way to modify existing features is through a limited set of configuration options. Ning has removed all direct access to your PHP pages, CSS files, and even images and JavaScript resources. SFTP access was removed a while ago but now WebDAV access is gone as well. This has effectively eviscerated the Ning platform because it is no longer customizable enough to be considered a platform. What you have now is a web application that is set in stone. You can add a few widgets but they don’t change the core functionality. Ning even shut down their REST API so any web application that made use of that API will no longer work.

Ning’s excuse is that this will make it easier to customize a Ning site without programming. However, this is only true in that they drastically reduced the number of options available to you and give you far less control over your site. That is like saying we’ll make it easier for you to buy a car by allowing you to visit just one car dealer with only last year’s models on the lot and no dealer options. Ning has made it easier for themselves to maintain their web application without worrying about breaking custom functionality that Network Creators may have developed but at the expense of other developers.

So PHP developers who gained expertise in customizing the Ning platform have wasted their time. Fortunately, in working on the Vloggerheads Ning site I focused on improving my PHP skills and developed some features without relying too much on Ning’s implementation details. We were also given WebDAV access so I could upgrade the site without losing our customizations for vlogging. But this marks the end of any custom PHP development for Vloggerheads. We are now limited to improving the design through CSS and maybe we can develop a custom widget. OpenSocial Applications are being adopted by many social networking platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn so I may invest some time in learning how to create them.

The Elgg Social Networking platform now looks like the best bet for creating a fully customizable social networking site. However it lacks a decent video plugin to support interaction through vlogging. In my opinion, video is crucial to online social interaction. All forms of interaction through text are far less effective in forming real relationships between users. I will attempt to create a sophisticated video plugin for Elgg which will support video responses, comment threading, subscriptions, and embedding control. These are all features that YouTube offers its users and which were missed on Vloggerheads.

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