Ning just announced that it is phasing out its free service in May. This cut is apparently part of an effort to retool the company. Ning is also laying off a whopping 41 percent of its employees. Ning posted the announcement in its forum:

So, we are going to change our strategy to devote 100% of our resources to building the winning product to capture this big opportunity. We will phase out our free service. Existing free networks will have the opportunity to either convert to paying for premium services, or transition off of Ning. We will judge ourselves by our ability to enable and power Premium Ning Networks at huge scale. And all of our product development capability will be devoted to making paying Network Creators extremely happy.

That hurts. The educational community has embraced the free service–so much so that there is a petition that you should sign if you want to keep using Ning in your classrooms. I am skeptical that the petition will work, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

You can also take a look at the Google Doc co-authored by a number of Ning Network Creators. It outlines some possible alternatives to Ning. I’ll definitely be posting any alternatives I find here, since I have used Ning for multiple classes, conferences, and organizations, including the MCTE Ning. I wonder what the English Companion Ning is going to do?

Read more about it in the Wall Street Journal.