Ning announced that they will be phasing out free accounts, part of their shakeup of the company. If you used the service for your school, you'll have to pony up or lose the data that your social network has created.
Ning joins many other popular services, such as Gabcast and Yahoo's Geocities that have discontinued free services. This is the day of reckoning that all the web 2.0 companies will eventually face. Starting off free to drive up traffic, they have to find what their funding source will be. Twitter recently announced they will be using "sponsored tweets" as advertising to drive up revenue so that the basic service is still free for users. Of course, that is what Ning tried to do as well.
This will probably be a bigger blow to Iowa schools than it should be. Ning, while extremely easy to use, never had "must-have" features for social networking. Regardless, many schools started their own Ning among teachers, and there are also several statewide Nings tied to teacher organizations. Will those teachers find Ning indispensable that they will pay for it? Will they make a jump to the cheapest alternative? Or, will they figure the bump in the road isn't worth it, because the next free option will dry up in a few months anyways.
Given how we were having a breakthrough year in Iowa with the social networking of teachers, the timing couldn't be worse. Social networking is crucial to 21st century professional development. Just another reason that the expense for Iowa to create a home-grown social networking engine would be well-worth the cost.