Blog Post

Ning: let ‘000 Social Nets Bloom

Ning, thanks to the pedigree of its co-founder, Marc Andreessen, has been under close scrutiny by the Silicon Valley cognoscenti. The Palo Alto-based start-up has played its cards close to its chest, a move that has left many scratching their heads and wondering what is Ning.

Ning has built a platform that allowed everyone (from novices to super geeks) build social media applications. Ning’s strategy at best could be described as quixotic.

Marc Andreessen (CTO) and Gina Bianchini (CEO) are betting that Ning 2.0 will help lift the mists of confusion. The company has taken its wide array of offerings – video aggregation, photo albums, weblogs, forums, sausages and sauerkraut – and has come up with what amounts to a 15-minute Social Network.

Instead of doing too many things, the latest iteration of Ning is focused, simple and streamlined. The ease with which one can get going is one of the most impressive aspects of the service. TechCrunch has a detailed review of its functionality.

Don’t take my word for it, and try it for yourself. Social networking is a very personal experience, and what makes sense to me, may not necessarily be logical to you.

“Today’s social networking services are fantastic, but they are very similar in approach to AOL, CompuServe, and Prodigy in the early nineties. They have a fixed and rigid view of what people can do,” says Marc Andreessen, co-founder and CTO of Ning.

The analogy is apropos, for there are some of us who believe that the social networks are getting rapidly commoditized, and becoming what amounts to being a feature. That is not necessarily a bad thing – since it means the focus is squarely on the vibrancy of community.

Ning 2.0 is also a challenge to current crop of blogging tools that are still not waking to the new reality, and continue to live like content management systems. The big challenge for Ning will be to get mass adoption, for upon that “adoption” hinges its business model.

The company plans to charge $19.95 a month if you want to run your own ads (or no ads at all). Your own domain will cost $4.95 a month, and a package of 5 GB storage/100 GB of bandwidth is going to cost $9.95 a month. At these prices, Ning will need thousands of social networks before it can join an elite network of start-ups of recent vintage that are profitable.

56 Responses to “Ning: let ‘000 Social Nets Bloom”

  1. Hey Kyle!

    Like I said on Techcrunch, I know it’s launch day and usually I’m more patient but the problem is that I’m so excited about Ning that I can’t wait to set up my new site. I’m sure you guys will provide a great service and you must have suffered from the Slashdot/Gigaom/Techcrunch traffic effect. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been reloading my ning page every 10 seconds to see if it was fixed :-)

    Anyway, thanks for your quick reply and your support.


  2. Phil- We haven’t seen this issue but obviously we want to address it for you immediately. We’ll find your support email now and get you fixed up. Our apologies on the delay, we’ll have you back in action ASAP.

    Kyle Ford
    Product Manager, Ning

  3. It will be a great service when it will work. I’ve set up a site this morning, and paid for some premium features. After I went back to customize my site, the layout was all messed up. I did NOT try to change anything in the customization page yet, so the problem is not on my end. Anyway, I sent an email to the support team 5 hours ago and I’m still waiting for an answer as I write this.

    I know it’s launch day but I actually paid to use this service and it’s not working.


  4. This is another example of “social networking features” becoming a key component of other product offerings.

    We have adopted a similar approach at and are excited to see users creating highly customized group websites. The social networking components are becoming an expected part of any website.

  5. Hi C,

    It all depends on the owner of that specific SocNet on Ning.

    When the owner of the network pays for the premium service he is paying to take off Ning`s ads, what he will put as a replacement is totally up to him, banner, ad sense, partners videos on a html textbox, etc…

  6. Patrick,

    You’re telling us :-)

    It’s not a scalability and load issue. We have a classic launch day bug that we took Ning down as soon as we saw it, fixed and are now back up.

    If we’re not perfect, at least we’re responsive!

  7. Nice to see Marc and Gina participating in this discussion! Good luck guys.

    Also nice to see that your teddy monkey engineers have exactly the Mac setup I have (MacBook Pro with menu bar on external Apple Display and Parallels). But seriously, why is the site down. Seems a strange time of day to take it down (11:30 -5 GMT).

  8. Steve,

    By no means are we suggesting that we ONLY want to target based on topics or keywords. We agree with you that there’s a huge opportunity to combine targeting based on topics with much more sophisticated psychographic and behavioral advertising targeting.


  9. G-

    You are right that when you play around with your site on Ning that it counts as a page view. When someone sets up a MySpace page and edits it, MySpace counts those as page views as well :-)

    We try to calculate only the page views that could result in advertising opportunities for either Ning or your own social network on Ning.

    It’s pretty standard, but I can appreciate the fact that you wanted to just see page views generated by other people, not you. It’s definitely feedback we’ll can take and add into the metrics we provide Network Creators as we make them more sophisticated in the coming months.

    With all of this said, I don’t think that we’re misleading anyone on metrics and think the musician who is excited about his own social website or network should be!

  10. Marc states: “This is in contrast to MySpace/Facebook where the primary orientation is around personal profiles — which are harder to advertise against than topics or locations.”

    Actually, Marc, this won’t be the case once such social networks; and really, anyone wise enough to use personal profiles; takes advantage of the patent pending (#11/250,908) paid match ad platform…where the use and availability of such personal profiles will enable advertisers; of all sizes, revenues and ad sophistication; to quickly and easily select and bid directly on the actual demographic and psychographic traits and characteristics (keytraits) of their most desired customers and clients.

    Ning looks and sounds like an excellent product, and I wish you all the best in making it a big success…but tartgeting based merely on topics and/or geography…simply won’t hold a candle to targeting with personal profiles via paid match.

    Believe it or not, Marc, even paid search could find itself in trouble…

  11. I have used Ning – and besides the fact that it is easy to sign up – there is far more to be desired from a platform for building social networks. Even their stats counter was flawed. Everytime I played around with the code – the darn thing registered as a “hit” on my site. I like to see my social network get the numbers – but not by faking “hundreds” of hits.

    A few weeks ago I read about an independent muscian who was ecstatic about the hits on his Ning site right after he set up on Ning – that’s is plain misleading some poor guy trying to make a living.

    Sorry to harsh OM. The same goes to Brother Arrington on TechCrunch. As you put it – “Ning’s strategy at best could be described as quixotic.”

    I see Marc & Gina are busy posting on the TC this morning – hope they sccot over to GigaOM and share their wisdom.

  12. But what happened to the Maps? My old Ning site has a map mashup from Google – and my new one, which is geographically based – has no sign of maps at all. I need the map functionality. Where have the maps gone? (Marc?)

  13. Yes. And running Google Adsense is very clever as this will make sure that the ads are targeted and localized.

    And no, they do not need many networks – they just need enough people not paying the price for getting rid of the advertisement because then they can make money from the niche content. :)

  14. Vish — that is correct :-) — we are seeing that most of the social networks created on Ning are around some topic or location — whether it’s windsurfing or American Idol or Austin Texas. Ads are automatically targeted against those topics/locations (courtesy AdSense).

    This is in contrast to MySpace/Facebook where the primary orientation is around personal profiles — which are harder to advertise against than topics or locations.

  15. I’m trying to understand why would Ning’s advertising clients would want to advertise on a Ning user’s social network unless this particular user’s soc. network has some niche content/big traffic./some value. something missing ??

  16. yes, i want to build my entire social network on a platform that andreeson can sell advertising on. that way, i can manage to contribute something to andreeson’s financial well-being – seeing how he is strapped for cash and all.