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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. If one uses Ning, whatever developed on Ning is owned by Ning and that code can be sent to any user of Ning. what if a startup wants to use Ning. we dont want others to use the code we develop. what if we want to use other servers like amazon s3 for some reason later. how hard is it to move it out to amazon s3. ?


  2. Ning is amazing. But people should note the key strategic change in focus that recently came about. It’s purely on social networks not on the older apps like classifieds, and the associated developers that like to tweak (although you can get access to the new code base the architecture has changed and there’s no docs for the new arch from what I can see – not sure if they’ll be created since there’s no dev focus anymore -Gina?).
    With the new direction, as long as you can stay within the confines of the configurable properties without coding you are laughing (and hopefully the amount of configuration will only increase).
    There’s still a need for the other types of apps like classifieds and others that can benefit from being cloneable and tweakable – hopefully someone will pick up where Ning left off…

  3. My sense of the future is that platforms like Ning are enabling niche social networks to be easily created. It’s the next step beyond the behemoth myspace, youtube, etc sites not to mention too many teenyboppers. ;o) It gets tough to keep that sense of community (I have no sense with these sites) and the searching becomes problematic (too many videos, etc).
    This wave of web innovation seems to be companies providing platforms, widgets and other tools to allow others to create, combine and innovate. I’m loving all the widgets, libraries and things that are enabling the creative process in all of us.

  4. Ivan — if you mean that maps aren’t present in the new “build your own social network” path, that’s true, but they’ll be back… would love any thoughts you have on what aspects of maps are most interesting for the kind of social network you want to build.

    Maps continue to work in the older/existing apps same as always.

    Thanks for the feedback!