Back before Facebook really took off, people were all abuzz about Ning, a social network co-founded by Marc Andreessen and Gina Bianchini in 2004 that raised more than $100 million in its first five years. But the site hit the social market perhaps a little too soon, and has largely faded from prominence, having been acquired by Glam Media in September 2011 and made various attempts at a comeback.
Now, Glam is trying another such iteration, re-vamping Ning for the modern social era as a personal blogging platform for brands and people to pull together their existing social media followers in one place. But while the concept itself isn’t a bad idea, it’s definitely a crowded arena for Ning to enter — and the site will be charging users to boot.
WordPress and Tumblr are still huge for traditional blogging, and sites like Medium, Branch, Quora, and LinkedIn have all moved into the publishing area as well recently. (I expressed some skepticism about Quora’s move into publishing recently, and Quora is free.)
Ning’s general manager Bernard Desarnauts described it to me as the place where someone with a lot of existing social media followers would bring them together for discussion on one platform, and allow the brand to not worry as much about building new followers on the social media site of the moment. He said Ning still has about 60 million monthly active users.
“Ning itself was not a bad idea, it was just way too early. This notion of people really understanding the power of social, and the ability to commit the time and resources, which was the core of what Ning offers, was too early five or six years ago,” he said. “But publishing is key to social. While the previous version of Ning was very much about community, we’ve really focused this new version of Ning around content publishing, but also how you intertwine publishing with community.”
However, at this point investing in Twitter and Facebook (with its 1 billion active users) as a social media strategy seems like a pretty solid plan for most people. And Ning will likely have difficulties getting users to pay for its service when it’s not exactly an established platform, although it is offering modern publishing features like responsive design and analytics. However, the fact that Ning is moving to a blogging platform as a plan for making money certainly indicates that social companies see publishing as a solid bet, a larger trend that my colleague Mathew Ingram wrote about. Maybe it’s a sign that content is getting cool.