It's been some time since I last checked out Ning, Marc Andreesen's latest business project. Last time I really looked, Ning was positioned as a DIY application platform. Today (I was nudged to look), they're in business as a DIY community platform. I like what they are doing for many reasons, but let me sketch out the main points here:
(7) It's DIY. What made blogs take off as a business and social phenomenon is DIY. Ning appears genuinely committed to making communities as easy to develop -- on the tech side -- as blogs. Already they look like the Six Apart of communities (though they compare themselves to Home Depot). Not a bad place to be.
(6) You can customize it. Dead simple, yes, but it would be limited if customers weren't able to customize. Ning is addressing this challenge on several fronts, including a developer program.
(5) Scale means wisdom. Another big plus is the potential scale of the Ning world -- a community of communities. If it grows, as it should, customers will learn from one another, and innovate.
(4) Marc Andreesen is at/near the helm. Generally, I'm not a big fan of celebrity executives. But I believe that Marc's credentials from the Web 1.0 world will give him an interesting platform for the Web 2.0 world. Note: Gina Bianchini is the CEO; would be great to see her emerge as a leader in this market.
(3) Ning builds the platform at the user level. For many reasons -- mostly economic -- we are in a user-centric world, and Ning has figured out that the best way to build its platform is to recruit individuals before they join or build communities. This gives customers the birds-eye view of the Ning landscape, and provides them with options. We can't credit Ning for this idea (others came before them), but they are running with it.
(2) It's cheap. Free at the basic level, $19.95 for the "premium service."
(1) They are providing multiple media formats, at the very beginning. If we have learned anything from the YouTube phenomenon, it's this: lots of people like blogs, but almost everyone loves video. At a time when Web companies are being challenged to look beyond the computer screen and into the larger world of communications, Ning is peeking ahead.
Of course, this doesn't mean that other approaches will not work. And there will be lots of room -- business -- for companies who can help others to build groups, networks, communities. And as I wrote earlier today, technology is not even half of the equation; social media requires social sense, and a Ning community -- like a Typepad blog -- is nothing without that social sense. But as a platfom, Ning looks good from my perspective, and I expect other companies with similar approaches to enter the fray (others are already there).