23:03 PM

2.27.07 Ning: Both a platform and easy-to-use site tool

Judging from Ning.com's response time this morning - which is to say, no response - I'd say Marc Andreessen's social networking company either has a bright future because so many people are interested or a dim one because their servers are so unprepared for news-day stress. So we must trust in reviewers who got a look at it last night.

Michael Arrington must be relieved because he so hates to dis Web2 apps and just a month year ago he was forced to call it DOA. But amazing things have happened:

Ning relaunches tonight with new functionality and an interface that allows even the most novice of web users to create their own highly customized social network in moments. ... I’m now willing to offer a full mea culpa. The new Ning is an impressive and useful service.

Om says the new service is focused, simple and streamlined.

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.

In the TechCrunch comments, a user named Drama 2.0 raised this issue:

I consider Ning to be the Ezboard of social networks. For those who are unfamiliar with Ezboard, it’s a service which enables anybody to set up a free message board. I have seen some of Ezboard’s most popular communities migrate away to their own platform because the ownership, full control and flexibility needed is just not available in a solution like this and once you get big enough, it doesn’t make any sense to outsource your fate.

Andreessen replied that Ning is in fact a platform of APIs that allow every aspect of a site and its tools to be fully programmable, with HTML/CSS, JavaScript, PHP or web services.

... [A]ctually we are shooting for something very different than EZBoard. We’re building a full platform — completely programmable in every respect. More like an online operating system than anything else, actually — just focused on powering social networks.

When you look at it like we do, the “build your own social network for anything” version we’re releasing tonight — while killer for ordinary people, we hope! — is just one program (written in PHP and Javascript, calling the Ning web services API’s) that can run on the platform.

The platform is providing, via those web services API’s, all of the key functionality — friends, messaging, user authentication, content management, search, tagging, video, photos, mobile uploading, etc.

The point being:

* We can build on that platform — and we can add features on it very rapidly from here on out.

* Anyone can customize any aspect of what we have built, by diving into the PHP and Javascript — although we also provide many ways for ordinary people to do customization via point and click, and also provide easy access into the HTML and CSS for people who prefer that.

* Anyone can build any new application using our core services — that application can either run in the Ning environment (our embedded PHP runtime) or outside and just use our web services API’s.

The result, we hope, is that if you are an ordinary user, Ning looks like “build your own social network for anything” with point and click, easy as can be. If you also want to customize it with HTML and CSS, you can do that. And then if you’re comfortable with code, you can go wild and do anything you want in the PHP and Javascript or via web services.

Finally, here's a demo video from The Ning Blog.