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.