Free site lets you build your own social network
Feel constricted by Facebook or MySpace? Ning may be your next thing.
(Page 2 of 2)
If you hadn’t heard of Ning – and most people haven’t – it’s because you’re out of the loop. Out of Ning’s viral loop, that is. The service operates on the exponential principle that anyone who starts a social network will invite friends, family, and associates who, in turn, will bring others on board. In fact, Ning is doubly viral: Some newcomers will also create their own communities.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
“We’re not doing any advertising,” says Ning CEO Gina Bianchini, a former investment banker who cofounded the service with Marc Andreessen, one of the creators of the Mosaic browser and cofounder of Netscape. “It’s all being generated virally, which also has the benefit of being – to us – [a way to focus on] product development and R&D, not a big advertising budget.”
Ning’s business plan is mostly based on selling targeted ads to the various niches on its platform. (For $20 per month, individuals can host their own ads.) If there’s a vulnerability it’s this: Some networks are tiny and others are virtual ghost towns. The start-up is leery about releasing data about total numbers of users, but says its largest 250 networks represent around 40 percent of its page views and that 70 percent of its networks have been used in the past 30 days. While Ning’s growth rate is impressive – close to 2,000 new networks per day – it will take more than e-mail invites from each fresh site to attain critical-mass migration.
“Just like a master-plan community of a development of houses, you can build it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a neighborhood,” says Ben McConnell, coauthor of “Citizen Marketers.” “Growing a community is a big investment of time. The care and nurturing of welcoming people, trying to make them feel welcome, making it easy for them to connect with other people – and then the ongoing challenge of interesting content as a springboard for conversation.”
Mr. McConnell, a customer-retention expert who has a large “Society for Word of Mouth” community on Ning, cites his book’s “One Percent Rule”: Most communities rely on 1 percent of its members to create content. If there isn’t fresh activity to encourage frequent repeat visits, the long tail will tail off.
For now, Ning’s relative ease of use has put its “build your own” platform ahead of competitors such as KickApps, Crowdvine, and GoingOn. But it doesn’t permit users to migrate their networks off its platform. That inhibits Ning’s growth, claims Marc Canter, a leading advocate for an “OpenSocial” Web, and CEO of Broadband Mechanics, a quasi-competitor that custom builds social networks for companies.
“It’s a two-way street,” says Mr. Canter. “If I would set up the wires inside my network to allow a Ning network to move into my world, believe me, I would reciprocate and set up wires from my world to allow people to move to their world.”
Mostly, though, regular Ning users seem to have embraced its relative freedom. “It’s a great business,” enthuses Rubin, the multi-user. “It’s Yahoo Groups on rich media. You can do a lot of this stuff in other places, but they tie it all up in a nice ribbon and make it very easy to do.”