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Andreessen's Ning unveiled


Ning.gifWe woke up this morning to the buzz of Ning, the start-up co-founded by Marc Andreessen, the guy who co-founded Netscape.

We were alerted by a tipster in the wee hours this morning, but we see it is already No. 7 on words searched at Technorati -- at least as of this writing.

Ning, the site tells us, is a free online service (or, as they call it, a "playground") for building so-called "social applications." Social apps, Ning explains, "enable anyone to match, transact, and communicate with other people." We haven't tinkered with it enough, but one interesting feature is that it lets users tag stuff according to subject matter. On the Web sites running on Ning, there is a so-called "Ning Pivot" on the right-hand side that lets you click through sites and other content tagged to a certain subject. It lets you see other users who are tagging to the same subject. Check out the sites we list below for examples.

CEO and co-founder is Gina Bianchini. The team has an additional 14 full-time people.

The company lists a bunch of Web sites that are already running on Ning, including some of local Silicon Valley interest. Here are just three examples.

--Bay Area Hiking Trails
--Restaurant Reviews with Maps
--theGLU, a site to enable sharing of information across communities, such as Stanford. They explain more here why they chose to use Ning as a platform.

Back in June, there was a lot of buzz about this company, then called 24 Hour Laundry -- though no one really knew what they were up to. (Or at least we're assuming this is the same project -- who knows, maybe Bianchini and Andreessen have extended their relationship into other realms?)

Update: Techdirt boils it down to a key question: Will Ning be able to build a real community? Techdirt concludes it might, but overall seems doubtful. "eBay, Craigslist, Flickr, del.icio.us and others really succeeded because of the communities they built, rather than just the technology. Thus, the idea of having lots of people easily creating new social applications might not seem too appealing. Those apps are pretty much worthless without the community, right?"

Update II: Marc Andreessen responds in comments below.

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Do you guys know why it's called Ning yet?

Michael Parekh on October 4, 2005 3:20 PM
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My first reaction, not knowing that this was an Andreesen site, was "gee, these apps are derivative". Come on, Bulldogster? And how many applications do we actually need to tell us about restaurants in Palo Alto?

Edward Vielmetti on October 4, 2005 9:22 PM
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Hi Edward -- a lot of the initial example apps are meant to be very generic/derivative so that they serve as starting points for much more specialized apps built by users, as opposed to trying to be standalone apps by themselves. The example apps we provide hopefully will get steadily more creative as we go, but we thought it was important to cover all the general bases to start.

Michael -- the answer to why it's called Ning is in faq.ning.com :-).

Matt -- yup, this is/was 24HL. Thanks for the posting!

Marc Andreessen on October 4, 2005 11:33 PM
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It's not just that the initial example apps are derivative and really don't show off any real new ideas. I'd give you plenty of leeway for building an application framework that made it possible or easy to recreate (or may rip off) hot or not or catster or what have you.

Not only are the example apps derivative but they're also way incomplete - restaurant reviews that let you enter restaurant locations but not edit them, one example.

But what's inside is (just) PHP!?! And not PHP with some IDE grafted onto it so that you could build new apps interactively or with some spiffy something (anything) on top. Nope, looks like plain old PHP with yet another applications framework to learn, and a small library of syntactic sugar so that 14 lines of PHP becomes 4 lines of Ning. The only thing resembling code sharing and community building of knowlege about how the system works is "clone this site", which means 6 or 9 or 12 months from now I can just imagine the spaghetti of minifeatures scattered all over the system without much in the way of ownership to guide them.

I really don't know who you think will jump onto this bandwagon. I know it's hot, and it will probably melt the ice sculptures at Web 2.0. I wish you luck.

Edward Vielmetti on October 5, 2005 1:16 AM
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we need to build communities on mobiles now . Hope that Ning is designed with cellphone HMI in mind

ashok Saraf on October 5, 2005 6:05 AM
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Aaarrggg! In adition to orkut, 360! and a number of other social networking sites based on the same idea, we are going to see a crop of similar sites mushrooming up untill the whole Idea is left dead, beaten into pulp and when a better/or newer concept comes along...

Long live ICQ!

Jagan on October 5, 2005 10:09 AM
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Eww... "communities". What kind of community is it, that sits around reading these social network services? Rather scary I would think.

Real community is built by real emotional and physical interaction, and facing down shared risks and challenges (like oh say New Orleans).

Craig Hubley on October 5, 2005 10:12 AM
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I wonder why all of them are called 'social'. Yes you can communicate wit people, but finally it is all asynchronous communication. I wonder why they do not actually show people on these pages and services. There is virtual presence. I beg you social service providers, please make people aware of each other while they are on the page. This would make the service really social. Users could meet each other live, while they are there. I don't dare posting a URL, because it sounds like an ad. Search google for the Jabber Virtual Presence Project. This is what we need to become really social on the Web.

Heiner Wolf on October 5, 2005 12:01 PM
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I have it on good authority that Ning stands for "Now It's a New Game", a phrase bandied about with some alacrity during the formation of the company.

gargler on October 5, 2005 12:29 PM
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Re: Edward's "Come on, Bulldogster?"

As the author of bulldogster, I can't help but be pleased by your response. The answer is yes! These apps made as examples are absolutely derivative, *if and only if* you consider them as standalone apps! Seeing bulldogster alone is nothing impressive at all.

What you may not have noticed that Bulldogster is a "child app" of pets.ning.com. In the architecture provided by Ning, those Bulldogs entered into Bulldogster are not only available to itself, but to the parent app, as well as any other apps on the system that care to query for PetProfiles of type Bulldog.

Not only that, but you probably haven't seen what happens when you clone it. You don't have to know ANY PHP to clone Bulldogster and turn it into Parakeetster or Gerbilster - you fill out a form, pick some special attributes for your app, and off you go! Another app and set of for NingPets.

So, as I said above. By noticing that Bulldogster is generic, it comfirms to me that standalone clones of existing social networks are simply derivative. That is absolutely true, and it is also absolutely true that what Ning is valuable for has nothing to do with the derivativeness of the apps that are released at launch.

Not only can these cloned, generic (but personalized!) apps interact with each other, but they can also share code via interesting API features. Myself, I built a versioned plugin system in an app on Ning, which all pet apps can use to install chunks of functionality (again, personalization) into their apps without knowing PHP.

So again, yes, the apps are derivative, but isn't that the entire point of why Ning is special? Derivative, tiny apps for small groups of people, when networked together, exhibit strong network effects. That's what this is all about, and I hope that more people grow to see this when playing with Bulldogster and NingPets.

Gordon on October 5, 2005 2:11 PM
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Does anyone remember "Shoot Em Up Construction Kit" on the Amiga? Suddenly, the bar was lowered on creating computer games. And, for about six months, there were countless identikit me-too games on the market all built using the same ideas in the same framework. Is Ning the Shoot Em Up Construction Kit of Web2.0?

James Simons on October 5, 2005 2:45 PM
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Redirect loop with cookies disabled. Not impressed.

Steven on October 5, 2005 4:07 PM
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James: That redirect loop issue should be fixed by tonight. Sorry about that.

Gargler: Your good sources were unfortunately incorrect. I wish we were that creative :-)

Thanks for posting!


Gina Bianchini on October 6, 2005 6:41 PM
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Ning is most probably nothing ... the inability of Marc or anyone else to be able to describe it in a meaningful way is my first proof point. Specifically, the definition is even more vague than those given by a theoretical sociologist. Not a good sign for a software tool. Second, there is a great deal of work directed at just indexing without a clear object. This logic is not supportive of how people think or act on their environment. People are goal directed and should support context or abstarction logics. functioning tool

bernie on October 11, 2005 7:39 PM
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