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Ning, a social networking development platform, today began its second life, making it even easier for users to create their own social networking sites.
"We created Ning in 2004 to give everyone the opportunity to create their own social networks," CEO Gina Bianchini says. "At the time we called them social Web applications, because it didn't really have a name. But pretty fundamentally, what we're excited about is that this release finally allows us to deliver on the original vision of Ning."
Ning version 2 lets users create Web sites featuring videos, photos, blogs, discussion forums, friends, among other features -- all the functions one might expect at sites like MySpace, but with much more control.
As to whether Ning spells doom for the inflexible social networking giants of the moment, Bianchini sees a lesson in the Web's impact on walled-garden Internet services.
"We fundamentally believe that freedom and creativity are what people want," says Bianchini. "A great example is the analogy between AOL, CompuServe, and Prodigy, which were online services that were walled gardens. They had a fixed view of what people could do with them. The Web came along and as a platform gave people the freedom and the ability to create their own Web sites."
As it happens, Ning's CTO, Marc Andreessen, was once the CTO of AOL, not to mention the CTO and co-founder of Netscape.
Ning is free. As a user, you have complete control over the modules on your site, your site's appearance, and who has access to it. But in exchange for the free service, Ning reserves the right to run ads. "If you want to buy that right from us," says Bianchini, "that's perfectly fine. It's $19.95 a month and you can run Google AdSense or any other third-party advertising server that's out there."
Ning is used by everyone from individuals (who're evidently still figuring out this whole social networking thing) to major corporations, like CBS, which is using Ning to power a social network for its show CSI. "CBS actually came in and used the same service that Minnesota schoolteachers and subversive artists in North Carolina are using," Bianchini says. "It was the first time that CBS actually enabled and allowed fans of CSI to add their own videos."
CBS is reaching deep into its pockets to pay the $4.95 monthly charge to use Ning under its own domain name, not to mention the $19.95 monthly charge to run its own ads, plus additional bandwidth and storage charges.
Ning is a platform, which means that its computing resources can be accessed through APIs. Developers who want to use Ning's friend list, for example, on another site can thus craft code to use the Ning data.
With more than 30,000 social networks running on Ning, Bianchini isn't done yet. "We definitely imagine a world where there are millions of social networks for every conceivable niche and need and interest and hobby and location and group," she says. "That's actually a world that we're not only excited about but think that's where things should go."