What's Wrong At Marc Andreessen's Ning?

Rob Hof

Just about everything, in Mike Arrington's opinion. The online service for creating customized social applications out of other Web services--do-it-yourself mashups, in other words--launched only last October by the Netscape cofounder along with Ning CEO Gina Bianchini. Mostly, Mike thinks the promising company hasn't moved fast enough to help non-programmers create these applications. As a result, he says:

The reality of Ning is that it’s lost whatever coolness it had, no one uses it and Ning is going to have a very hard time getting people’s attention when they finally do roll out better functionality.

Hope to hear from Marc for his take, but Mike's analysis sounds reasonable. Still, it may be a tad early to write them off completely. Things do move ever faster these days, but if Ning really does find ways to make truly DIY Web services, I'll be there. As 37Signals' Jason Fried says, cool may wear off, but usefulness never does.

Update: Gina responds at Mike's blog. I'm also going to post it in its entirety here, because I'm coming to think that maybe it wasn't so fair to Ning to just flick to Mike's post without providing Ning's view:

Aside from the harshness of this post which was probably unintended, I would like to address the misconceptions here.

Ning is an online platform for effortlessly creating social web apps for free. Without any coding experience, you can take any of the thousands of active social web applications on Ning today and make them your own in a few easy clicks. You can’t do this anywhere else on the Internet today.

As a developer who does know how to code, there is no easier place to create and run your own web app, social or otherwise, as there are no downloads required, no databases to manage, and no sysadmin headaches. 95% of what you’d have to do to build a web app is already done.

You can run your own ads, map your own domain, and protect your source code if you’d like. These are new services we rolled out in December that you can see if you are a signed in user. We’ll be making them more obvious to the wider public in the coming weeks.

We support external web services from, as Michael mentioned, from Google Maps, Amazon, Yahoo Maps, Flickr, Yahoo Search, and Gmail. Moreover, because we are an open platform, you can also upload existing PHP modules for other web services, like eBay or Technorati, into any web app on Ning.

As for communicating with our users, we are constantly working to improve our service and sometimes err on the side of letting it speak for itself. To this end, we’ve been quietly working on:

1. A major redesign of the entire service to make it friendlier and what we offer more obvious
2. Features to enable non-coders to customize social apps and build new social apps from scratch using components
3. Performance improvements to make Ning even faster and more scalable
4. Support for Ruby and other languages

We haven’t been as obvious with some of this stuff as we should be and perhaps you have to sign in to your account to see a lot of these features, but they are all there. We’ve just posted this morning a summary of our new features at our blog: http://blog.ning.com and we’ll continue to engage in active conversations with our users and anyone else who is interested in what we offer.

Feedback and a conversation is always good, even if we’re on the receiving end of some frank opinions. Thanks!

Comment by Gina Bianchini — January 20, 2006 @ 11:48 am

: Jeff Nolan suggests that maybe Workday, PeopleSoft founder Dave Duffield's yet-to-launch software company, which he says Marc is involved with, should combine with Ning. Hmmm.

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