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A Ning Primer
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Hi all! We’re going to be launching three new Social Websites this evening (which I’ll blog about in a bit) and, in putting together a couple of things, it struck me as a good time to summarize here on the Ning Blog a few general points for people curious about Ning.

So, without further ado, here are some frequently asked questions we regularly get and our answers to them.

What is Ning?

Ning is the only fast and free way to create custom Social Websites online today. By custom, we really mean custom.

First, we give you simple, obvious ways to customize how your new site looks and what you want it to be about. [At this point I always get asked “but don’t I have to be a developer?” The answer is no. Getting your own site on Ning takes about 30 seconds and requires you to click a button.]

Second, – and this is the biggie – we also give you a copy of the code running your new site so you can change how it works too [But only if you want to. It’s totally optional. This is the piece that requires some knowledge of HTML, CSS, and PHP to change the guts, which is where there is the confusion about having to be a developer to use Ning. You don’t have to be a developer to get your own custom Social Website on Ning.]

This means that you the option to change every last thing about your new free Social Website. This makes it possible to customize your new site as far as you want to take it.

This ability to change features, add new features, or extend your new site in new ways is possible because Ning is an online platform that let’s you take a Social Website and do what you want with it. Ning also hosts your new site for free and continually makes available great new features you can quickly add to your Social Website running on Ning.

Is Ning a consumer service?

Yes, anyone can use Ning. We’ve designed it to be super simple for regular folks to get their own Social Websites that just work.

With Ning, anyone can get a free Social Website, decide what to call it, change how it looks, and – unlike any other online service – change the features on the site itself.

For example, if you are antsy to change how popular photos or videos are determined, you have the source code and can change it. Even better, when we add great new features to your our Social Websites, you can easily add them to your new website on Ning too.

How do you plan to make money?

Our service is free and we plan to support it with advertising. We also offer premium features for people who want more control over their new Social Website:

  • You can choose to run your own ads for $19.95/month per site (it’s free for the next few days)
  • Use your own domain name for $4.95/month per site
  • Hide the source code running your new site for $7.95/month per site
  • Buy more bandwidth and storage quota from us if your site takes off and exceeds the 1GB of public content and 100MBs of private content quotas

This is not a new business model. In fact, we’ve had these optional premium features in place since last December. I’m sure it makes good copy to say that we “found” a business model, but the reality is that we’ve had the same one since we launched Ning publicly last year.

What is Ning’s strategy?

We’ve spent the past two years creating an online platform for Social Websites that anyone can create, extend, and customize to meet their particular needs without having to appeal to Ning for features they want.

The platform is built, there’s a ton of great features which Social Websites built on Ning take advantage of, and, beginning with the release tonight, our plan from here is to launch compelling Social Websites, starting with Ning Videos, Ning Photos, and Ning Group that people can copy and customize in any way they want.

You have been working on Ning for the last two years. What have you been doing during this time?

Quite a bit. Software people say a platform usually takes four years to build. We’re two years into building the Ning platform and couldn’t be more pleased with where we’re at and where we are headed.

The platform today has a ton of APIs and system services like:

  • A social networking engine for friends, messaging, email, and address book management
  • Support for posting content from mobile phones
  • Search
  • Tagging
  • Privacy and roles (for example, making your website public or members only)
  • Account management and user registration
  • Support for Ajax and javascript
  • Content management
  • PHP sandbox for development

All of these services, APIs, and features make it incredibly fast and simple to roll out new, innovative Social Websites with a heck of a lot less effort than doing it on your own.

John Battelle said:

“In short, they are launching open, free, customizable versions of YouTube, MySpace, and Flickr. At once. And that’s just the start….it does not lack for ambition.”

By building these new Videos, Photos, and Group sites on Ning, 70% of what was needed to get them out the door was already done. In the end, these three sites took us just two months and three developers to build from scratch.

We’ve tried to keep somewhat of a low profile since releasing Ning publicly a year ago to focus on building a compelling online platform we were happy with. That’s why people are sometimes a bit confused by what we’re doing. We haven’t really talked about it. However, that’s not an excuse for confusion. We want to be in the business of making it obvious in our product what we do and because our approach is both broad and new we’ve still got a ways to go to get to total clarity in what we’re all about.

How are you funded? Are you planning on raising outside money?

We’re privately funded. We started the company with the plan of building out Ning with our own money and on our own timetable until we were happy with it. We’re getting pretty happy with it and will likely explore raising outside money at some point in the near future.

Do you have metrics you can share?

Sure. There are over 20,000 Social Websites running on the Ning service today.
Around 50% of our user base and traffic is from outside the U.S., which we love. We plan on doing Internationalization at some point next year and we really appreciate those non-English speakers who are sticking it out with us in the interim.