Ning Needs to Improve to be Relevant

Mike Arrington rips Ning at TechCrunch, and I have to fully agree.

A couple of months back when I posted about wanting a Web 2.0 community platform I checked out Ning in great detail to see if I could possibly build something out of their tools/applications.

I was pretty disappointed. While it’s neat to be able to so easily make an application, it’s both not that easy, or very flexible. Mike details most of the problems, but even knowing PHP and HTML I found it to be a pain in the butt to clone an application and edit it to my liking. It was definitely not a process that was as quick or easy as I’d like, and then when you combine the fact that I can’t move the code elsewhere or monetize it how I like, it just didn’t have much value.

I’d happily pay Ning if they’d allow me to easily build an application I can monetize in my own way and take the code where I wanted to host how I pleased. Add some flexibility and you’ll have yourself a product.

  • Yoz

    Disclaimer: I work for Ning.

    I agree that while we’ve done a lot to make apps easy to clone, customising them is a different ball game. In the next couple of weeks we’re launching an upgraded set of example apps that are easier and friendlier to customise, which hopefully will solve some of the problems. However, it’s the componentisation of apps and features that will take us a lot closer to the goals of code-free app building and customising. We’re not there yet, but that’s where we’re aiming, and if all goes to plan you should see the first fruits in a month or two. We’re certainly *not* standing still.

    The beta release that you played with was mainly to get feedback from developers and watch them get acquainted with our platform. Some developers have made a home there and are creating great stuff, but we all agree there’s a lot more work to do before we’re satisfied with what we’re giving people.

    Monetization is something that we now offer much more of than we did when you first tried us – we’ve released the first set of Premium Services, which allow ad-running, your own domains, hiding of source code and larger content quotas. These services are also something we’ll continually be tweaking and expanding, but I hope that they show we’re committed to letting our users make money with their apps.

    Thanks for your comments, and please feel free to get in touch if you have further questions or ideas: yozg (at)

  • Pat McCarthy

    Hi Yoz,

    Thanks for the response, it’s good to see Ning is watching the blogosphere and listening.

    I did check out the premium services, and I’m glad to see those are being offered. Although for sites starting out, it’s hard to pay $20 to display their ads, when they may be not earning that much until their application gets good traffic and support. At some point the $20 is no big deal, but at first that turned me off from launching and entirely brand new site with your app, because I know I’d be losing $20 a month until I built up traffic. I’d probably rather pay a one-time fee for that.

    I wouldn’t mind a monthly hosting fee if you’re worried about covering bandwidth/server costs.

    I really like what you’re trying to do, I’d love to be able to slap together about five of your sample apps, tie the user accounts together, and make it into a large social community site around a topic. That’s where I think you could get a lot going. If I could have a wakeboarding site where I could give users social bookmarking, photo sharing, reviews/mapping, and other featuers it’d be a powerful thing I’d gladly pay for.

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  • Yoz

    That’s a good point about our Premium Services pricing. Like many startups, we’ve only made our first pitch at pricing. Be assured that we’re watching people’s responses and are taking note. The current pricing is something we can easily change and may well do.

    We also have a Premium Service for bandwidth & storage capacity, but we firmly believe that we need to offer a basic free service in order to create simple, fun things that others can enjoy, which lets us build up an active community. That’s why we call it the Ning Playground.

    In terms of tying apps together – you can actually already do that in various ways. You don’t need to do anything with user databases, for a start: once you’re a Ning user, you’re logged into all the apps on the system. (Of course, the apps don’t need to know about that until you actually use them.) Plus, due to the open nature of the Content Store, you can use public data from apps in others. (As an example: In the next version of the Developer Documentation that we’re going to release, there’s a box-out that shows the latest Tech Blog headlines. Both are basic Ning apps, and the box-out is a really simple Content Store query.)

    The wakeboarding site idea probably wouldn’t be too much work, and I’ll gladly give you some pointers to getting it running. Just send me a mail!

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