Why Ning will work and not work at the same time.


As Ning launches today there are some reports out there and it is worth looking at them – including the comments.

Both Marc Andreesen and Gina Bianchini answer comments and questions which is a good sign for paying attention. “Top level execs” will not always have the time to do that around the clock but at a time like a start out of beta, this is a good sign. (Too bad Gina was not able to come to London, I was looking forward to meet her and ask some questions about Ning.)

Some comments of mine to it as I do not want to spread the comments through several places:

In the Techcrunch comments readers mention full control and privacy of data.

Full control:
I am as much of a control freak as everybody else there posting that comment. Running my blog on a server like Typepad, are you kidding me? For myself – out of the question.

But there are many happy people (sometimes unhappy but still) with Typepad and co. Ning is not for me but for them. For your mom and grandma who want their knitting club to have a shiny new website with all this cool stuff. I only played around with Ning for a short time but that would be the site to go to when I would not want to deal with setting up something like drupal for them.

Language of the application

“Problem” here – and I wanted to look if they do but they are taking a short break – would be language I assume. Having menues in english is not going too well with most of the assumed users because for example they expect german menues. It would be interesting to see if ning as an application was build the American way – aka having non english menues is difficult because not thought off in the beginning and wired hard into the system.

Let’s assume that they have thought about a coming internationalization because those millions of networks will not come just from the States or Britain.

(No I do not expect a company like Ning to start with full fledged internationalization. I expect them to start first, get rid of some bugs and then go later for it.)

If you think this does not matter I invite you to come over to European meetings and conferences (continental Europe that is, not the UK where they only speak english too …) and you will learn how many copy cats are very successful, much more successful than your original for the very basic reason that they are in local language. Let’s rephrase that: Your application is not even on the radar and never will be for that basic reason.

Data protection or running a business on Ning
Whatever privacy options you do have (you can set it to a private network), the servers of Ning run in the US. Period. I know this sounds like something I repeat over and over again but the States do not have the same data protection laws as Europe.

No, we are not paranoid, we are just used to have such rights still.

I would guess that running a business on Ning will be impossible without the explicit acknowledgement of users waiving their rights (and I am not even sure that this is allowed without you being liable).

I for example even get flak from people using Gmail as my mail provider and am ask constantly by some people which email to send it to which is NOT run on Google and a server in the states.

Advertising on the site
Gigaom has more information about the business model of it

The company plans to charge $19.95 a month if you want to run your own ads (or no ads at all). Your own domain will cost $4.95 a month, and a package of 5 GB storage/100 GB of bandwidth is going to cost $9.95 a month. At these prices, Ning will need thousands of social networks before it can join an elite network of start-ups of recent vintage that are profitable.

I think not. Google Adsense is the best way for them to run on such a site because they do get localization right. To give you an example: Adsense even does get localization of towns right in Germany – I and a friend where searching for the same term on google.de and we both would get different offerings according to our local town.

Most people running their social network will be niche networks. We all know that nice networks are great for targeted well paid ads. Most of them will be run privately meaning they will not pay the price of removing the ads. Meaning: Others will come and bring content, Google Adsense will make the targeting and Ning will receive the profits over there. From my point that is going to be a very cool business modell.

See it differently: You will need to able to make at least 35 dollars a month by Adsense to set of your costs. Everybody who ever has had a decent look at how to set up Adsense knows that that is not much of a problem and well worth the costs – especially on a niche content.

For your local church or soccer club, etc that is still a good price for a run platform.

Running on your own domain
I would be worried about the typepad problem – even if you run it on your own domain the content will be “mirrored” aka accessible under the typepad domain and often that will pop up higher in search engine rankings.

I cannot check right now (still a break) if the sub links are ning related too or if this also runs under your own domain like you can have it with blogger but I would assume it is not.

So far …
Looking good. Despite the language problem (many people are used to running such a system with english menu structure and even users can bear with basic menues in english), it has potential.

The design looks nice and clean and so far easy enough to use. Definitely easier than setting up your own wordpress blog unless you do have a one click install system on your web hoster.

Data privacy is something you will have to keep in mind. As far as pricing (and control) goes you will have to make a decision in the beginning if or if not you want to go with your own domain but you do have control to some degree.

And as far as the system having a break and being non accessible – yes that is midnight San Francisco time and early night at the East Coast – but it is morning in Germany. So much for running a system with only the States in your mind. ;)

The points I mentioned above can be very valid reasons why Ning will not work for for people. At the same time many of these points do not matter to a lot of people. Unless something happens and then it can get ugly.

you start a successful ning thing for your local soccer team (remember, soccer is huge. And it is not called football). Now a competitor arrives and sees the success of your platform. They rebuild it in local language which alone may not be the point of getting people to switch.

But then they start and tell the users about the other one being run on US systems and all the horror stories that go with it. And for example that downtimes will happen at our night time.

People will change in a blink of a second. At least on this side of the pond. ;)

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10 Responses to “Why Ning will work and not work at the same time.”

  1. Jonathan Marks says:

    I played with Ning a year ago but had similar concerns. I had no guarantee that my intellectual property input would be protected – and there was the lock-in factor. if they went away, what would happen to my applications, settings, etc. I too am concerned about Lock-in. They might change their pricing model overnight and it could cost a fortune to rescue your own stuff.

  2. Nicole says:

    Well, it would be good if they would have a backup modell / system and or export. I bet many people would rather go with them and use them if there would be a chance to extract the data from them. But yes, basically that is us control freaks again, whereas if you look at many myspace users etc, they jsut dont care enough about that.

  3. Nicole

    Interesting analysis. Data and control are going to be important going forward.

    I’ve created a list of white label social networking apps, you can see it here

  4. Nicole says:

    Jeremiah I agree – as said for my own I would never go somewhere else like this ;). But thanks for those links!

  5. alan patrick says:

    Hi Nicole

    Nice analysis, I did a lesser one here but basically came to similar conclusions (like you we set up our first site a year ago). I’ve linked to yours in my post now. A. Like you I suspect the ning business model will have to change, as there are so many open platforms now.

    After building our website in Drupal (our blogsite uses Serendipity), I’m not sure I would use it for a SocNet.

    By the way, there are a lot of us worried about data integrity and privacy in the UK as well…..

  6. alan patrick says:

    Ah…your site doesn’t embed links…its here at

  7. Peter says:

    Hello. So, with NING, if privacy and ownership of intellectual property is an issue. how do I set up a small socnet? What software, what server, etc. I am borderline geek with a real curiosity to learn some of the necessary means to accomplish my ends. I was intrigued by NING because of the apparent ease it provided for the building of a fairly complex socnet with various features and design elements.

  8. Hey Nicole!

    Thanks so much for your great post and set of questions.

    Here’s a couple of points:

    Intellectual Property Ownership – You Own It

    In terms of intellectual property, you own what you do on your network. I’d encourage you to look at our terms of service at http://www.ning.com/about/tos.html. Our business goal is to offer advertising on the free social networks running on the Ning service. We don’t need to “own” anything except the right to run those ads.

    Internationalization – We Have It

    We are fully internationalized and people are already creating networks in other languages. You can see how to do it here: http://docs.ning.com/page/page/show?id=492524%3APage%3A6. Sampa Network at http://sampanetwork.ning.com is a good example of a Portuguese language network someone created.

    Data Privacy Laws – You’re Right

    Nicole, you’re right that we operate in the U.S. Here’s our privacy policy: http://www.ning.com/about/privacy.html. We certainly aren’t trying to cut off the option of running under European Privacy Laws.

    Domain Name Mapping – We’re Moving to the Moveable Type Model

    Agreed that mirroring isn’t ideal and that’s how we do it now. We’re looking to make this change to the Moveable Type model in the coming months.

    Uptime – We Care About More than the U.S.

    This was a by-product of what I described here: http://blog.ning.com/2007/03/tan_rested_and_ready.html.

    Again, thanks for your feedback and post. We really appreciate it. If you have any additional questions for me, by all means drop me at ceo(at)ning(dot)com.



  9. Rose says:

    Presently, the Ning Terms Of Service state “By uploading Content to a Network in which the Content is designated as Public Content, you grant to Ning and all other Users a nonexclusive license to reproduce, create derivative works of, distribute, publicly perform, and publicly display such Content on the condition that the Content is attributed in a manner specified by its author, if at all (a “Public Content License”).”

    This license gives them the rights over any content we submit. They only need to ask for a non-exclusive electronic right to archive, promote, newsletter, publicly perform and publicly display such Content for the purposes of making it available to the general public.

    I have a problem with terms that state they can create derivative works from the content that I submit.

    That is unfair to Bloggers!

    If you recall Myspace change their terms not to long ago because they were unfair to artists.

  10. I now belong to at least three social networks that use Ning, and have uncovered their insidious terms of service. I am particularly disturbed by the words, “You hereby grant Ning, during the course of your usage of the Ning Platform, a nonexclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, sublicenseable and transferable right and license to (i) use, reproduce, create derivative works of, distribute, publicly perform and publicly display Your Content…” Perpetual and irrevocable?? What’s the deal with that? It makes me wary of using any Ning communities.