Ning, money and the writable web

John Montgomery asked earlier this week about Ning:

"Not to complain or anything, but I don't get Ning .
For the past fifteen minutes, I've been clickning through hotornot-like
scenarios. Some of them are hysterical (try "Which driver has the
smaller penis?") and some are mundane (Which is the better beer?). But
I'm looking for why this is the next bit thning and can't figure it

(...I almost corrected his 'typos'...;-)

I replied in his comments:

Hi John,

Let me try:

As I'm sure you know, the 'writeable web' is the second half
Berners-Lee's vision for the web. We've made great progress on the 1st
half: the 'readable web' but have a long way to make the web really
truly writeable.
2. The writeable web isn't just about
publishing text. Simple website creation for home users was/is still
too hard for most. Blogging has made this easier, but is mainly
text-based. People want to write more to the web than just text, that's
why services like Flickr are doing so well (and why MSN Spaces provided
photo publishing as a first-run feature) - there is a huge pent-up
demand for this.
3. The writeable web isn't just about
publishing the stuff you create. It really comes to life once you are
able to mix/remix your content with others, even dynamically. Doing
this kind of content integration still requires web dev / technical
Btw, content in this context really also means
services, structured data, text, music, video, pictures. The demand is
there for people to remix all this rich content really easy so people
can create new content.
4. In the same way blogging made it
easy for non-technical users to publish text to the web, services like
Ning go the next step. They allow non technical users to recombine and
augment content, to create their own new content (as per definition of
content above). This means a mum at home can potentially become a web
services integrator (I use the web services loosely here, but you get
the point). This is what the excitement is about - it opens new doors
and opportunities for non-technical folks to create brand new stuff
(most of completely for non-commercial reasons). Anything that brings
us closer to TBL's vision will always get attention.

Still, John is unconvinced, and then asks slightly different question (again in the comments) - where's the money?

guess, if that's it, I don't get what the fuss is all about. Of course,
I didn't get what the fuss was about RSS, either -- it seemed like one
of those natural evolutions of the Web.
I also have no idea how ning will make money versus, say, Google, MSN, or Yahoo."

Good question John, I don't know either.
Marc Andreessen might but hasn't share the biz-plan me yet.
Are you there Marc? At this
stage it is worth pointing out that Google's business model was pretty
much undefined for quite a while before they made their first dollar in
black. I believe MSN lost money in its first few
years, but now in profit...not sure about Yahoo. Public APIs were
twinkles in their VCs/backers eyes back then. Now look... So
back to the right question: how will Ning make money
(assuming that is a goal, not just a bit of
crazy-millionaire-dotcom2-philanthropy). Giving it some thought, I can only think of 2 biz models (or combo of both) right now:

  • Advertising
    • Each customer-created service parsing
      through its servers could render out third party ads to the consuming
      service, a kind of affiliate program distributed via customers' sites
      and services. A standard ad model would be applied on
      top of this, they take a cut of each transaction - high volume, small
      margin biz
  • Tools and services
    • Two target customers: consumers & hobby / pro developers). Ning could be a service that provides added value through some sort of Ning web developer offering
      (tools, integration, APIs?) for the more tech savvy customers. For
      non-tech-but-sophisticated customers are offered higher
      value features through subscription model - similar to
      blogging biz models, e.g.: basic (free), standard ($35 per annum), pro
      ($65 per annum).

Any others?

So, everyone's wised up this time around. As Bubble 2.0 makes its merry way down the isle: you've just got to ask the pregnant bride: Where's the money?

Going back to my original response,
what Ning is doing here is moving the game on in an interesting
way. In fact there are two games: 'web as a platform' and the
'writable web' (writeable?). Kevin Briody writes:

empowers the end-user – who doesn’t have to be a developer – to create
software that works for them. I fervently believe this is the trend of
the future. Creating Web frameworks like Ning that remove much of the
complexity of creating complex applications, and put control in the
hands of the end-user. The develooper’s job becomes creation and
maintenance of that framework, not building the end app anymore."

This concept is a big
deal (not original idea but I've not seen it executed) and therein lies
the opportunity. Nobody is saying that Ning will pning or kning the
whole wide world (well, maybe some might be). NiNg might IPO and
become a very big fkning deal. nING might die in a week...either way, I
don't care. Not my money. But I do think we are witnessing a
brand new model at work here, and if they die, the idea won't die with
them - this is the writeable web idea taken to another level. It is
where we are going.

But here's the thning: how literally
should one take the 'web as a platform' to be? Ning appears to
interpreting it quite literally. The question is, who else is
going to take it literally? How far can it go before it stops making
sense? It can it only really make sense if you go all the way? We'll
have to see.

I'm not privy to discussions taking place at higher echelons of Microsoft but the trend is clear. Microsoft has been banging on about web as a platform for a while now. Microsoft is running with it, indeed driving much of it, and plenty more to come...we're not the only ones though.

Update: Marc Andreessen (!) posts a comment on this post: confirms a couple of things:

"Alex -- your description of what we are trying to do is very well said. It's an experiment, but those are the goals. We are going to see if we can generate enough revenue through a
blend of advertising (like Google, Yahoo, etc.) and premium services to
be able to support what we are doing, including the free developer
accounts. Thanks for the thoughts and comments..."

Trackbacks to this post.