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It’s A Good Ning – the future of Ning social networks (like Adelaide Cyclists)

August 21, 2009

LOS ANGELES — Ask Gina Bianchini about the future of traditional media on the Web and she’ll point you to a recent experiment by the home-and-garden-focused publishing giant Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

Working with Bianchini’s social networking outfit, Ning, Martha Stewart developed an online meeting place for female entrepreneurs on the Ning network called “Dreamers into Doers.” Women can post tips about running a small business, share videos about their companies and meet other women grappling with the challenges of building a company from scratch while raising families.

Martha Stewart Living asked Bianchini’s crew to build the network after realizing articles on its main Web site about female entrepreneurs attracted significant interest from advertisers and readers. By operating a small biz-focused mini-Facebook, Martha Stewart’s editors and producers can keep up with the specific issues that a narrow segment of its readers care about and create new content targeted for them, Bianchini says.

“Media companies are starting to realize that you have to counter-program against the interests of your audience,” Bianchini says. “Developing their own social networks help them do that.”

Founded in 2004 by Bianchini and Marc Andreessen, the father of Netscape Communications and a Web software pioneer, Ning is literally a network of social networks–a collection of tools that let people or companies build their own social network around hyper-specific topics: nontraditional weddings, professional cricket in India, the Twilight series of vampire books, you name it. Think of it as a way to “brew your own” Facebook.

Unlike some of its high-profile social networking brethren such as Google ( GOOG news people ) and Twitter, Ning hasn’t clicked quite enough to become a verb. That said, the site boasts about 30 million registered users. Many have posted profiles, notes and pictures about their professional interests, hobbies and cultural obsessions. Among Ning’s myriad of networks: A community devoted to the music of rapper 50 Cent, a group pushing billionaire energy mogul T. Boone Pickens’ plans to invest in wind energy and a Web forum for bureaucrats toiling for the federal government. Fans have created 1.4 million networks; 215,000 are currently active.

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Ning uses Google’s AdSense to sell ads on some networks; it also sells “premium” services (including extra storage and the right to strip off the ads) for rates that vary between $5 and $55 a month. Virtual tschotskes beckon: Instead of selling generic virtual “gifts” like Facebook does, later this autumn Bianchini aims to give users the ability to design their own virtual presents and sell those (vampire love-bites, anyone?). In such a case, Ning might share the revenue with the developers.

One key: opening up the site’s application programming interfaces (APIs) to outside developers. Currently Ning offers users 14 features. But once developers get hold of the code and start building their own programs, the functions available on the site will likely balloon. That means users will be able to set up storefronts, create gifts–and share revenues with the mother ship.

For now, Bianchini is coy about revealing any revenue numbers. (Bianchini scored nicely on Sand Hill Road in fundraising for the company–investors have put in about $119 million.) But Bianchini is upbeat about the growth patterns she sees–the rate of active Ning networks is growing faster than the total number of Ning networks. Her translation: more and more people are staying involved.

Even as Bianchini remains committed to helping individuals and small groups build audiences around their own quirky interests and passions, her team has recently put more effort into pitching Ning’s network-building capabilities to traditional media companies like print publishers and television networks. In her mind, adding social tools could do wonders for old media outfits struggling to rebuild their audiences online, where the digital arms of newspapers and magazines compete with attention-sapping new media ventures like Facebook and YouTube.

Many publishers already offer special sections of content targeted to narrow groups of readers–think’s Law Blog or Wired‘s Geek Dad site. By using Ning to build a social network around those topics, publishers could help readers meet new people that share their same interests, Bianchini contends. New personal connections would lead to more time spent on the site, which would mean more advertising revenue for the publishers, Bianchini says. In a bow to the importance of branding, sites can also opt to have a URL that doesn’t include the “Ning” name–for a modest fee, of course.

Attaching to respected media properties like Martha Stewart will also help Ning compete for eyeballs with Facebook, which currently boasts eight times the number of users.

Bianchini has some competition there: Facebook has lately been strengthening its connections to publishers. Its Connect product, launched last December, helps members move information from their profiles onto third-party sites such as and the Huffington Post.

Bianchini sees plenty of opportunity. Facebook, she says, helps people connect with folks they already know from their offline lives. By building social networks into sections of online media properties, Ning aims to help Web readers connect with new friends in the same place they go to read about their passions.

So far, Ning has only announced the Martha Stewart network, but with a pitch like that, more media partners can’t be far behind.

See Also:

Ning Nuzzles Up To Advertisers

CEO Spotlight: Ning

OpenSocial Programs Pop Up



Posted via web from adelaidecyclist’s posterous


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