Ning Surpasses 200,000 Social Networks – But Is It Cash Flow Positive?

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Ning LogoMarc Andreessen posts at his blog that Ning has now passed 200,000 social networks using the Ning platform. Ning is a simple to use service that allows you to create a social network site for anything you want. You get user pages, photos, videos, discussions and the rest of the tools commonly used in social networking.

If you’re a podcaster and want a social network for your fan club it’s worth checking out. You can see a great example of Ning being used by Ask a Ninja to support it’s fan club. It’s a pretty easy to use service and provides a lot of functionality.

Marc provides some very interesting statistics about the growth of Ning. They now have over 200,000 social networks and will quickly surpass 300,000.

  • Over 70% of the networks on Ning are active, as defined by “used in the last 30 days”. This is a considerably higher percentage than we would have thought when we created the service, given that we make it so easy to create a network that you can do it in two minutes, for free — I would have assumed there would be more throwaways. It turns out that people really like using social networks!
  • As that “70% active” statistic indicates, the long tail is most definitely alive and well on Ning — activity on the system as a whole is spread out broadly across the base of active networks. This continues even as the largest networks on Ning are getting much larger than ever before.
  • There are now more — actually, a lot more — social networks on Ning than there are on the rest of the Internet in total, including all of the other services that let you create your own social network combined (i.e., all of our honorable competitors combined). (Note: I highlighted this part)
  • Our growth rate continues to accelerate as the overall penetration of social networking across the Internet expands. As more and more people all over the world use social networking — including the big one-size-fits-all social networking services that many people use first — people become more interested in creating and using their own social networks for many topics that they care about. This is a very large market, and it’s growing very fast.
  • Finally, fewer than 1% of our current networks fall into the adult category — a number that’s frankly surprisingly low, but one with which we’re just fine.

I think this is great. I like Ning a lot and hope it is hugely successful.

I had two main reactions to the post. My first reaction was to challenge the boast that Ning’s 200,000 social networks is more than the rest of the Internet in total. I think he’s got that way wrong. Social networks have been around for a long time on the Internet in the form of forums. And there are way, way more than 200,000 forums on the Internet.

But my second reaction was to ask what’s missing from this data that matters. What’s missing is information about whether Ning is here to stay or not. Networks, users and page views are all good, but money is what matters.

I want to know if Ning is cash flow positive. Have they figured out a way to make their social networking business profitable? I want to know because if I recommend to a podcaster or company that they should use Ning as their social networking platform, I want to be sure that Ning will not go away someday.

If Ning stopped, I may be able to get the data out of Ning, but then what do I do. The data is set up to be used in Ning’s infrastructure. I don’t see where I would go to get the same kind of service and the business interruption would be very costly. Anyone who is setting up a Ning social network and not considering this risk is being foolish.

So I have to ask Mr. Andreessen and Ning, how can we be sure Ning is here to stay? Open up the books and show us a nice secure balance sheet and a cash positive business, or at least something that convinces people that Ning is here to stay.

If you know more about Ning, leave us a comment.

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[tags]Ning, Marc Andreessen, Social Networking[/tags]

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4 thoughts on “Ning Surpasses 200,000 Social Networks – But Is It Cash Flow Positive?

  1. As a former member of at least 2 ning networks, I can assure you getting any data out of ning is and is going to be an absolute nightmare – it is not possible to to zip it up, download it for porting across to anywhere else.

    It’s also got some design faults in it, like for example it allows different users on a social network to register with the same name. I discovered this quite by chance and when I went to delete one of those names it deleted the other account which was registered to a different email address!!!!

  2. Pingback: Ning Hits 200,000 Custom Social Networks

  3. Well…
    Maybe Ning is not their only business. Maybe they use it as a marketing tool for consulting business and data collection. Just like twitter, ning probably draw its power from the number of users registered. It is really hard to know. We will never know.