I always get a kick out of examining what works (and what doesn't work) when it comes to the Digital Marketing landscape. Have you ever taken a second to evaluate why Friendster got scooped by MySpace and how Facebook is grabbing people from that scene now? What makes one online social network work while others fail? I think about this stuff a lot (that's how I roll).
Many moons back (I'd say just under a year), I was introduced to Ning. Ning allows anybody (for free) to create their own independent online social network. Unlike Facebook where you create your own personal file or group within the Facebook environment, Ning gives the individual the power to design and execute a centralized online community without being boxed into a larger social network structure. Think Blogger but for online social networks.
Here's how Ning describes what they do:
"From eBay sellers in Upstate New York to bead store owners in Maine, aspiring hip hop artists in New Jersey, pop culture junkies in New York City, college professors in Germany, young deviant artists in North Carolina, and even a few big media companies in LA, with Ning anyone can create the perfect social network for them... When we started, we wanted to enable a diversity of social networks the same way the web browser enabled millions of different websites."
The big question (and I hope you're asking this) is how is this not the biggest, hottest and most used platform on the Internet? Why would anyone want the constraints of a Facebook profile and be limited to only having access to other Facebook members for their online social network?
There's nothing inherently obvious about why Ning is not out-pacing Facebook (although, we could argue that they need to beef up their marketing and PR for more mass attention). After having played with Ning and being deeply engaged by most of the other online social networks, I've come to the realization that giving such openness and freedom might be too much for the mass population. That giving people the full flexibility to build, deploy and grow their own online social network might be way scarier than filling out a personal profile and uploading a picture of oneself to Facebook.
Bottom line: I think Ning is on to something pretty big and I'm more than little concerned that they might just be a little too early for everybody to realize it.
Whether it's for myself or Twist Image clients, I'm dedicating some time and resources to leaning more about Ning.