Growth Matters: Ning's a social network with zing

With all the gloom in the global economy, I got to wondering whether there is anything else going on in the world of business. I'm looking for growth because I think that's what will ultimately bring the economy out of the doldrums. Not surprisingly, that growth is coming from technology companies. In Growth Matters, I look at consumer technology companies that point the way to growth trends -- and in the process introduce services and products you may want to explore.

Are you tired of hanging out at Facebook and looking for an alternative for your social networking? Then it would be fascinating for you to try out Ning. According to Athena von Oech, Ning's Vice President of Community Management, "Ning is a different kind of social network. Ning gives anyone the freedom to create their own social networks for anything. With over 800,000 social networks, Ning provides the largest number of social networks on the internet today."

Ning was co-founded by Netscape's co-founder and has an interesting history. As von Oech explained to me, "Ning was founded in 2004 by Gina Bianchini and [Netscape's] Marc Andreessen. Ning launched its Ning Platform in October 2005. The company launched its 'killer app,' Your Own Social Network for Anything, in February 2007. We host the largest number of social networks on the internet today. New social networks on Ning are growing at over 3,000 per day."

That's nice but does Ning make the cash register sing? Yes, but softly. Membership fees are required for access to premium services, such as blocking advertising, using a custom domain name, or hiding Ning's promotional links. According to von Oech, "If you want to remove ads or run your own advertising, you can do so by purchasing our premium services. About 2% of our social networks purchase our premium services."

If you try Ning, you can turn up the volume. It's now a fairly significant player -- according to von Oech, "Today, according to Alexa, Ning is the 68th most popular website in the U.S. and 178th in the world."

Peter Cohan is president ofPeter S. Cohan & Associates. He also teaches management at Babson College. His eighth book isYou Can't Order Change: Lessons from Jim McNerney's Turnaround at Boeing. He has no financial interest in the securities mentioned.

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