Ning has a lot of potential, enabling its user to “build your own social network.” It is a clever blending of platforms, allowing for a great deal of content and widgets (WordPress) and a community of users (Facebook) who receive streaming updates (Twitter).
Basically, this is just like having a virtual business with lots of “regulars.” But the idea isn’t totally groundbreaking. It is reminiscent of MSN Communities (sucked up by Multiply in 2008), which, years ago, also allowed users share pictures and participate in discussions. Ning has effectively nudged the principal to the next level, removing the barrier between that community and the rest of the world and making the network seem like a normal website.
The drawback to this program is that it is not something people are familiar with, and so few networks have been developed for actual use, and most of the users haven’t devoted much time to it past creating a default profile. And now Ning has announced that it will discontinue its free service in July and instead charge for accounts. I see this as the way the internet will work in the future, but until people get used to virtual interaction of this sort, I wouldn’t make an investment in it.