Build Your Own Social Apps?

from the 24-hour-laundry-indeed dept

There was a lot of buzz (some good, some bad) earlier this year about Mark Andreessen's latest effort, code named 24 Hour Laundry. The company has finally come out of the dark and is launching Ning, which is basically an easy to use platform for quickly building social applications. This raises one big question: the core value of most social application is in whether or not it can build a real community. eBay, Craigslist, Flickr, del.icio.us and others really succeeded because of the communities they built, rather than just the technology. Thus, the idea of having lots of people easily creating new social applications might not seem too appealing. Those apps are pretty much worthless without the community, right? It might be a useful way to rapidly prototype a new app, but can it turn into something more? Actually... it might. If you start to think about it more as social situated software, suddenly the idea becomes a lot more interesting. The idea of situated software is that it serves a specific need for a specific (often very small) group of people. It doesn't need to scale. It just needs to serve that group. It's certainly likely that a system like Ning could provide a platform for that (though, there's no guarantee that it will really work out that way). What it really comes down to is empowering users to create something they couldn't create before. Like blogging, podcasting and other new "creation" tools, you can bet that some people will complain that most of what comes out of Ning will be awful and useless (do people really need to create their own take on Craigslist?). That's not really the point. Of course, plenty of it will be awful and useless -- but, by making it easy, a few things might be quite useful to certain people, and that's what will matter. Still, we've seen other companies announce similar plans without getting all that far. Charles Simonyi's Intentional Software and JotSpot both positioned themselves as providing just such a platform -- but neither has gone all that far. Ning's focus is definitely much more on getting developers involved, but it still will depend on whether or not those developers do anything.
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