I’ve been getting pinged on IM this morning about my reaction to Mike from TechCrunch ripping into Ning today. I’ve spoken to Mike a few times and always got the impression he’s the kind of person who honestly speaks his mind. So sometimes of course we’re going to be on the receiving end of some criticism, goes with the territory, and I don’t come even vaguely close to having a problem with it.
Gina (CEO at Ning) already commented on the post to try to work through some of the areas where there might be issues. I want to comment on one specific area that I think is a complete misconception however: that no one is using Ning. That’s just not true at all. We’re adding applications and users every day, they’re just not necessarily users from among the blogging public that normally frequents new application and service releases. They’re people who come to the site because they have an application they want to build, not because they hop from platform to platform and toolset to toolset trying out everything they can get their hands on.
As a result a lot of our communication and recent improvements have been focused on that class of users. We’re most interested in making the site make sense to someone who arrives with the question “How can I create an application that helps my chess club track the results of games?” Not folks who come with the question “How does this compare to Jot?” or “Why would I use this instead of setting up my own server?” So unfortunately we leave lots of questions the techies have unanswered in trying to make the site approachable for the casual user.
We want to make a new service, something that allows people who couldn’t get their application online before to easily clone and setup the site they want. That results in something that isn’t necessarily compelling for the kind of person who spends their life online and knows how to setup a server and database. We don’t want to be appealing to everyone, we want to be compelling for a group of users who currently aren’t being served very well. Those folks aren’t talking about mashups or web services APIs, and they’ll look at you funny if you mention those terms. Figuring out how to give them the tools they need to make their site without imposing too much burden on them is our focus.