Late last night Silicon Valley time Marc Andresson's new venture 24 Hour Laundry released its new product, Ning. It's a free online service for "building and using social applications". It's a Web 2.0 development tool aimed at non-developers, but it also provides ways for real developers to get their hands dirty with the code.
The gist of it is that users can develop new apps out of the parts of other existing apps - such as del.icio.us, Google services, Amazon, eBay and so on. They do this via web services, with Ning providing the ways and means to connect it all together. That's the promise, at any rate. I've signed up for a developer account and will report back on how it works in practice.
For now I want to take a high-level look at what Ning means and its implications on the Web 2.0 ecosystem. Jeff Clavier wrote an interesting post that explored this theme. Jeff wrote:
"So after being offered a large number of social media applications, we are now into the meta-framework to build social media applications. The notion is interesting: as we have come to expect that any consumer application will include some element of social networking, collaborative filtering, tagging, etc., Ning has the first shot at claiming platform status in the social phenomena by offering building consistent building blocks (though wikis could probably claim anteriority)."
Emphasis mine. I think Jeff hit the nail on the head and Ning is indeed attempting to be a platform for people to build social apps. As Jeff pointed out, Ning potentially makes it very easy and cheap to develop web 2.0 applications. Which as Om Malik noted, puts some new Web 2.0 business plans at risk!
But more than that, Ning opens up a way for users to create their own personalized social apps. This doesn't threaten the business models of current services like Flickr, del.icio.us or 43Things though, because it will only increase the usage of those kinds of services. What it does do is make APIs an even more important feature for social apps to have, because Ning users will potentially have less need to visit the websites of Flickr, del.icio.us, 43Things and others. Ning will drive customers to those other services, but via the APIs.
One last point: as a commenter on Jeff's post noted, Jotspot can lay claim to being a meta social app platform too. Jotspot has a vision for "Do-it-Yourself Applications" which it is rolling out currently. Take a look at some of the current application templates in the Jotspot Gallery.
I wonder if we'll see other attempts at building out social app platforms? As techdirt pointed out, a real test for Ning will be whether or not it can build a thriving community around the service. That challenge also applies to Jotspot and any other company that fancies its chances as a meta social app platform.