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nothing like a trashing to get the day started


Picture this: it's a Friday, early in the morning. The office is quiet, there's a smell of fresh coffee in the air. You're still a bit sleepy, and as you're booting up your brain for the day ahead you end up reading a blog post where the writer, basically, has decided that your company is dead.

The attention-grabbing headline is of course something you eventually get used to, but still there's an element of shock involved. That relaxed beginning of the day you were hoping for?

Oh yeah, that's over.

You know? :-)

That's kinda what happened to me today, with this post from Mike Arrington over at techcrunch, catchy title and all. Since a number of people are echoing it (For example here, here, here, and here) I thought I'd add my own 2c and correct the various factual errors in Mike's post and add my own take to the conversation.

The post makes four main points:

First, You have to know PHP, or at least HTML, to build anything unique on Ning.
Well, with Ning's clone feature you can get a decent level of customization without coding or knowing HTML, and we're getting easier to use all the time. However, the key word here is unique. As far as I know, you have to know PHP, or HTML, or Ruby, or something to create anything unique on the Internet, period. Ning doesn't yet allow non-coders to create unique apps with complete flexibility and any features they want, true, but neither does anyone else, and there's a simple reason for that: it's a really hard problem, and one that most definitely doesn't get solved in three months. We want to get there though, and we'll continue working to that end.

Second, there is no support for the key web service APIs out there that people are really excited about mashing up.
That's not true. Aside from support for Google and Yahoo! Maps, the Amazon API, the Flickr API, the Yahoo Search API, as well as RSS, Atom, OPML, and others, anyone can add support for whatever API they need by either uploading their own PHP files, or write their own PHP API on top of whatever REST, XMLRPC or SOAP service they want. The fact that today we only support PHP is a limitation, to be sure, but a Ruby binding is upcoming, to be followed by others such as Python.
Third, Ning keeps all of the applications under the ning.com roof. This has benefits like free hosting, but application creators don’t get control of the page to add advertising and they cannot get user registration data direclty [sic].
Also not true. Since last December, any user has been able to run an app under their own domain (domain mapping), run their own ads, make source code private, or get additional storage. In the future you'll also be able to complete remove/edit sidebar preferences to make the experience more uniquely your own.
Fourth, Ning did everything wrong in communicating with their users.
"Everything" wrong? Really? It reminds me of something I wrote back when the controversy about stealth mode happened: "Ah, those pesky generalizations." I said back then. Indeed.

Generalizations aside, there's actually a good point hiding in there-- It's true that we haven't been very aggressive in promoting our new features as we rolled them out, and perhaps we could have done a bit more "outreach" but in part we've spent a lot of time working on stability and new features.

Consider: We went 1.0 in December (the beta period lasted a bit less than three months), and removed the "invitation" requirement to be a developer -- now any user can be a developer. We have added new apps, and improved the original ones, both in speed and features. We added new services, such as domain mapping and ad runner. And more. But we didn't make a big deal out of it, mostly because we're working on a sitewide update that would address those issues in a more uniform way.

Finally, Chris Messina in the comments to Mike's post, nails one of the key issues at hand:

[...] I have to ask — in all sincerity, are the current expectations on timeframes for building platforms reasonable? Did you really expect an entire application platform to be built, soup to nuts, in just over three months? You’re familiar with the issues we’ve had trying to build a cross-platform, open source browser on a platform we’re purposely not forking. I can imagine that startups that aren’t G-sized and aren’t just building another also-ran Rails app will need more time to execute.
While we have been working for more than three months, it does takes time to get something new right, and there's a lot of evolution involved, of ideas, of the software, of the infrastructure. When we launched, most people had no idea what we were about. Many still don't. But that's fine--it's the way it goes. Communication with our users is evolving, and we'll do a better job of it every day.

Sometimes we get too wrapped into what we're working on and even forget that there's a world out there (I know I do at least). Mike's post, errors and all, had the effect of jolting my blogging into action. I've been planning for weeks to talk more about what we're doing and some things that I like about the platform-- time to start making time for it. :)

And as always, comments and questions are most welcome!

Okay, all that said, now to get some work done... :-))

ps: also check out Mike (Rowehl :))'s post on the topic here.

Categories: ning
Posted by diego on January 20 2006 at 11:42 AM

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