BricaBox: Deja Ning All Over Again?

Is BricaBox staking out the undesirable market territory that was already prospected, and then abandoned, by Ning? Several people have in effect asked this question: most recently, Hashim in a comment on my post; earlier, some of those who commented on the RWW post.

To refresh memories, Ning launched in October 2005 as a web service for the building and use of “social applications.” The Ning Launches! post at TechCrunch was enthusiastic: “allowing people to build cool new stuff that they normally wouldn’t (empowering the users) is one of the best things you can do on the Web 2.0 space.”

But by January 2006, Mr TechCrunch was suggesting it was RIP/deadpool time for Ning. Let’s look at his reasoning.

The idea of Ning… is brilliant… But the reality of Ning is that it’s lost whatever coolness it had, no one uses it and Ning is going to have a very hard time getting people’s attention when they finally do roll out better functionality.

Here’s are the problems:

First, You have to know PHP, or at least HTML, to build anything unique on Ning…

About a year later, in February 2007, Ning relaunched as “your own social network for anything.” A year after that, Ning CEO Gina Bianchini lit the virtual birthday candle and remarked on the size (over 185,000 networks) and growth of the service since the relaunch.

On the same day (Feb 26 2008) BricaBox launched its public beta. Having brought ourselves up to date, we can now address the question of whether it launched into a space already proved by Ning to be inhospitable.

First of all, let’s have a look at the above quote from Mike Arrington. He described the idea as brilliant, but found the implementation lacking. The first of his specific points is that you needed to be able to code in order to do anything with Ning.

BricaBox, in contrast with the Ning of a year ago, does not require coding. To build your BricaBox, you drag and drop content blocks into columns. For example, in my BricaBox keeping track of WordPress Multi-User sites, the page for each site includes a comments block (here’s a sample page).

I could go down the rest of Mike’s list of what was initially wrong with Ning, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader. I’ll tell those of you who skip such exercises that BricaBox does not seem to have made the same mistakes.

So, looking at Mike’s critique of Ning, BricaBox does not seem to be following in Ning’s misdirected footsteps. You might of course disagree with his critique, or with my application of it.

Now let’s look at the question (remember the question – the one in italics right at the top of this post?) from a broader perspective. Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen the growth of blogs, the growth of social networks, and, more recently, the awareness that there are opportunities between the two, or combining the two. So the environment is now friendlier for BricaBox, as a social content platform, now than it would have been a year or two ago.

In particular, BricaBox launched into a more promising territory in February 2008 than did Ning in October 2005 – even if much of the difference is in time, rather than in location. It is also avoiding some of the potholes into which Ning fell.

That’s enough from me. I’d be interested to hear from you. If you are one of those who posed the “Ning question” about BricaBox, what do you think of my answer? Whoever you are, if you’ve read this far (and I thank you for doing so), you might as well take a little more time and leave a comment.

2 thoughts on “BricaBox: Deja Ning All Over Again?”

  1. Interesting analysis and you may very well be correct.

    However, it seems to me that the market today has decided that they want these apps as features on a social network, not stand alone sites or businesses.

    The problem for anyone who makes a Bricabox app will be distribution. I can’t get my friends to try out any web app, but they’ll install one on Facebook in a heartbeat.

    A better proposition for BricaBox would be to allow the WYSIWYG creation of apps that can live on Facebook, OpenSocial or even plugin seamlessly into a MovableType or WordPress blog. There’s certainly a market for that.

    Who knows? That’s probably the direction these smart guys are heading.

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