How can a social network stand out in this increasingly crowded social ecosystem? Not only have Twitter and Facebook run away with the social ball, now Yahoo has integrated Twitter to become more of a social hub without actually stepping on Twitter's and Facebook's toes, and Google has taken the first real step to socialize itself completely with the launch of Google Buzz.
It's a wonder there's any room for other players. But there is.
Ning has 2.1 million social networks since launching in October 2005, with 5,000 new ones created each day, said Gina Bianchini, CEO and co-founder of Ning, in a recent interview with me. Each month, about 95 million people visit Ning, with 40% coming from outside the U.S.
The figures are impressive, but they have to be, given how much is riding on this company. Ning, whose co-founder is Internet pioneer Marc Andreessen, has raised $119 million in venture funding and has a valuation of $750 million at the last round.
So what is Ning and why create a social group on it?
If Twitter is the place for news and real-time events, Faceook - the place to connect with friends, LinkedIn - the place to showcase your professional identify, then Ning fits into this social ecosystem by being a platform that lets "people express themselves and to have an impact around the things that are important to them," said Gina. "We are a social platform for interests and passions."
If Facebook's community were a country, it'd be the fourth largest in the world, I said. How big can a Ning social network get, the size of a small island? I asked. Gina wouldn't comment on the size of the social network, but hinted at it by saying the bulk of Ning activity comes from the middle tier of social networks that have between 100,000 and 150,000 members.
Ning's social networks run the gamut from entertainment, like 50 Cent's Ning Network for Hip Hop Culture, to activist sites, like The Picken's Plan for wind energy, Scott Brown Campaign's Brown Brigade, to eccentric ones, like Offbeat Bride Tribe and bizarre ones, like Lost Zombies.
Watch the interview for Gina's outlook for Ning and the social ecosystem. In the next segment, Gina and I dive into the business model for Ning and the company's IPO ambitions.