After listening to the folks at Ning and watching their demo, I was really amazed. I went out and created a Ning network for my fellow Ludi Labs survivors. Of course the thing I am most interested in doing is hacking the source code, even though it is in PHP. I've requested it from Ning.
Their content store is also very interesting. I'm curious to see just how extensible it is. They seem to claim they have a large selection of "common" data types. I'm skeptical. Why? Because that was always a thorny issue for us at Ludi Labs. We did the same thing. Actually I'd say that it was one of our mistakes. We created too many data types and each type was too flexible.
Even if they have the too large catalog like we did at Ludi, it's not going to be enough. What if I want to create a social network for Blackberry 8830 users? I create a widget of all the mobile apps that you can install on the 8830. I want people to be able to add to it and to search it. Clearly I'm going to have a data type that Ning does not support. They might have some kind of generic object type that can take user defined attributes, but it's going to have problems when I start busting out searches against these user defined attributes.
This may sound contrived, but trust me it is not. It is something that Ning must solve to be a viable platform. Marc Andreessen did a great write-up about the Facebook platform. One his great points was about how if you write a great Facebook app, you'll be doomed just like iLike. That's because you must host the app on your own server (farm.) He was clearly hinting out how this problem is solved by Ning, where your app is hosted by Ning. But if my little Blackberry app I just described is super slow on Ning once we get a few million entries into it and a few million users running searches against it, then it's no better than the Facebook Catch-22.