Ning, which offers a platform for creating a customized social network, is now offering applications for users' sites that add new capabilities in areas such as communication, e-commerce and collaboration.
The more than 90 apps available are based on OpenSocial APIs (application programming interfaces), which allow applications to run on multiple Web sites without developers having to change them.
Ning is encouraging third-party developers to contribute. Ning must approve applications that go into itsApp Directory to ensure they comply with its terms of service. Developers can also create an application and put it only on their network and not have it listed in the App Directory.
An application called "Cartfly" lets a Ning site administrator set up an e-commerce store to sell goods. "Ustream.tv" enables video streaming and chat. On the collaboration side, there are several applications for Zoho, a Web-based office suite, which allow users to access their Zoho calendar and retrieve documents, among other functions. Other categories of applications include games and those specific to fund-raising.
Ning is carving its niche by offering a white-label social networking platform with a high level of personalization for people with specific interests. The number one social network, Facebook, allows people to create groups, but Ning lets its users design a highly-customized standalone site.
The company was founded in 2004 by Gina Bianchini and Marc Andreessen, one of the developers of the Mosaic Web browser by Netscape Communications. Ning says its platform has been used to create 1.5 million networks with 33 million registered users.
Ning generates revenue by using Google's AdSense contextual advertising system to place ads on free networks. Network administrators, can, however pay Ning for the right to run their own advertising. Other features that Ning charges for are the right to use a custom domain name, removal of promotional links that Ning places on free sites and additional storage and bandwidth.