Wow. $44M is a lot of money, and a $214M post-money is a lot for a company at the stage Ning is at financially. Not sure what the end game would be to justify it, unless they either see a multi-billion dollar company on the horizon of 3-5 years, or a quick flip for $500-750M in 2008.
This is one of the areas of Web 2.0, however, that eBay should be a part of. eBay, after all, was built on community. Not just one community, but thousands – coin collectors, auto parts dealers, book sellers.
When I look at Ning, I see a product that eBay should have built – a single profile for a user (much more Web 2.0 savvy and current than the current eBay My World product), and the ability for users to create and join as many groups as they want, with full social networking features. Rather than Google Adwords, the free groups could easily be featuring actually product & item recommendations. The natural search indexing benefits of the groups would be excellent. eBay could build features to help members share searches, classify products, highlight Stores, and make vibrant mini-communities on the eBay/Ning platform.
A couple of years ago, eBay tried to update it’s incredibly dated eBay Forums with the new eBay Groups product. But compare that effort to Ning, and I think you’ll see why I believe that eBay should be courting the Ning team actively. Ironically, the eBay Alumni network is on Ning already.
If the price is too high now, maybe there is a way for eBay to just do a deal to bring Ning functionality to its members, and merge the Ning profile with My World.
Try it out for yourself, and I think you’ll see. The combination of the eBay member base and the functionality of Ning could easily 10x the number of social networks on Ning, and bring the number of users into the tens of millions. The eBay community has always wanted to form social networks… they’ve just lacked modern tools to do so. eBay & Ning could reach a scale together on a time table that wouldn’t be possible independently.
Please note: In the interest of full disclosure, I do have some good friends at Ning. And I do have some good friends at eBay. So, while I’m not a truly disinterested party, I have no financial stake in Ning. I am a current shareholder of eBay.