Experimenting with Ning

Last week at Mashup Camp, Yoz showed me Ning. I had heard about Ning, Ning is a social software enabler…I guess enabler is the best word…with a fascinating approach to building software. Well, getting started building software at any rate. While they provide other more basic functions like hosting, Ning provides the ability to clone almost all of the apps running on their site (over 6500 as I write this). When you clone an app, Ning makes a copy of all the files from that app on your own domain (typically appname.ning.com, though you can pay to have your own domain name). They also provide a set of basic starter apps that you can clone to get started.

I decided to try it myself. Behold Partisan Hacks.

Partisan Hacks is a clone of Ning’s Do I Rock? starter app, which is itself basically a copy of Hot or Not. The difference is that you rate how big a partisan hack the individuals are. As I wrote for the About page, I was basically inspired by Jon Stewart’s now famous appearance on the now cancelled CNN Crossfire. Of course, I’ve been throwing the term around myself a bit lately, hence the reason why the topic was top of mind for me.

From a technical perspective, I added two features to the basic Do I Rock template code. First, I modified the detail page to include a link to Wikipedia as well as to pull in search results from MSN. Second, I added an RSS feed to the most partisan, least partisan and newest additions to the site. I’d never used PHP before, so it took me a bit longer that I would have expected to make the changes, but still it only took me a couple hours to make those as well as other minor cosmetic changes to the site.

While hacking PHP was somewhat tedious (back to my ASP days of the mid 90′s), one area that is both compelling and productive is the Ning Content Store. It’s the shared database on the back end of any Ning application. I didn’t really make any changes to my content, but it appears to dead simple to add new info to content objects. I was thinking about how I would build this app w/ ASP.NET, and realized that having to build a custom database would offset most of the productivity I would gain from using ASP.NET instead of PHP. According to Ning’s Roadmap, they’ll be bringing Ruby and Rails support online soon. I’ll have to see how much better an experience that is than their current PHP based approach.