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Marc Andreessen dings Google's Friend Connect

Ning's chairman defends his "product" approach to social networking versus Google's method of adding social features to any Web site.

Update at 5 a.m. PDT Wed., May 14: Andreessen's analysis of Google Friend Connect has been added.

Marc Andreessen sees a number of companies suffering from the same disease.

"...I think a lot of companies have what I call 'strategitis.' Instead of launching a product, which would apparently make too much sense, they come up with a 'strategy,'" he says. "There's a strong temptation for companies that don't have strong social networking franchises to roll out social networking 'features' instead of products, and in reality, consumers like to have products."

Marc Andreessen Dan Farber

Andreessen is referring to the launch of Google's Friend Connect, as reported by Betsy Schiffman of Wired.

Friend Connect glues together some emerging Web standards to make it easy for any Web site to add social features. Andreessen is co-founder and chairman of Ning, which allows people to easily and freely create their own social networks. Ning's platform currently hosts more than 260,000 social networks of varying sizes.

Andreessen is accurate in his categorization of Ning and Friend Connect. Ning is a finished product for end users, and Friend Connect is code that Web masters can apply to add a social dimension to their sites. It's also a way for Google to extend its reach into the social Web without having a leading social network.

They are complementary approaches, but Google's strategy appears to rankle Andreessen, even though he said that he would "support anything that creates interactivity or feeds" in the social space.

Instead of using Ning or an alternative service to create a companion social network for a Web site, savvy users could roll their own with Friend Connect. It might not be as full featured as what Ning delivers today, but if Friend Connect gains traction, it will gain features and thousands of applications.

Ning announced support for Google's OpenSocial APIs, and could support Friend Connect, which would allow users of Ning sites to connect with friends on other social networks.

Ning was founded in 2004 and has raised $104 million so far,including $60 million last month, giving the start-up a market value of about $500 million. Andreessen said he raised the large amount of money to support the accelerating growth of the company and to have the funding to survive what he called the "oncoming nuclear winter." In addition to a skittish economy that could go nuclear, Andreessen now has to worry about Friend Connect slowing his growth.

Update: In a blog post published on May 14, titled "Friend Connect, Open Social, Ning, and the Web," Andreessen offered his opinion of Friend Connect. He doesn't address his strategy-vs.-product remarks quoted in the Wired story.

In the following excerpt, Andreessen explains how Ning will support Google Friend Connect:

For Ning, Friend Connect is simply a new and better way to do the same thing with Open Social gadgets -- in both directions: out and in.

We will support Friend Connect in two ways:

Every network on Ning will be able to be an Open Social origin social network -- pushing out Open Social gadgets to anywhere else on the web that carry with them the social context and friends data from their origin Ning network. So, for example, the members of a backpacking social network on Ning can still interact as friends on any third-party backpacking web site, by publishing an Open Social gadget out from their Ning network onto that third-party web site. In short, people will be able to flow more easily from Ning to many other web sites without losing the social context of their Ning networks.

Every network on Ning will of course be able to contain Open Social gadgets published out from other social networks on the Internet via Friend Connect. So, for example, a group of friends on MySpace who all enjoy cooking will be able to travel from MySpace to a cooking-specific social network on Ning, via any Friend Connect-enabled Open Social gadget published from MySpace into that Ning network. In short, people will be able to flow more easily from other social networks and walled gardens into Ning social networks without losing the social context from those other networks.