High on my short list of why I love the Internet, there's the oh so unscripted Marc Canter.
A big, gutsy developer, the guy remains refreshingly candid after all these years and willing to brave his opinions without hiding his agenda.
Then there's the very scripted Marc Andreessen, another charter member of the digerati, but one who rarely utters a syllable in public these days without first figuring out how it's going to play.
So it is that Marc the Raucous has now called out Marc the Marketer for publicly "pimping" his company.
The kerfuffle began after Andreessen wrote a piece on his blog trumpeting how the Ning service he co-founded now features "200,000 social networks." But Canter, who runs a Ning competitor, let Andreessen have it for what he saw as transparent PR puffery:
"When is a social network NOT a social network? When it's part of Ning's 200,000 social networks! Give me a break Gina and Marc! STOP bragging about how many people have clicked and created a network. How come you have NEVER posted anything on: how many networks have 5 or more people in them? How 'bout 50 people in them? Or 500 people? Bragging about 200,000 networks with one person in it - is absurd. And I don't even care if they're porno networks or not! But they're NOT networks if they're less than what? 5? 10? 25 in them? You're obviously pimping yourself up for a sale. Give us all a break - please!"
I've been on Ning since its inception and found it to offer good tools and a capable platform for people who want to private-label a social network. The biggest question concerns its staying power. Ning faces a lot of competition. Andreessen may hope Ning is en route to becoming the next Facebook, but that's a stretch. The more likely outcome is that Ning winds up like GeoCities and gets sold for a bundle to a big media or software company.
Ning has benefited enormously from the connection with Andreessen, who pocketed big money from his work helping to start Netscape and Opsware. His is also a marquee name that gets reporters to notice and, more importantly, opens doors at venture capital firms.
So it was that last summer Ning raised $44 million in a third round of funding. But that same announcement also raised eyebrows in some quarters about the company's valuation. Privately held, Ning isn't volunteering details about its business--nor does it have to. At this point, determining the size of the respective Ning social networks remains in the realm of guess work. And Andreessen, obviously keen to maintain a drumbeat of interest, can say whatever he likes. Thus Canter's piquant post. (For more on the company, here's a recent video interview that CNET's Dan Farber and Rafe Needleman, conducted with Ning's other co-founder, Gina Bianchini.)
So far, Ning is the site putting up the serious numbers. Canter's Broadband Mechanics, which does not market its products directly to end-users, functions as a so-called white label for social-networking and blogging platforms. Canter, the company's CEO and founder, told me that the public site is a demo site "and as a demo site, it's got 10,000 names registered. One thousand of them have clicked and said, 'Make a network.'" However, he added that none of the sites using Broadband Mechanics' meta networks is yet available to the public.
I tried reaching the Ning folks for comment, but they decided to take a pass. Well, Marc (Andreessen, that is), you have my phone number just in case you have second thoughts.