Ning.gifWe woke up this morning to the buzz of Ning, the start-up co-founded by Marc Andreessen, the guy who co-founded Netscape.

We were alerted by a tipster in the wee hours this morning, but we see it is already No. 7 on words searched at Technorati — at least as of this writing.

Ning, the site tells us, is a free online service (or, as they call it, a “playground”) for building so-called “social applications.” Social apps, Ning explains, “enable anyone to match, transact, and communicate with other people.” We haven’t tinkered with it enough, but one interesting feature is that it lets users tag stuff according to subject matter. On the Web sites running on Ning, there is a so-called “Ning Pivot” on the right-hand side that lets you click through sites and other content tagged to a certain subject. It lets you see other users who are tagging to the same subject. Check out the sites we list below for examples.

CEO and co-founder is Gina Bianchini. The team has an additional 14 full-time people.

The company lists a bunch of Web sites that are already running on Ning, including some of local Silicon Valley interest. Here are just three examples.

Bay Area Hiking Trails
Restaurant Reviews with Maps
theGLU, a site to enable sharing of information across communities, such as Stanford. They explain more here why they chose to use Ning as a platform.

Back in June, there was a lot of buzz about this company, then called 24 Hour Laundry — though no one really knew what they were up to. (Or at least we’re assuming this is the same project — who knows, maybe Bianchini and Andreessen have extended their relationship into other realms?)

Update: Techdirt boils it down to a key question: Will Ning be able to build a real community? Techdirt concludes it might, but overall seems doubtful. “eBay, Craigslist, Flickr, del.icio.us and others really succeeded because of the communities they built, rather than just the technology. Thus, the idea of having lots of people easily creating new social applications might not seem too appealing. Those apps are pretty much worthless without the community, right?”

Update II: Marc Andreessen responds in comments below.