ninglogo.bmpNing, the Palo Alto start-up, has relaunched to let you build your own full-fledged social network.

Ning announced the launch three days ago, and since then, users have created 5,000 new networks, chief executive Gina Bianchini tells us — though is difficult to know how many of these accounts are like the ones we often create (to tinker with, only to never go back again). Ning now reports 35,664 networks, up from 5,000 a year ago. It is doing something right: Even before the launch, page views reached 20 million per month, twenty times the traffic a year ago, the company says.

You can choose whether your network is private or public.

Ning’s features are similar to the ones offered by competitors such as Yahoo Groups and Microsoft’s MSN Spaces.

Ning offers a big advantage over those others, though: The ability to tailor it to your own needs, right down to the code, if you want.

On Ning, you can mix and match features as you like, including comments, photos, videos, blogs, friend widgets, invitations, messaging, search, tags — the list goes on. Further, all of these are offered in a so-called open API, meaning that the source code is open for you to tamper with. You can modify it to create more options than Ning offers by default. Moreover, your network can freely exchange information with another network. We’ve summed up the main points, but there’s a lengthy (half-hour) interview with co-founder Marc Andreessen and Gina below. Andreessen, Netscape co-founder, is the main backer of Ning (it has spent about $9 million so far).

In the video, interviewer Robert Scoble asks the important question. “Why do we need more social networks?” He cites Marc Canter, who has a similar vision in his PeopleAggregator: “Every one needs a social network.” But Scoble retorts: “But I’m like, ‘why?'” Andreessen answers that just as people began to want their own Web sites or blogs in ways we didn’t appreciate earlier, they will want social networks.

Still, we’re left wondering exactly why, and whether it will really be Ning they’ll go to. After all, simple blog or Web site software, from WordPress to FreeWebs, Blogger and Vox, are all becoming simpler and more flexible, letting you place widgets on those blogs or sites that offer the same sort of social features offered by Ning. And if you want to customize to greater degree, you’re probably serious enough to hire someone to do it, even for a few thousand bucks using other software — so that you don’t have to pay $5 a month to Ning in perpetuity, plus another $20 a month if you want to keep Ning’s ads off the site (so that you can claim your own ad revenue), plus another $10 a month or 5GB storage/100GB of bandwidth (we note, however, that this last charge is quite reasonable, since you’ll have to pay for bandwidth somehow).

VentureBeat's mission is to be a digital town square for technical decision-makers to gain knowledge about transformative enterprise technology and transact. Discover our Briefings.