"Alex -- your description of what we are trying to do is very well said. It's an experiment, but those are the goals.
We are going to see if we can generate enough revenue through a blend of advertising (like Google, Yahoo, etc.) and premium services to be able to support what we are doing, including the free developer accounts."
So advertising and premium services are the main business models, at this point. I also wonder whether Ning will in future arrange to get a slice of any revenue that services built with Ning make. For example, if someone creates a mash-up that brings in advertising revenue, maybe Ning should get a cut? I'm not sure if that's viable or not.
I noticed that Alex did the good Microsoft employee bit at the end of his post when he said:
"I'm not privy to discussions taking place at higher echelons of Microsoft but the trend is clear. Microsoft has been banging on about web as a platform for a while now. Microsoft is running with it, indeed driving much of it, and plenty more to come...we're not the only ones though."
Well, I'll accept the "running with it" bit ;-) Although I do think Microsoft is doing interesting things in the Web 2.0 space.
But anyway, back to Ning. I checked out their blog tonight to see what new services have been created using Ning (I haven't had time to dive into the development area). The Bay Area Hiking Trails is nicely done - I think by Jonathan Aquino, but I couldn't find any mention of it on his blog. The other services didn't look that exciting: a bookshelf, a Storyteller app, something called Confess!. It's early days though and Ning is an intriguing development in the web services mash-ups era, so let's see what develops.