Did Andreessen miss the point of Google's Friend Connect?

I was just reading feeds and it is 4 a.m. in the morning, so maybe I missed something here. But Marc Andreessen just spent quite a few words trying to convince me that Google’s Friend Connect doesn’t compete with Ning, the service he runs that helps companies build their own social network.

Now, if you compare Ning and Google’s Friend Connect head on, Marc is correct. They don’t compete. Ning is a complete social networking site that you can use without doing any coding. Friend Connect is a platform for building social networking features into existing sites (and more, but I’ll just focus on this one piece for the purposes of being clear here).

Look at it another way, though, and you’ll see that Ning and Friend Connect certainly does compete for the same users: people in corporations who want to add more social features to their existing Web sites. Very few corporate site owners, after all, will want to throw out everything they’ve done just to build some identity, commenting, and social networking features into their sites.

In Ning’s approach you gotta pretty much move your site over to Ning and really rethink things. At least that’s the way it’s always been presented to me.

In Google’s approach you just copy some JavaScript code over to your corporate site and, voila, you have a social network and features added to your site. Watch the presentation on Monday night that I filmed and you’ll see this demoed very well.

Reading Marc’s note, I’m not sure he got what Friend Connect does. That’s OK, I’m a little slow on picking it up too, which is why I videoed the Google event where they showed off what it is so I could watch it a few times and pick up on what they really showed off.

I can see why Marc would want his customers to think that Google’s Friend Connect isn’t a way to build a social network, but it sure looked like it is a competitor of Ning’s.

Now, in defense of Ning (and Ning’s competitors like Broadband Mechanics) Ning does a LOT more than what Google does so far.

But again, I doubt most corporate customers think they need everything that Ning offers. To many corporate customers Friend Connect will be just what the webmaster ordered and THAT has got to be causing Ning’s management to be concerned. Certainly enough to write a blog post trying to distance their offering from Friend Connect.

What do you think?

UPDATE: Marc Andreessen wrote me back already and said that his target market for Ning is NOT corporate customers who want to add social networking features to their sites. Looking at their site it looks like Ning is going almost wholly after consumer market. OK, if that’s true, then Marc has a point.