Ning, the “build your own social network” platform co-founded by Marc Andreessen, is launching an entirely new business tonight, an attempt to capture part of the fast-growing mobile chat and social networking industry.The new product, “Mogwee,” is basically a fun, real-time, mobile chat service, for both 1-on-1 and group conversations. Ning CEO Jason Rosenthal, who is leading the company in a sort-of second coming, explained it to us earlier today.
You chat with your friends, live, on your smartphones, sort of the way people are currently using services like GroupMe, WhatsApp, Textfree, and others. And you can do things like share your location, share photos, pull the restaurant you’re at into the conversation, etc. (iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad apps are launching tonight. Android and BlackBerry coming soon, as are web versions.)
But there’s a twist: Virtual gifts and micro game features that more closely resemble services popular in Asia than in the U.S. You can give your friends gifts like pictures of a burger, a heart, etc. And you can perform game-like “actions,” like throwing sheep or toasting them.
This is also Mogwee’s first revenue engine: Once you use up the five free credits for gifts and actions that come with the app, you need to buy more for 99 cents, using the in-app purchasing system.
Will it take off? Services like Mogwee, GroupMe, etc. are definitely the future — and SMS and MMS are the past. The in-app gaming system seems like it could be fun, especially for kids. So we’ll see. This is becoming a crowded field, and it’s hard to break into. But these types of services can also really benefit from the network effect, where one user brings five or six more into the fold, leading to very rapid growth.
We’ll see if Ning has any user-acquisition tricks up its sleeve, if the gaming and gifts elements are interesting enough to get people hooked, and if the revenue from virtual goods is enough to convince Ning to stick with the project.