Having examined a trio of recent entrants Pinger, Jyngle, and 3Jam in the multperson mobile communication space, I've decided to return to one of their forefathers, the colorfully named Dodgeball. This ambitious early experiment in social communication from NYC eventually caught the eye of Google, which gobbled it up May 2005 for an undisclosed sum. With the stability and support afforded by the acquistion, one would expect Dodgeball to be in the stratosphere with traffic today. In fact, the service still hugs close to the ground.
Why's it grounded? Dodgeball aspires to be too many things at once and before hooking an audience: it's okay to evolve new features with user momentum behind it but it's deadly to be muddled at the starting line. Friendster+Yelp+3Jam they want to be, unused they is. The probability p of each concept getting off the ground is low enough. Joint probability pFxpYxp3 ~ 0.
If we take the mobile-centric view, 3Jam by comparison is easy and open. If 3Jam's chatroom archetype isn't already embedded in your mind from IRC or Yahoo Chat experience, it is a design pattern with a good fighting chance with the uninitiated. Spinning new conversations is easy and unregistered recipients are full participants: I can include anyone with a phone number immediately in a convo and there's a decent chance they'll figure out how to participate.
Dodgeball is a relative autarky on the handset. I have to invite my friends to Dodgeball, through email, and hope they register before I can send them messages. The only people on Dodgeball seem to be a thin slice of 28-38 year old urban hipsters. I haven't and wouldn't invite most of my friends to register. Most wouldn't sign up even if I did. So the only people I can message in my circle are the profiles I've amassed in the social networking stamp collecting game. And why would I want to message them en group? Granted a partyline type stranger meet stranger dynamic could emerge but I haven't seen that. I've received only two or three random messages from my Dodgeball circle in a whole year, and I couldn't remember enough about the (simple) command set to send them a response back. The tight coupling of weak web social networking to mobile communication is a negative feedback loop for Dodgeball.
(Pinger also has an immediacy and unregistered participation problem but not as bad as Dodgeball's.)
Adding to the complication-or sophistication-is Yelpishness. Dodgeball participants can "check in" at different venues to their circle and write reviews online for the same places. This would be a great feature one million Dodgeball users later, when real social circles form. Now it just adds confusion to the SMS interface and to the market positioning. For texting it makes more sense for users to naturally communicate those details in their own way.
Google has a bad history with social networking. Orkut never got off the ground because the engineers who ran the service have an intolerance for flavor on the servers worse than Jonathan Abrams'. I got booted twice for doing very little on Orkut. What they got was a service so pure that nobody in America uses itâ€¦ and sanctions from the Brazilian government relating to cp0rn and hate sp33ch. Of course Google didn't hatch Dodgeball, they only bought it. Some of that excess Dodgeball creative energy should have been bleed off and infused into Google Video. It could have saved them $1.65 billion.
Google just recently started reconciling Dodgeball accounts into their own Google Accounts for authentication. And circle check-ins can now been seen on google-powered maps. Woohoo! Seriously, Dodgeball is cute as a baby but it needs to meditate like Po Bronson and figure out what it wants to be when it grows up.
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Post InfoThis entry was posted on Monday, October 23rd, 2006 and is filed under SMS, mobile, social networking.
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