[11/17//2006 - version 2 adds BusyTonight, Submate, Vibely]
After reading the TechCrunch article on nascent activities-centered websites, I decided to take my own look at the activities space. I wound up examining nineteen ventures by the end. Their aims may seem too desparate to lump together in one examination. However, in the abstract, they all attempt to catalyze social interaction, and, technically, there are only a dozen or so features that they all try to implement in various combinations. For your visual stimulation, I've produced two graphics, one a venn-type diagram attempting to categorize each service and the other a feature set chart. My notes on the services should be read in order as later ones will build on earlier ones. I consider their major focus, ie their marketing position and the way they are actually used, not the subset of possibilities rarely or never tapped.
Evite Meetup Facebook Events MySpace Events HeyLetsGo Skobee Socializr ilcu Eventful Upcoming.org Zvents Showaholic SonicLiving Whosgoing Weekendr MatchActivity Renkoo Planypus Involver
Well-established for young professionals. We use it in DC every week to plan parties. It facilities the party pattern-invite, inform, RSVP--very well. Evite is a reference standard. Most parties are private and not visible to those not on the guest list. IAC is stagnating this property. They are neither evolving the feature set nor looking for synergies with Ticketmaster or possibly udate. Such is life in a corporate conglomerate. A feature set like Renkoo's or Renkoo itself would make a good extension of Evite. (Steve Poland has ideas for Evite and Friendster.)
Another reference standard. I get meetup emails all the time but I hardly use the service. My impression is that it serves well niche interests, eg knitting or interior design or kickball, and older and more thoughtful singles. It is a great system for managing and promoting club activities. A lot of the event driven sites below reposition feature sets pioneered by meetup. Unlike Evite, they are slowly adding features like friends lists and testimonials. We'll see if the technical enabling can produce social cohesiveness for a disparate group of people.
The two parent sites need no introduction. With such large memberships and youthful demographics, any sliver of participation in the events section is still huge. Partygoers see lists of public and semi-private parties and organizers can invite guests Evite style. MySpace tends to see promoted commercial events; Facebook sees youthful cultural events and private gatherings.
I'll use this space to make two parenthetical remarks: the MySpace membership is devolving to shit, ie fake profiles are polluting the site, and they seem too busy monetizing their eyeballs to actually improve the feature set. Facebook seems to keep it real with the .edu registration requirement though this could change if they follow through on plans to open up the membership. They seem relentless in adding really cool social features. Maybe it's inevitable that once you hit mainstreet and get bought out that the mentality turns to preservation and exploitation.
HeyLetsGo is for Boston what Craigslist was for San Francisco. Boston is a compact city dense with young professionals and academics. Each year brings a new cohort of educated singles on a career or study track that lasts several years. The vibrant social activity on HeyLetsGo exemplifies the untapped potential of upcoming.org's or eventful's feature set.
Surprisingly, given the dominance of MySpace and Facebook, HLG's social networking component seems strong. Based on what I see in DC, the strength of Facebook peters out when the members graduate. HLG hits the post-college sweet spot, at least in Boston.
No question that HeyLetsGo owns Boston. Can they follow Craigslist's example and clone success in other cities? (Or follow Facebook or SitterCity out of Beantown?) It's open question perhaps best left to trial.
If HLG want to stay local, a strategic option would be for Jack Welch to gobble them up once Welch buys the Boston Globe or for them to merge with Friendster, which despite their gross incompetence, still has a sliver of the same demographic nationwide.
HLG is reportedly funded from Highland Capital Partners and plans to be in San Francisco and New York City at the end of 2006. Personally, I would hit DC before either of those two cities.
Skobee never progressed far beyond a good idea. Why? The evite model--announce an event, invite, solicit RSVPs--flops when applied to small groups. Invitation is a yield game: you invite a large number to get a good number of guests. It's socially acceptable. Inviting a small number to yield a tiny number, especially in the open, appears needy and socially lame. Subsequent services seem to understand this and squelch the fishy smell of neediness by repositioning idiosyncratic plans as exhibitionism or casting plans as attendance at public events and broadcasting that as a soft-invitation. Technical features must align with prevailing unwritten social norms or, if otherwise, take root with a younger generation.
Just to clarify, in the evite model one person dictates a firm plan and invites others to join. This is distinct from the case where a posse makes plans together. What, when, and where are all potentially up for negotiation. Planypus and Renkoo seek to facilitate small group dynamic planning. 3Jam's enables that over SMS.
The genius who brought us Friendster then lost the billion dollar game to second and third comers is back. I didn't have access to the gamma trial of the site. This review is based on publically available pages of the site. Jonathan Abram's second effort looks like Friendster + Evite. But there are already plenty of similar if not more novel services coming online, eg Involver and Planypus. If Abrahm's star still shines brightly in SF maybe he will have the initial membership seeding to make it a success there. They will surely go after HLG's same post-college demographic. Socializr better launch before Q4. (Props to Steve Poland of Vested Ventures for publicizing the socializr and its links.)
This new Israel-based service aggregates public events in a few major international cities. Nice style with a focus on event participant profiles but basically isomorphic to a whole bunch of sites in this review. Aside from targetting the J-Date demographic, I don't see the competitive advantage.
These sites aspire to replace the local city paper listings in their dreams. Eventful is perhaps the most competent and encyclopedic in feature set. All are a bit dry and lack stylistic zing. They all have the ability to allow individuals to RSVP attendance to public events. Only on upcoming.org do people actually use it, and then underwhelmingly. The local city papers (their websites) win out on the comprehensiveness of mainstream cultural listings. I did find a SecondLife related real life event on upcoming.org but not in the city paper.
Whatever the quality of the listings, perhaps the platform is what counts. For their completeness, most city papers seem to have a passive print to web mentality and haven't done much in the way of adapting their listings to online life, much less create something novel. Eventful and Upcoming.org have APIs that if combined with APIs in other spaces, particularly communication, could catalyze new interactions. (I have ideasâ€¦)
These two are like the three sites above but focused on pop music. Showaholic is buggy and barren of content. This Ruby on Rails project isn't ready for primetime. SonicLiving pretty much works and seems to have an active user base of SF music scenesters. They are too cool for MySpace. Perhaps the Power of Focus is really the way to Cross the Chasm. SonicLiving gets its concert feed from the related tourfilter project. Whatever the ultimate source, the emphasis is on concert dates and alerting fans and helping them find each other. Gabriel Beneviste's effort looks earnestly grassroots and free of VC funding, expectations and meddling. They could rock SF music the way HeyLetsGo rocks post-collegiate Boston. Can it grow beyond?
The two Ws aggregate the loose change of personal plans. "I'm changing my tires on Sunday." Given their relative newness, a typical use case hasn't been established yet. So far they seem to define social life down and give a marketplace or stage for the mundane.
Whosgoing's novelty is a participant selection mechanism and fee system: the organizer gets to chose the participants, kinda like MatchActivity but for groups and platonic purpose. Is it socially cool for the organizer and participant to do something like this out in the open?
Weekendr's main goal seems to be Twitter-like exhibitionism with a secondary Skobee-like practical function. Skobee died. Either the public dashboard of private activity will be the juice Skobee's concept needed or it will be mere dressing for the same wilted salad.
Any idea is validated with a large user base. The masses are never wrong. Right now they are in show me mode, and they need a model base to show us the way. My prediction is that like Skobee and without an independent draw they will fail to attract a large user base. Some ideas are greatâ€¦ when fed to a huge and focused MySpace or Facebook-like membership.
MatchActivity reframes online dating by setting up the first date. The organizer posts an activity and selects the date from the responding applicants. Sounds great. The novelty alone won't be a sufficient draw. It will be like any dating site and require marketing dollars.
Renkoo=Evite+Twitter ~ virtual social caucus. The time has come for real time multi-modal group event planning. The target should be flocks of busy hip urbanites who make plans at the last minute from a menu of too many choices. Will they have a skobee problem of novel idea but no audience? Their feature set could perhaps best be exploited by the likes of a Facebook or Evite where flocks already exist. Maybe they will find the social planning frame too vertical and open up an API to leverage the utility of the platform. Perhaps flocking or swarm planning would be best facilitated over more basic systems like 3Jam or Pinger. Either of these services have the strategic option of going vertical into Renkoo's space though it's more likely that Renkoo goes more basic.
Planypus is coming with a similar feature setâ€¦
Oh yeah, I didn't participate in the beta. I looked at pictures on their homepage.
Joyce Park, famously canned by Friendster, is one of the co-founders of Renkoo. She got in trouble with management for blogging about their technical issues. That move was symptomatic of the intolerance for personality--and perhaps conscientious engineering--that cost Friendster their first mover advantage.
Who says the wealthy dynasties must lapse into consumptive oblivion? A young member of the Priztker clan is at the helm of this startup. They are pre-beta so I haven't seen the service yet. From Yan Pritzker's communication in the comments to this post, it seems that Planypus will indeed, like Renkoo, tackle the problem of flock or swarm planning for near term activities. What to do itself can be part of the planning process. Among typical uses, groups can decide what where to eat and make reservations through Planypus or select an event from a feed. (Read the comments left by Yan for a better idea of what they have in store.) By the way, for Ruby fans out there, Planypus appears to be a Ruby on Rails production.
I wasn't involved in the beta. From their pictures and blog posts, it looks like this service will let you surf friends' plans and a listing of filtered aggregated feeds using recommendation intelligence. Sounds again like great ideas in need of an audience. Who will they target first?
Technorati Tags: involver, planypus, skobee, friendster, myspace, facebook, renkoo, whosgoing, weekendr, eventful, zvents, upcoming, upcoming.org, matchactivity, socializr, craigslist, heyletsgo, ilcu, meetup
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Post InfoThis entry was posted on Friday, October 27th, 2006 and is filed under mobile, social networking, social planning.
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