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Pownce launches in a post-email era

Kevin Rose (of Digg-fame) launched his new startup, Pownce, last month, which some have described as a potential Twitter-killer. And while the application can be used in a Twitter-like fashion, with its micro-blogging functionality, I think it's more an attempt to bridge the gap between asynchronous and Instant Messaging, in a post-email era.
Written by Steve O'Hear, Contributor
Pownce launches in a post-email era
Kevin Rose (of Digg-fame) launched his new startup, Pownce, last month, which some have described as a potential Twitter-killer. And while the application can be used in a Twitter-like fashion, with its micro-blogging functionality, I think it's more an attempt to bridge the gap between asynchronous and Instant Messaging, in a post-email era.

From the website: "Pownce is brought to you by a bunch of geeks who were frustrated trying to send stuff from one cube to another." The service basically allows users to send messages, links, files, and events, to their social network or to be published on their public profile.

So essentially, Pownce can be used in two modes:

  1. as a public micro-blogging platform (similar to Twitter or Facebook's status functionality), with messages made public
  2. as a closed communication and sharing platform. "Kind of like CC'ing an email, only recipients can see and respond to what you send", explains the site.

Which explains why many -- like myself -- are having trouble understanding the value of Pownce, and what, if anything, it brings to the table. If you need the micro-blogging features, why not use Twitter or any of the other dedicated platforms? And if you need the group messaging and sharing functionality, why not stick to the traditional combination of email, IM and media sharing services such as Flickr?

However, before I write off Pownce too early, let's drill down to some of its features and look at their strengths and weaknesses.

Different kinds of messages

One of the better features of Pownce is that it distinguishes between different kinds of messages: with free-form text, links, events, and files, as separate options. This enables each kind of message to have additional functionality. So for example, events can be RSVP'd, not unlike upcoming.org, or links formatted distinctively from other messages. By categorizing messages this way, you can also filter your 'in-box' by link, file, event etc.

Pownce message
Privacy controls, including groups

Pownce's most powerful feature is the ease at which you can select specific people to receive a message, including groups of friends. Obviously this can be done using email, but its useful none-the-less to be able to send an event invite or share a link with a select individual or particular social group.

File-uploads

With Pownce's free account, file uploads are limited to 10MB, which is about the same size as most web-based email accounts (GMail now offers 20MB). A paid Pownce account ($20 a year) gives you 100MB, which is a bit more useful, but arguably, is still not enough for sharing media such as high-res photos or video clips.

No mobile SMS support

Unlike most micro-blogging platforms, Pownce doesn't have SMS integration. Enough of reason to stick with Twitter, for some users.

Where's the API?

Pownce AIR application
Currently, Pownce doesn't offer an API, which makes it harder for third parties to build services and other apps (such as dedicated desktop widgets or clients). I'm pretty sure Pownce will release an API eventually, but in the meantime you can download the official desktop client, which is built using Adobe's Flash-based and cross platform, Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR). The downside of AIR apps is they don't quite have the look and feel of native OSX or Windows apps.

Verdict

Pownce encroaches on many other services such as email and IM, as well as Twitter, Facebook, and del.icio.us, for example -- and I'm not convinced it fills a genuine need or can become a 'best of breed ' in any of these product categories. Having said that, perhaps for some, its strength might be that it combines lite versions of many applications' features. This is also where Pownce faces its biggest challenge and potential prize. If it's going to replace elements of email, IM, file-sharing, and event organizing, the need for a user to persuade their social network(s) to join Pownce, becomes ever greater.

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