Back in September I received an invite to Wallop and gushed about the service. I was impressed partly because of the novel use of Flash and also partly because I think Wallop enhances the user experience of social networks. One of the things MySpace got right was allowing people to customize (or desecrate) their pages any way they saw fit. Wallop not only gave them that ability, but on a much less-restrictive canvas and with some for-purchase "mods" in the form of Flash widgets to spruce things up.
But recently Wallop seems to have had a tough time maintaining some of the buzz surrounding it. It's Alexa numbers (if you trust them) have fallen and the blogosphere seems to have been rather silent about Wallop. [Note: The people at Wallop have called into question the validity of the Alexa numbers and their ability to measure a Flash site. This is a legitimate concern and am planning a post about how Alexa is a poor measurement of Flash applications like Wallop. I think Alexa numbers are flawed when it comes to Flash, but don't want to remove that part of the post altogether.] So what's changed since they started and why is it worth checking out?
Now that the community is built out some, the community aspect is much improved. They had a gaping hole in that you couldn't search for other Wallop members, but that's finally been fixed, so connecting with your friends is easier. Once you've connected with them, Wallop still does a great job of giving you access to your friends music, photos and blog posts. In fact, I think this is one of the underrated strengths of Wallop.
The social aspect of Wallop revolves around multimedia content. You can browse through music that people in your network have uploaded giving you a wide variety of music at your fingertips. Wallop has a real time commenting system which helps conversations flow quite a bit. Commenting on pictures works equally well. What separates Wallop from MySpace is that users have a lot more control over their pages. You can drag multiple songs to your page, add numerous mods and create interesting sideshows. Some of this is available with third party flash widgets on MySpace, but with Wallop it's all built in and presented in such a way that makes it easy to track conversations and customize.
Another much needed improvement was the ability to view pages without logging in. This gives non-members the ability to see what they're missing. However you still can't really browse other users by common interests or demographics. With MySpace I can view the profiles of people I went to high school with but nothing like that exists for Wallop. I talked to the company and they said that kind of networking wasn't the aim of the site, but to me it seems like an important part of any social networking application.
I talked with Karl Jacob and Brian Blau (Update: I had Brian's name spelled incorrectly. Sorry Brian!) at Wallop because I was hearing some criticisms in the Flash community about how Wallop was handling the modder accounts. A lot of people that were very prominent in the Flash community had wanted to give it a try but weren't able to get accounts. After talking to the team, it sounds like they were simply swamped with modder requests and they hadn't anticipated the demand. They have over 700 modders in the short two month span they've been open and those modders have built over 350 mods. In total, the site has had more than 17,000 transactions since it launched (and it's still in beta). Karl said that right now there are modders who are cashing checks from transactions on the Wallop network.
A couple of other interesting things that came out of our conversation. One, which will be good news for Flash developers is that Wallop is looking at Actionscript 3. They aren't converting Wallop to AS3 tomorrow, but they "are actively engaged in looking at the move to Actionscript 3 and building everything today with an eye towards Actionscript 3." I think AS3 fits very well with their needs and would make Wallop a faster application. The other thing is that there are a lot of both international users and modders in Wallop. The marketplace is working very at bringing together modders and users from all around the world which I think is an excellent growth sign. This type of application would be expected to do well in Asian countries where services like Cyworld are popular and it sounds like it is taking off in other parts of the world as well.
I think Wallop still has a lot of promise, and as you can see by the charts above, when it came out there was a lot of buzz around the product showing that people were interested in a Flash social network. Wallop pushes the boundary of user interface (in some areas better than others) and it provides a fresh look at social networks. I hope it can succeed but it looks like they have their work cut out for them.