Thanks to my podcaster buddies, I have been sucked into yet another social network, Pownce. I’ve been using it for a couple of days and have some pretty clear thoughts on it as a service and product, already.
By way of comparison, I actually like using Twitter, despite my initial expectations. Part of that has to do with the fact that they have an open API and I use a great OS X specific application, Twitterific, that takes full advantage of it and seamless integrates with the rest of my desktop, menu bar, Growl and all. The other substantial part is the network of friends that I have, almost all podcasters and listeners.
Since these folks are all non-local to me, we end up using Twitter as a way of staying in touch without the constant demands of a more synchronous, one-to-one modality like IM. The way In usually describe our usage is like a long, slow, group chat. Folks just fire thoughts out into the network and whoever feels like responding, does. Even if you do not interact directly, you get a very good sense for what your friends are doing and how they are feeling.
Pownce, at the outset, seems to be capable of doing very much the same, with some interesting additional features. The character of our usage is certainly doable with Pownce. And since we are almost all media types, the ability to fire images and files into the mix, in addition to text, is appealing. The automatic exposure of RSS feeds also feels natural, even if it is not easily discovered. The ability to actually search for friends as part of the service itself is also an attraction. To do the same on Twitter, you have to use a third party app. Not that big a deal, but a slight differentiator.
Pownce, however, does not as of yet expose a public API. I know the Icon Factory guys have already reverse engineered it, but that’s not a great position to be in as a 3rd party developer. The fact it is still closed is probably a good indicator that it is still largely in flux. I am tempted to reverse engineer it, myself, though despite that issue since the desktop application they provide is truly horrid.
They chose to implement it in AIR, Adobe’s recently renamed portable runtime. First, there are some very odd rendering issues with AIR on OS X. I keep getting this partial pinstripes crapping up the applications pane. Maybe that is an AIR issue, maybe Pownce specific. Regardless, there is no Growl integration, no menu bar icon, nothing. Again, this probably has more to do with AIR.
They clearly chose it to give equal love to Windows, Linux and the Mac. They problem is judging by their application alone, AIR seems about as mature as Java’s AWT 1.1. It looks equally crappy on all platforms. A large part of the point of a desktop client to these micro-blogging, social messaging applications is to eliminate the need to poll. With the current, admittedly alpha Pownce client, I have to keep surfacing the application to check it. Not very much better than the web site interface.
Part of my staying on Pownce is out of their control. If the weight of my Twitter friends permanently migrate, I am not going to be forcibly disconnected from them. I have gotten way too used to knowing when Mur is in desperate need of pie for mood adjustment purposes. Trust me, this is important.
For the remaining part, I’ll wait and see how things improve. As I said, their client is alpha and the API may be released soon enough to see Icon Factory or someone else do them one better. I also have to give them some credit in the business department arena. Unlike Twitter which seems to have no means of generating revenue, Pownce already has fairly unobtrusive ads, even in the desktop client. It is pretty similar to the ads that occasionally get injected into your public timeline on Facebook. Even though they are using a dynamic language, in this case Python, so may have similar capacity issues as Twitter, they are probably less likely to die for lack of revenue or by an adversarial acquisition.