The latest social networking app de jour is called Pownce. Like most people, I signed up a few days ago and starting playing around.

If you read the 140 character reviews of Pownce on Twitter, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Pownce is some kind of Twitter clone. Here, for example, is the collected wisdom of Paul Boag:

Just dont get pownce. Just feels like Twitter but i need to invite all my friends again

Not sure I can be bothered to update both twitter and pownce. Might have to make a decision soon.

It’s understandable, I suppose. Pownce lets you send little updates… just like Twitter. You can share links… just like Del.icio.us. You can share share events… just like Upcoming. So comparing Pownce to any of these services is understandable, I suppose. But I am reminded of the story of the blind men and the elephant. It seems that many of my own friends are displaying a disappointing lack of imagination by only comparing Pownce to what they already know.

The key feature of Pownce is the ability to share files. If you read the about page, the service is defined in a nutshell:

Pownce is a way to send stuff to your friends.

Stuff + friends. And like all the best apps, it was built to scratch an itch:

Pownce is brought to you by a bunch of geeks who were frustrated trying to send stuff from one cube to another.

If you want to compare it to anything, Dropsend feels like the closest competitor. Pownce is a pain-free way of sharing music, video and images amongst a discrete group of people.

And that’s the other key point: groups of people. It’s no coincidence that this app has support for groups built in from the start. The combination of file sharing with groups could potentially make it a killer app. It could be a social app like Twitter or whatever, but I think it could just as easily be a productivity app, more akin to something from 37 Signals.

Here’s an example: I’ve got everyone in the Clearleft office signed up. Each of us can have as many friends as we want but as long as we each have a Clearleft group, we can share files, links, events and notes with one another.

I’ve also created a Britpack group. If enough of my fellow Illuminati sign up, I can share stuff privately with them—something I can’t do on the mailing list because it quite rightly strips out attachments.

Another potential use would be for my band, Salter Cane. Emailing songs around is a royal pain. Being able to share MP3 files with an addressable but private URL could be really handy.

Far from being another Twitter or Jaiku, Pownce is a completely different part of the ecosystem of the social web.

I still plan to put public events on Upcoming and videos on YouTube, Viddler, Vimeo or wherever. But for that space between private and public, when I want to share something with a certain number of people, Pownce sure beats CCing a bunch of email addresses.

There’s another unspoken advantage that Pownce has over other social uploading sites like YouTube. If you’re sharing a file that might be slightly bending the law around license agreements or copyright, the ability to restrict the circulation could save everyone a lot of hassle. What the RIAA and MPAA don’t know won’t hurt ‘em.

The utility of Pownce isn’t the only reason I like it. It’s also really nicely designed. I don’t just mean the visual design—which is lovely, thanks to Daniel. The interaction design is well thought-out.

This is a surprisingly full-featured app considering that just four people put it together. There was just one full-time programmer for the website: Leah Culver. In spite of that, the site has launched (still in Alpha) with a whole bunch of features. The notifications and privacy settings, for example, are really nicely done. There’s also a nice “friends of friends” feature to help you track down people you might know.

Oh, and it’s got one of the best 404 pages ever.

Under the hood, everything has been put together with Django with storage handled by Amazon’s Simple Storage Service. If you peek into the markup, you’ll also find a bunch of nice microformats.

There’s also a desktop app for the service. It’s built using AIR née Apollo. It’s pretty slick and frankly, seeing an independent product like this is going to be far more likely to convince me of the benefits of the platform than any product demo from Adobe.

There are whole bunch of other little things that I like about Pownce that add to its personality—like the gender options in the profile form or the ability to choose themes—but I’ll stop going on about it. The key thing is that I can see this service filling a need through the combination of groups + file sharing.

If you’ve tried Pownce and come away feeling that it’s just like Twitter, you’re doing it wrong.

Have you published a response to this? :


Paul Boag

Well I am sorry to show my ignorance! ;) I guess I don’t have the itch that needs scratching. When you have a web server on your network you simply send files to that without the need to upload.

I do agree with what you are saying though (I do hate it when I have to say that). I can see the need. However, when it comes down to it we are going to have to pick either twitter or Pownce. I cannot see me regularly updating both.

# Posted by Paul Boag on Monday, July 2nd, 2007 at 6:53pm

Chris Messina

Hey Jeremy, this is really a pretty good description of what Pownce is all about. I like the folks behind it and expect great things — and you’re right, when I first starting using it, my impression was of things I’ve seen over and over again.

I think you’ve done a great job of explaining how Pownce could really be a personal tool for groups of friends — much more intimate than the exhibitionist-friendly Twitter for example. And I think that actually makes a lot of sense, when considered as a tool to get things done as opposed to a tool for expression.

I guess the problem is — as you alluded to with the blind gentlemen — is that the external affordances of the application basically undermined its potential by seeming like yet another Twitter-clone-du-jour. I certainly didn’t take away your impression when I started using it — and I wonder if others who, say, don’t use Twitter, will walk away with your impression of things.

And I think this is a really important and interesting point given the state of things. For one thing, I really don’t ever want to have to repeat myself again — I think I finally acutely feel Tantek’s original pain that lead to microformats. For example, I love the way that Dopplr allows me to enter an Upcoming URL and it knows to parse out the event info for me — I’d love for Pownce to do the same.

I’d also love for Pownce (and the name really again goes against the model you’ve described) to really push towards smaller circles of friends and highlight its utility towards that purpose. Right now, the interface basically seems to be asking you to act like you would if you were on Twitter — which is to say — to blast a message of less than 200 characters out to everyone. And given, the sheer number of friend invites from people that I don’t recognize or know, I’d say that the initial reaction has been to treat it like a better design MySpace, rather than the less promiscuous Facebook. All these things, at least in my experience, lead me not to have the experience you had — which, as you describe it, is very compelling — and instead to write it off as an overfeatured Twitteresque presence app.

I’ll now be watching my interactions with the service differently, and will try to pare down the unruliness of my contact list by focusing my use of Pownce on, as you described, minute groups of connected friends.

Thanks for the write up — Daniel and co should definitely incorporate something like this on the welcome screen! ;)

Sean McGee

Thanks, Jeremy. I’m glad someone with some clout decided to say this.

Now if pownce were to add SMS capabilities along with RSS subscription options, this would definitely become a killer app. But then again, it would just be compared to twitter.

Maybe the best way to view Pownce is IM 2.0?

# Posted by Sean McGee on Monday, July 2nd, 2007 at 7:28pm

paul haine

It’s no good, every time I see ‘Pownce’ I’m just reading it as ‘Ponce’.

# Posted by paul haine on Monday, July 2nd, 2007 at 7:43pm

Jeff Croft

Nice review!

I’m really, really anxious to give it a try (but so far, I haven’t been invited). Between the combination of people I respect, them using technologies I personally value (Django and Apollo), and the fact that I never could get excited about Twitter, I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

# Posted by Jeff Croft on Monday, July 2nd, 2007 at 7:43pm

Patrick Haney

I’ve not given Pownce a good run for its money just yet, but I wonder how hard it will be for it to take over duties that Twitter already has secured. What Pownce needs is a good "import you friends from Twitter" feature to make switching a breeze.

Alex Jones

Interesting, I had done the same as a lot of the folks you mentioned, assuming it was mainly a Twitter competitor. Your article nudged me over the edge, so I went to sign up, only to find out it’s invite only. Hopefully they’ll open it up soon, now that I’m excited!

# Posted by Alex Jones on Monday, July 2nd, 2007 at 9:12pm

Darren Wood

Hmm - I’m a little disappointed that twitter didn’t do this first. Or at least a twitter client that has a file sharing feature built in (much like the tweetr client that has camera support).

All this reminds me of IRC with DCC Send…

Scott O'Raw

I think one of the possible reasons for the comparison to Twitter (which, the more I think about it, is unfair) is a lack of emotional space for something new in this vein. I can understand Paul’s sentiments and do feel that we will all eventually settle on Twitter or Jaiku or whatever. Only time will tell on that one.

Now, if Pownce were to include support for all major IM protocols in the desktop client, a la Adium, I think they would be on to a winner. I could happily let Twitterific appear and disappear all day long and have some kind of Pownce / IM window running too. If nothing else, I’m running out of screen space for all this stuff!

Ted Rheingold

word. i too am disappointed with the blogorati’s imagination and creativity.

time and time again I see people defending their current software choice because of what has to be an emotional connection. i find such reactions to appear knee-jerk. it’s not much more evolved then people saying their sports team is better simply because it’s their sports team.

far too few people use an unemotional mindset when trying out new software. it’s as if their own feeling of self-worth will be reduced if their current software of choice isn’t the very best the world will ever see.

Beth Granter

Hi, good write up… I came here through Josh’s page on Pownce. I think everyone’s saying it’s like Twitter not based on functionality but mainly because of similarities in layout. Public notes from your friends come up on your profile page in the same way as they do on the ‘you and your friends’ bit of Twitter. Also, because of this, people seem to be using it like Twitter/Facebook statuses for random ‘life updates’, whereas like you say, Pownce is supposed to be for file sharing mainly, so it would be nice if people started used it mainly for that.

Apart from having an ace 401 page, Pownce also win on gender politics [I wrote a bit about that here: http://bethgranter.wordpress.com/2007/07/02/pownce-wins-on-gender/ ]

Tim Whitman

I never really got Twitter - you mean you really want to know what I’m doing every 10 minutes?!

But if Pownce is like some kinda of merge of Basecamp and DropSend - that is very cool.

Care to share an invite code?

# Posted by Tim Whitman on Wednesday, July 4th, 2007 at 4:55am


I’ve been using it too, and read lots of reviews about it so far. Yours may be the best yet!

# Posted by Gabrielle on Thursday, July 5th, 2007 at 1:43am

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