Pownce

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.