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Pownce is competing with 37Signals, not Twitter!


The tubes have been abuzz with the Twitter/Pownce comparisons all week, and it's not like I didn't do my part, but I've come to the realization that Pownce has nothing on Twitter -- Pownce is gunning for Jason Fried.

In retrospect, I (and everybody else) made the comparison because, like Twitter, Pownce "streams" tiny bits of info from your friends in one nice, long, easily digestible list. One that's also kind of like Facebook. And not that different from my Flickr photostream. Or my Del.icio.us friends' links. Or any of the other myriad number of apps that have adopted a similar approach.

The "stream" -- let's call it that, because "river" just doesn't cut it -- is, like tagging, one of those canonical, web-native inventions that is already so totally fundamental to inhabiting an online social system that its adoption is inevitable in every app that plans to aggregate people in a collaborative networked setting. The stream is to this round of the web what shopping carts were to the last one. It'll show up everywhere, but put to very different ends in different places. Let's not confuse the functionality of a site with its overall purpose, in the same way we don't confuse Amazon with, say, Panic Software just because they both have a checkout process.

So, what's Pownce's purpose? And what's Twitter's, for that matter?

Based on what I've heard about Twitter's recent round of fundraising, which is rumored to be at a damn high valuation, as well as Ev's recent post about going big, I'd say that Twitter's making a huge infrastructure play. They want to undergird presence online, at least the short messaging part of it, and I'm guessing they'll eventually go even bigger than that. Twitter wants to be a utility, powering presence across a variety of devices, contexts, applications and services -- a huge engine moving the stream along. More power to them -- they've got the uptake and traction in that direction already, and when they make it they'll be in a highly defensible position, because real-time presence is (as their recent woes have demonstrated) *really freaking hard*.

And Pownce? Well, Pownce is a lightweight productivity app, built on top of the stream, and it has all the pluses and minuses of a productivity app (including that you can use it to share music with friends!) The Pownce kids have mentioned in a couple of places that the genesis of the application came from a desire for a more effective way to share files than IM and email, and though the app has obviously developed well past that initial point it still has deep roots down to that goal. Around the Satisfactory, we're talking about using it that way -- creating a Pownce set for everybody who's on the team to share, and then trading relevant work files with each other on it. Lightweight, streamed, persistent, scannable, understandable, simple. For our quick and agile approach to design and development, that's just about perfect.

So, who's the reigning king of lightweight productivity tools online, and who have we been using for that purpose up until now? 37Signals, makers of Basecamp, Highrise, and Campfire, online apps designed to help people collaborate in a predominantly business but occasional personal setting.

37Signals has done a great job of remaking traditional enterprise tools in a lightweight, online, distributed environment, but they've been much slower (recent OpenID integration notwithstanding) and even somewhat disinclined to integrate the newer social tools that we're seeing deployed on sites like Pownce. Where 37Signals is slimming down bloated business software, which is a form of reinvention, Pownce is actually applying new ideas to traditional models and genuinely reinventing them in the process.

Not to mention the Pownce Pro pricing model. At $20/year, it's not a big-money model, and it'll definitely never get to Twitter-level valuations. That's a 37Signals sized pricing model right there.

So it's Pownce versus 37Signals, and what fun to see how this plays out, especially once Pownce starts finetuning their application (breaking out file types into individual categories, anyone?) I wouldn't even be surprised if eventually the streaming aspect of Pownce ends up being Twitter-powered. Because, did I mention, presence scaling is really hard?

Finally, if you had to set up two company founders in a cage match, which would you rather see -- Ev versus Kevin (eh), or Leah versus Jason? I rest my case.
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  • I’m excited
    Pownce is definitely an improvement for lightweight collaboration over Basecamp, even in its closed beta state. For one thing, I've always hated having to ask the question: "Your Basecamp or mine?" Social software means not having siloed spaces that create redundant effort, and walls where there should be links. I'm excited to see how Pownce continues to evolve the state of the art.
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  • I’m shocked
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    Actually, I think it's more of a contest between traditional, simple, "dumb network apps" like email and blogs that are the ongoing competitive threat, if not simply because of inertia.

    I think it'd be interesting to see Pownce go in the direction of Basecamp competitor, but it feels to open and loose right now to really be a contender in that domain. I do think that the aspect of passing notes among a small group is a cool idea and I really like Jeremy Keith's depiction of that idea...

    That said, so far I'm finding it really hard to integrate Pownce into my workflow -- the email alerts are less than useful and I've turned them completely off.

    What I'd like to see is an OpenID-based messaging layer that you subscribe to like RSS but have the ability to push messages back up the stack -- so imagine having an "RSS Inbox" where friend request messages come in and you're able to act on them from that inbox instead of going to the original site. *That* would be a major productivity booster.
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  • I’m excited
    Well, one suspects Pownce is still figuring out exactly what kind of app it's trying to be, but if I were in charge I'd build out the small group focus without losing the app's sense of fun or dropping its more non-business-oriented uses.

    One thing I would love about this -- I enjoy the idea of this seamless mixing of the personal (mp3s from friends) and the professional (docs I want to share with my team.) Maybe it's just because I frequently confuse my personal and my professional life, and so this approach fits my mental model better.
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  • Great point about confusing the personal/professional. With so many folks doing their own thing these days--and doing business through friend networks-- this is a potentially significant wave to catch.
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  • I’m excited
    I don't necessarily *confuse* my personal and professional life, but because my friends are freelancers too, we often have a bunch of overlap between personal and professional. Pownce seems really good for both being able to exchange files/info and figuring out where we're going for a beer later.
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  • Perhaps not "confuse" so much as "blur."
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  • I’m happy
    While I think Lane is going in the right direction in point out hte competition between 37sigs and Le Pownce, I side with Chris by adding that if this were truly a good closed productivity solution, it would execute group functionality, something I talked with Ev about over at the twitter camp a while back. AND it would make the posted information transparent form my email.

    Two cases to point out: I don't want to have to private message everyone on my team, and I love grandCentral's implementation of voicemail notification. Hot hot hot.

    I can't wait to pick the Powncers brains.
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  • I’m happy
    And to add to this, I also disabled all my notifications via email. Too annoying to have to visit the site every time. I found more friction than value in the process of doing so. :)
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  • That concept "imagine having an "RSS Inbox" where friend request messages come in and you're able to act on them from that inbox instead of going to the original site" - reminds me of Matt Webb's 'RSSi' : http://www.boingboing.net/2007/03/29/...
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  • This reply was removed on 2009-10-30.
    see the change log
  • This reply was removed on 2009-10-30.
    see the change log