A well-designed Web and software-based sharing tool (with a dash of social networking and personalization thrown in), Pownce is not a Twitter clone but rather a true microblog that lets you share comments, files, links, and invitations.
Well-designed interface. Private sharing options. Lightweight desktop option with notification.
No mobile option for posting or notification. No public page of everyone’s posts.
Price As Tested: $0.00 – $20.00 Direct
The idea behind Pownce, a start-up backed by Kevin Rose of digg fame, is to fill the niche that lies somewhere between Internet messaging, blogging, and file sharing. The site goes quite a bit beyond Twitter and its several clones, most importantly by adding file storage and sharing to the basic brief messages that are the common thread running through those sites.
Pownce is both more and less than Twitter: Though it adds file sharing, it lacks Twitter’s public page and users’ ability to post through a mobile phone or PDA. And it’s lighter than typical blogging software: Short posts on Pownce don’t get their own page but are all on a single page, and you don’t get the type of customization you can in a blog or the ability to include HTML.
Another difference from more traditional blogs is that, with Pownce, you can designate posts as visible only to your friends or even to individual Pownce users. You can even create sets of friends for each message to control your audience reach further for each post. So for people who don’t want to go through the process of setting up a blog, want to limit those who read their thoughts, or just don’t have long-winded things to say, Pownce is a good fit. IM is good for short posts, too, but you don’t get the permanence and audience reach that Pownce offers.
Beyond its Web interface, the service offers an installed desktop software version (still in alpha) that takes advantage of Adobe’s new AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime) technology. AIR, formerly code-named “Apollo” and still in late beta, is basically a cross-platform way to turn Web applications into Internet-connected desktop apps.
At this stage in Pownce’s development, you need to wait for an invitation to sign up—Pownce’s developers are not calling the Web app a beta but just protecting their servers from overload at this early stage in the service’s life. You can either get an invitation from a well-connected friend or put yourself on the waiting list by entering your e-mail address on the Pownce home page. Once you get an invitation, you can sign up, and then you’ll get more invitations to send to your acquaintances, and so on. Signing up involves entering a few simple personal data points and optionally uploading a picture of yourself. You can always go to your Settings page and change any of this information later.
The well-designed, clear Web interface is where you’ll do most of your powncing, especially if you’re not at a PC with the installed software.
You can customize Pownce’s look by choosing a different Theme in your Settings options. The four nicely designed choices should keep you from getting bored with the pastel-blue look of the site, but they hardly rival the options available in blogging services, and you can’t change the appearance of the installed software version. You can filter the types of messages you want to view, through a list box on the right, above your list of messages. This goes well beyond Twitter’s simple choice of choosing posters to follow:
For posting, the default entry box is for a simple message, and surprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be a limit on how many characters you can enter. A limit might be good, to prevent towering posts that block out all those below. When you click on the Link, File, or Event links, the box changes to reveal different entry fields. Link, as you’d expect, adds a line for your URL; File adds a Browse button to locate the file you want to send; and Event adds fields for event title, location, date, and time.
The Link and Event choices aren’t especially interesting: Link gives you a text box into which you enter a link. This produces a nice button on your post that goes to the page in question. The Event choice gives you fields for the event name, place, time, and date. These simply produce a post with bold What, Where, and When entries, and you get reminders on your Pownce home page for events your friends have sent. But there’s nothing anywhere near the capabilities of an Evite or a MyPunchbowl:
To get going with Pownce’s main selling point—the ability to share files—you simply click on the File tab and choose your file from the Browse dialog. Your file size can be up to 10MB for a free account, and if you spring for the $20 per year for a Pro account, a file can be up to 100MB in size. While the file’s uploading, you see a progress bar. When that’s done, the file appears as a button (showing the file’s size) within your note. Visitors to your Pownce stream can press this button to start downloading the file. (Pownce’s makers use Amazon’s S3 Web storage service to make this feature possible.)
A drop-down list just below the note-entry box lets you choose whether to make your post visible to an individual as a private note, to all your “friends,” or to the entire Web-watching world. Unfortunately for the exhibitionist and self-promoting among us, there’s no public stream page in Pownce as there is on sites like Twitter, where everyone can see everyone else’s public posts. In this sense, Pownce serves more as a true microblogging service, in which your posts are public as long as your readers know the URL or can find it through a Web search.
Adding friends is accomplished by clicking the Add Friends link on the left of your page. You get a single search box that will find either user names or actual names that match what you type in there. This page also shows you your friends’ friends, so there’s a six-degrees-of-separation, social-networking kind of thing going on, too. You find someone’s username and click the Add Friend button, but you’re not friends just yet: Until your intended connection accepts your friend request, you’ll be his or her “fan.” Once you’ve accumulated a pile of bona fide friends, you can create sets of them, allowing your messages to be targeted to specific related groups of acquaintances.
All of Pownce’s entry fields have prompting text, as in the Events form, where you have “what’s happening?” and “where?” in addition to the “post a note” that’s there for all the types of entries. Not every service includes these, and I find it a helpful motivator. If there’s just a blank box staring at you, you won’t start entering what you need to as quickly as when you’re explicitly told: “Type this information now!”
During the course of this review, Pownce was updated to include inline video playback from YouTube, Google, Metacafe, Revver, Vimeo and thumbnails from the Zooomr photo-sharing site. When you enter a Link to content from one of these sites, the viewer is automatically displayed. A very cool piece of whiz-bang, this puts Pownce well ahead of yappd, a Twitter clone that touts the ability to embed pictures in posts.
Powncing on the Desktop
Installing the desktop software involves first downloading and installing Adobe AIR, and then doing the same for the Pownce software itself. Both are quite quick and painless procedures. It’s all very tenuous stuff, though, and since AIR is still in beta and the Pownce client is in alpha, your mileage may vary.
You get started with the installed application by logging in just as you would to the Web site. The software client itself is compact and attractive. From this app, you can perform all your Pownce viewing and posting. Account settings and help aren’t available, however, unless you hit the Home button, which just takes you back to your Pownce Web page.
All of my previous notes, files, and invitations were accessible from this client, but I did run into a snag with this software: It wouldn’t let me upload a file. This very beta and partly alpha (the AIR part) software clearly still needs some ironing out.
Unlike some of the other microblogging sites—most notably, Twitter—Pownce offers no mobile option for sending posts from your cell phone. It does, however, send notifications via e-mail for events you designate in Settings. Choices include Pending friend request, Private message received, File received, Event invite received, Reply received, and so on. You probably wouldn’t want to get e-mails for all of this unless you really want to spam yourself.
Finally, the makers of Pownce have recently added a Privacy option, which lets you choose which personal information is visible to the public, including your e-mail address, age, gender, location, blurb, and friend list.
The ability to send notes and links along with files is not unique to Pownce. You can get the same functionality with many sites, apps, or services that make file sharing easier, such as Pando, Tubes, and Windows Live SkyDrive. For invitations, Pownce has a long way to go to catch up with Evite or MyPunchbowl. More collaboration and RSVP tracking are needed for that.
Though the young service impresses already, there are still a couple features I’d like to see. Posting notes via cell phone would seem to make sense for Pownce, at least for plain messages. I’d also love to see a public page à la Twitter, where you could read everyone’s posts. But Pownce is a welcome, well-designed option that’s lighter and quicker to use than many file-sharing or blogging services, and its new inline video player is pretty impressive. If you want less than a blog but more than IM or e-mail to share your remarks and files, Pownce will be to your liking.