Twitter, which launched a year ago, was obviously used as the initial inspiration for the Pownce. They both allow users to sign up, add friends, and broadcast quick notes to people. The main differences: Twitter is mobile-ready, allowing users to receive friend requests and new messages via text message. And Pownce gives users more flexibility in communicating by allowing messages just to friends. Pownce also allows different kinds of messages – file transfers, events, links and plain text messages (Twitter allows text and links only). There’s no reason, though, that users will use both. They’ll go with one or the other, or neither.
So is Pownce good enough to beat Twitter?
The early adopter crowd is going to be torn on this one. (Just about) everyone loves Kevin Rose, and anything he launches is going to get serious attention – on Digg, tech blogs and mainstream press. But a lot of people like Twitter, too, and that application has already reached the “network effect” stage of its business cycle. It continues to grow fast. And Evan Williams, the co-founder of Twitter (and Odeo and Blogger), is also well liked in Silicon Valley.
A breakdown of the basic features is in the chart to the right. Pownce also provides a few other bells and whistles not included in the chart. For example, it lets you forward a message to others (and also allows you to exclude those that have already received it). And they also give basic stats on messages, like how many people have received it. Pownce has an AIR desktop application, although there are similar apps for Twitter, too. Another thing to consider that’s not on the chart – Twitter has had, and continues to have, massive performance issues. It is slow or down way too often.
Services like Twitter and Pownce (and there are others, too – Jaiku, Kyte and many more) are highly viral and benefit from the network effect. People want to join the service that all of their friends already use, and so each new user adds value to the network as a whole. By that measure, Twitter is far ahead of Pownce.
Frankly, unless you really like the mobile aspect of Twitter, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between the two services. I expect Twitter will add most of the Pownce features in the short term anyway. And many of the unique features of Pownce – like file sharing, group messaging, etc., are handled pretty well already by…email. Gmail, for example, lets users send files of up to 20 MB. Pownce lets you send up to 10 MB files, unless you pay for a pro account (then the limit is 100 MB). And email is certainly very useful for private and group messaging.
People use Twitter to quickly tell the world (or at least the people who care) what they are up to and what they are looking at on the web. Like blogging, it’s a one-to-many application that works very well. Twitter does that perfectly, and does little else. Pownce does it, too, but all the other features are really just distractions.
Pownce also does something that I find highly annoying. By default, you receive an email message every time you get a new friend or receive any sort of message. My inbox quickly filled up with dozens of emails telling me I had a message. But to read the message I have to click on a link and go to the service. The only reason for that is to generate page views. It’s easy to turn the notifications off, but most new users will start to get a lot of email clogging their inbox. Not a good way to start things off.