Pownce, a service that lets users send messages, files, links, and events to friends, first launched into private beta over six months ago. It was founded by Leah Culver, Kevin Rose and Daniel Burka (Rose and Burka of Digg fame).
Tonight at midnight PST Pownce leaves private beta and anyone can join. There are 150,000 or so users in the service now – users have been waitlisted so that the sole developer, Culver, could maintain site performance. The site is still run with Culver as the only full time employee.
A number of new features are also being added to the service. A new version of their desktop client has is part of the release (version 3), built on the Adobe Air platform. The new version also allows users to directly respond to messages from friends. Previously users had to go to the websites to respond, making conversations more difficult. Burka says this feature allows users to “respond freakishly fast.”
Users can now bypass the tedious process of adding new friends to yet-another-social-network. The new version allows users to import friend lists from any/all of Digg, Flickr, Twitter or Facebook. More services will be added regularly, Culver says.
A big part of Pownce is event invitations, although previously users could only view events via a mini-list embedded in the right sidebar of the site. Events are now also broken out into their own page, with public views as well as lists of a user’s events that they are holding or attending. They can then be downloaded into Google Calendar of iCal format. See last screen shot below.
The most interesting new feature is a group of lists that highlight interesting users. This isn’t just a list of top users by number of friends or number of posts, but a more editorialized list of people who might be interesting to follow. These are called “Featured Powncers” – you can see how they are highlighted in the top screen shot.
Pownce isn’t a Twitter clone, as Culver says repeatedly. To me it’s more of a Twitter “plus” (see our now-dated comparison from last July), since it incorporates file sharing and event invitations as well as simple messages. Pownce also skipped the mobile integration that Twitter is focused on. So they clearly aren’t a clone – but the real question is whether users will be likely to choose just one, or use both. My guess is the vast majority of users will only want to be on one of the platforms.
Pownce is still a distant second to Twitter in terms of traffic, but given that they were in private beta the comparison wasn’t entirely fair (the number of users was highly regulated). The real question is whether users flock to the service starting tomorrow, when the gates are open to all. And remember that Pownce, with a tiny burn rate, doesn’t need to hit Facebook-like numbers, or even a fraction of that, to be a success. They can grow at their own pace. Who knows, they may be here long after many of today’s “hot” startups are a distant memory.