Microsoft Spinoff Wallop Surprises

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Netvibes Gets Design Upgrade in 2.0

Last Monday Microsoft spunoff its social networking research-project Wallop which launched with $10 million in Series B funding by Northwest Venture Partners and 30 employees. The idea behind Wallop is to be a different kind of social network — it’s entirely Flash-based with a very slick look and carries forward the idea which Korean-based Cyworld bought with their little virtual mini-hompies and huge real profits. I held back writing about Wallop before I could get an invite to actually try it out.

On a first look, the thing that impressed me about Wallop is, you guessed it, the UI. You can easily tell this was something made to standout. And obviously if they want to be in competition with MySpace — appealing to the same audience while making money off of them — they had to do something better (which wasn’t too hard). The rollover effects, dragging-and-dropping, customizing, all add to its slick look and feel. If there’s one thing in terms of design, interface, and usability though, it’s that Wallop sets a high standard in Flash Web 2.0 applications and social networks (another contender Famster which I wrote about a few months ago also have done a great job in this space). 

Moving on from design, Wallop basically focuses on six different aspects: your pictures, music, blog, conversations, and network. Just like in almost every other social network, you can upload pictures which is then displayed to your network and beyond (according to the preferences you set). What I like more is that you can upload your music into Wallop which is then playable through its music player in the top right. Of course, you need a good upload speed to get anywhere near say 20 songs into the system, but the fact that you can do it is a big plus. It’s also worth mentioning that you can view and play your network’s music as well, so I can upload an AC/DC album and tell my friend to do another one to save and share upload time, or on the other hand use it like I would use Pandora or Last.fm.

Now into the deeper features, Wallop also tracks your conversations nicely with your network and peers. Unlike other social networks where there are three common features — scrapping/commenting, blogging, and private messaging — Wallop combines all these into one with their conversations. For example, what you post in your blog goes into others’ conversations [which they can choose to reply to] and vice-versa. A surprising addition here is that it also be used to aggregate an RSS feed (much like Facebook’s News Feeds feature). I ran into this while skimming through the preferences where there’s an option to import ‘your’ blog’s RSS feed. Like Facebook, and unlike Technorati, though there is also no way to claim your own blog so for all it knows I could be reading the NYTimes RSS feed or one with my TV listings and it still considers them mine.

Something I haven’t seen in any other social network is a good visual display of your network and beyond, and Wallop single-handedly without a doubt impressed me in this section (screenshot below). You can drag-and-drop people in accordance to how well you know them or if you know them at all, create groups and drag people into that, it’s all seamless. Something missing in this aspect is a search feature — there’s literally no way to see if my friend John is a member. Luckily since Wallop or rather the number of people using it is small, this isn’t a problem now — I could just browse through — but it’s something that will really need in the future.

Of course, the biggest and most awaited aspect of Wallop is what they call ‘mods.’ Mods are essentially animations, avatars, decorative items, little characters, and even videos which are offered in the Wallop marketplace. This is Wallop’s business model, and rightly so they’ve adjusted  it so that the original content creators also get paid as well — their current share in all this is approximately 30%. If this is successful, the world will go through a big change in user-generated content. Currently the only aspect that is missing from the whole user-generated equation is the financial: people are willing to produce and create as long as they can get something valuable out of it. This has worked in Korea with the Cyworld boom, but it’s yet to arrive in other countries. Is Wallop the answer?

All in all, I found Wallop to be a surprisingly well-made product (after all, it has been in development for 4 years). Whether it’ll replace MySpace is quite hard to say, but I can conclude that it’s a new form of social networking that’ll attract to Microsoft’s already-penetrated Windows Live Spaces generation. And, if it is successful, it has the potential to change a lot of things MySpace has overlooked.

 

[tags]Social Networks, Wallop, User-Generated, Startups[/tags]


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