I'm pretty sure that I never went to the Pownce.com site until today, the day after it was announced that the Twitter competitor was going to transmit its last micro-post a week from Monday.
Never having been part of the community, visiting the site only now felt a little bit like rubber-necking at the site of a car crash. It's interesting to watch, as long as the cars are totaled, but all the humans walk away from the wreckage with nary a scratch. (To that end, Pownce has built an export feature, which will allow its community to export messages to other blogging services, including Vox and TypePad. Both are owned by SixApart, which is taking over what's left of the Pownce technology.)
You may wonder how it is that the alleged Social Media Insider never registered for Pownce, which, at its January 2008 public launch, seemed to garner about as much coverage of its launch party as any social media tool could hope for. The answer? I can't devote all of my waking, or working, hours to social media. Having been amply Facebooked, MySpaced, Plaxo-ed, LinkedIn-ed and Friend-Fed, I'm finding there just aren't enough hours in the day to be an active member of every social media community. I never got the feeling that my crew was hanging out there.
It's too bad for Pownce, and other social media products that will no doubt meet the same fate going forward. Pownce, by many accounts, had some really
cool features, and was particularly focused on what might be called uber-sharing, letting a person share messages, links, files and events with their friends, apparently in a way that old-fashioned
tools like email couldn't. Hell, it could even induce a robot to pour beer.
But what Pownce seems to have been missing is critical mass, and that's a problem at least as old as Sony's Betamax. You might recall that even though Betamax was seen as the superior VCR technology, the distribution battle was won by VHS. It was pretty hard to invest in a Betamax VCR when less product was available to play on it.
In this case, the product is the community, and while everyone in social media can be accused of occasionally shifting allegiances to the next big thing, ultimately we want to be where there's product -- in other words, the community of people with whom we like to hang out, digitally speaking. One blogger, in lamenting Pownce's passing, noted, "I myself am a so-called ‘Featured User' on the site and have spent many hours meeting and interacting with over 1,000 friends and followers- 1,000 connections which will vanish in just two weeks."
To extend the Betamax metaphor, it's like investing in hundreds of Betamax videocassettes only to find that the player
that can screen them is obsolete. Better to go out and build a following on Twitter, which seems like it will be around for years to come.
Does the closing of Pownce signal a shakeout in social media? Maybe. But based on what I've said above, it's not because of the reason du jour: the crappy state of the economy. Even a burgeoning area like social media needs only a certain number of networks to keep it growing and vibrant. Turns out Pownce wasn't one of them.