Wallop is a MySpace challenger spun out of Microsoft’s research group last spring that adds a new commercial twist to social networking — there are no ads, but users can buy graphics and features to modify their Wallop home pages.
Microsoft is an investor in Wallop, but it’s an independent company that also has venture funding. It began a limited public beta tested today, and it’s presenting itself at the DemoFall conference in San Diego.
I was kind of given access to the site — a spokeswoman gave me one of the invitations you need to join, but it only let me into a limited portion of the site. It was like having the bouncer let you into the lobby of a nightclub, but not the bar or the dance floor.
I could get a whiff of the ambiance, at least. First off, Wallop is dark and stylish and it takes a little poking around to figure out how to move around. The place is filled with packs of people who seem to know each other, and you feel a little dorky if you walk in by yourself.
Like other social networking sites, this one lets you set up and customize a home page where you can blog, post photos, list buddies and chat with them and others through messages (“conversations”) that other users can view.
The features that you can buy, called “mods” on the site, are in Macromedia Flash. I wonder if the site will also support and sell mods created the graphics tools Microsoft is developing to compete with Flash; that may be an interesting test of Wallop’s independence.
You can also upload music from your PC, so buddies and others can sample your exquisite selections.
Home pages have a little atom symbol you can click to see who is in a user’s network. I have no one in my network, but the PR person who invited me appeared in a sort of exosphere dividing me from the space where the other Wallopers reside and connect to each other. I could click and drag her icon into my network, but it didn’t look right for my only friend to be a flak.
Outside my network I found the profiles of the former Microsofties running the San Francisco-based venture, but I wasn’t sure if I was getting the full picture or just an edited sample of how they’re using the site.
Wallop CEO Karl Jacobs describes himself as CEO, a kiteboarder and soon-to -be father. He also mentioned on his blog that he’s souping up a black Dodge Viper that he hopes to give 1,200 horsepower. To Wallop the Google guys’ Tesla Roadsters, perhaps?
One of Jacobs’ network buddies is a guy named Sean, who may be Sean Kelly, the former Microsoft Research developert who developed Wallop and now works as the fledgling company’s chief technology officer. Items on his blog included a photo from an Australian beach and a YouTube music video.
I wonder if Wallop’s marketplace will enable people to buy and sell video clips. User-generated video sites haven’t figured out a good way to monetize content yet, but it may be easier to do within a network where users are registered for one-click micropayments.
The site had a long pause when I moved around or clicked things, but it’s still in test mode and probably busy today with all the other reporters poking around the lobby.