I’ve received a couple invites from folks for Google Talk, Google’s new instant messaging service. The funny thing is that it requires a Gmail username and password to make use of the software, which, like other Google software, only runs on Windows. Now you’ll recall, too, that Gmail is an invite-only system. This would make for some rather troublesome exclusivity in the service if it weren’t for the fact that you can talk to your buddies on other IM services.
So here’s what’s interesting about this, and something I wonder about personally given Flock’s current “private beta”: what results are had by using such an invite-based system to grow your userbase and social network? What are the costs and benefits, and to whom? There are myriad reasons for busting out with a fully public beta but just as many for going private, which is, admittedly, different than exclusive (Flock is the former, Gmail the latter).
To limit your system to invited participants, you must certainly have something of both legitimate and substantial value to create demand… that actually incents invitees to sign up and login. But you also must not upset or invite the bitter ire of those who haven’t yet received invites.
And quite obviously, as we learned over the past week, once you’ve extended an invite, especially in the world of software where there is hardly such a thing as scarcity of resources, what you giveth, you nary can take away.
So what of all these invite-only (or formally invite-only) services where you have to know someone on the inside to get a golden ticket? Does it artificially increase desire? Does it help services grow organically and cut down on trolls and spam, creating more value for invitees? Does it create more investment from the user community and perhaps establish even minor connections between invitor and invitee? Or does it create a false hierarchy around an inner circle of well-connected geeks?
What I do know is that it’s a curious trend and happening rather profusely across the web. Good or bad? I can’t quite say — except that in the case of Flock, we’re using the invite system to start out slowly on purpose. We want to not only be able to scale up organically, but we also want to cultivate relationships with our brave early adopters so that we can build the best experience possible over time. And to that end — we want to make sure that when we do launch publicly, we’ve hammered out all the glaring issues — as well as minor ones — so that sum total Flock makes you more productive, more explorative, and more voraciously social on the web. So for now, Flock will remain available to few kindred souls with enough courage to shove through our bugs and dodge the sharp edges. In the meantime, do add yourself to our invite lottery so that your name will be there when the next round of invites go out!