VelvetPuffin, a social network masquerading as unified IM

VelvetPuffin is a clever app-based social network, but it doesn't go far enough.

VelvetPuffin is a new download-based social network that's also a multi-IM client. When you try it you'll think it's half Meebo (a Web application) and half Trillian (a download), since when you log on to your VelvetPuffin account, it immediately runs up a Java/Flash application that's independent of the browser. That in itself is a cool idea.

VelvetPuffin offers bare-bones connectivity to Yahoo and other IM networks. CNET Networks

Once the application is running, you can close the browser completely. You can also, from within the application, create a resident version of it on your hard disk, so you don't need to visit the Web page in the future to fire it up. There's also a mobile version (worked fine on my Nokia N70, but not on a Blackjack) that has the same functions as the PC/Mac client.

Initially I thought VelvetPuffin was primarily a multi-IM client, like Trillian. And it does let you connect with users on the IM platforms ICQ, MSN, Yahoo, GTalk, and MySpace. But that function is really a Trojan horse designed to get you to move yourself, and your friends, onto the VelvetPuffin network.

The service does have a nice interface for finding and sharing videos from YouTube, MetaCafe, and other sources, and for recording your own vids directly from a Webcam (which, unfortunately, didn't work for me). It can also create photo sharing pages and each user gets a little dedicated blog that other people on the VelvetPuffin network can see.

As a social network, I prefer a full Web site over this small application. While it is cool to be able to search for online videos, and create a little miniblog, and set up quick polls to share with your friends, I can't see people abandoning Facebook or Myspace for this platform. It's clear that the reason the multi-IM function is part of VelvetPuffin is so users will be able to communicate with their friends on these networks--and perhaps convince them to come over to the new network.

Unfortunately, the multi-IM functions in the product are very limited (most of the sharing functions don't work with non-VP users), so it's going to be an unpleasant process for users to rely on the client while they try to win over their friends to the new network.

The multinetwork, one-app-fits-all concept is neat, but unfortunately, the execution of this product isn't there yet. In addition to the poor services available to communicate with non-VP users, the application is a resource hog (should be fixed soon, the CEO told me), and there's no clean, Web-only version to fall back on. VelvetPuffin is interesting, but it looks to me to be unnecessary.

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by Bridget Carey