Wallop, the social network where you pay for pretty
The "important" social network I mentioned in my post about Piczo is launching at DemoFall on Tuesday, and going into limited beta tonight. It's called Wallop. A lot of Wallop was developed inside Microsoft, but it's been spun out into a separate, venture-funded company, the thinking being that the small company will be able to do more with it, and more quickly, than Microsoft could. That's no lie: According to Wallop CEO Karl Jacob, Microsoft spent four years developing Wallop without actually releasing it to the public.
Wallop is different from other social networks in two important ways. First, it's all based on Flash (another reason it could never be a Microsoft product). That is both a blessing and a curse. Like Flash-based desktop suites DesktopTwo and Glide Effortless, it's beautiful. Pages look great, and the interface is much more inviting and interactive than on other HTML-based sites. There are some really gorgeous features, like a "radar" scope of your friends that brings the people you interact with the most closest to the center, while mere acquaintances are further away, and people you communicate with who are outside your network are farther still.
On the other hand, Wallop's Flash-based UI doesn't exactly follow standard interface protocols. It's not hard to use, but it's very different from other sites. It also doesn't work on cell phones. And forget about having a good experience if you have a slow network connection, like the one at the Demo hotel, where I'm writing this. Ouch.
The other big difference is the business model behind Wallop: If you can program in Flash or ActionScript, you can create widgets, or "mods," and sell them to other users; Wallop takes a cut of these transactions. For example, if somebody has a gizmo that automatically displays airfares to your hometown, you can't just pop it onto your Wallop page without buying it. You also can't use the growing library of HTML-based widgets like you can on a typical social net such as MySpace.
Will people pay for code to spruce up their Wallop pages? Certainly Jacobs is right that more people are expressing themselves through their online sites. He points to the growing ringtone market as proof that people will buy little bits of code to express themselves. And to the developing economies in virtual worlds like Second Life.
Wallop will have to be a lot better than other social networks before it becomes a place where people will pay to tart up their pages, but as I said, it's a beautiful site and it's built on a very clever model. I think it will work, although it's also likely that other widget marketplaces will develop soon (see Widgetbox) and I doubt they will limit use of their widgets to single network, like Wallop does.