WooMe is opening up its doors to everyone this morning after being in private beta for the last few months. They were one of the presenters at the TechCrunch 40 conference back in mid-October and opened up to a little more than 100 folks who wanted to be a part of the dating site. Since then they've been ramping up the site, and have made a few updates, including a change in focus from dating to simply finding other people to interact with.
The underlying idea is that you've got a minute to talk to someone one-on-one via Webcam, and after that minute you move on to someone else. If you connect with someone, you can befriend them on the service, and can opt in to get in touch outside the site for further communication via private message.
Instead of one massive pool of users to sort out, the site manages everything through themed sessions that are created by users. Each session has a certain number of spots, and to be a part of them you need to sign up and be there when it starts. If you're not, someone else can take your spot, and potentially your next ex-girlfriend. Session topics range from singles looking to mingle by geographical area, all the way to folks trying to find babysitters or carpool partners. You can also scope out who has signed up to be a part of the session before you throw yourself in the mix. Despite the site advertising a minute per person, the session creator can dial up the time up to 3 minutes.
To help schedule the sessions, users can set a time when they want it to start. In order to aid users in remembering they've signed up, WooMe is launching an alerts system that will give users a heads up when it's time to hop back on the site. Currently users can set up a 10-minute e-mail alert, but there are also plans to add SMS and IM reminders (via a bot) to help users get a ping before a session is about to begin.
In addition to video, users can also opt for voice chat that comes in tandem with whatever picture they've associated with their WooMe account. Interestingly enough, the majority of a profile on WooMe isn't populated by information the user puts in; instead, it comes from other users who can use tags to describe them. Users have their own tag cloud, which gives you a quick snapshot of what others think of them. You can see this on their profiles, as well as while chatting with them in one of the sessions. Besides the big "no thanks" button when you're chatting with someone, this is the only real use of user ratings. Users can also reveal their age, location, and real basic traits like body type and social archetypes.
WooMe intends to stay afloat via advertising, which is where some of the spiffy back-end technology comes into play. As users join various sessions, the service keeps track of what they're interested in, and will attempt to serve up contextually relevant video ads while users are waiting to connect to someone. Because it can't do this by what's being discussed in a video chat (yet), instead it goes the route of picking out keywords from the titles of sessions you've joined. Co-founder and WooMe CEO Stephen Stokols tells me this is a win-win for users and advertisers, as there's a good chance the ad you have to watch is somehow related to something you're interested in, and advertisers are getting a "captive" audience who would be waiting anyways.
Do I think WooMe is going to takeoff? There's certainly no shortage of dating sites, or ways to meet people online, but I think WooMe's got an attractive platform that's easy to use and sticks to the basics. Also worth taking a look at is competitor Speed Date (coverage), which takes a slightly different approach, giving users 3 minutes instead of 1, and is focused solely on people looking for romance.