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Evite gets more social interface (but still no API)

Big improvements are afoot for the invitation service, which has been re-engineered to stuff noncritical features into tabs, simplifying the layout. And more data portability is on the way.

Evite is getting a much-needed overhaul on Friday.

Saying the invitation service has become "cluttered, messy, and confusing," new Evite general manager Rosanna McCollough has had the service re-engineered from the ground up. Users will see major changes in the interface and the features offered, but there's also, I am told, a lot going on under the hood.

Organizers and invitees can now add elements to an invitation.

A new user interface stuffs noncritical features into tabs, simplifying the layout. The simpler interface is necessary, since Evite has more functionality in it than before. There are more templates, for example, and users can also modify any element of a prebuilt template for their own invitations. Also, users who create their own designs can share them with other users.

Evite users get more templates now, including ones designed by other users.

The biggest conceptual change in Evite is its new social features. Obviously, Evite is already a social service, but new features, developed in partnership with JS-Kit, enable event organizers, as well as the people who are invited, to add photos from sources such as Flickr, video embeds from YouTube, forums, and polls to invitation pages.

My favorite feature is rather pedestrian: Evite e-mail notices now include more details on the events--such as date, time, and location. Previously, you had to click a Web link in an e-mail invitation to get that data.

Thank you, Evite, for finally showing some respect for my time. Other new features include the capability for attendees to specify how many children are in their party, and a way for invited people to privately message the organizer.

Both organizers and invited people now have mobile-phone options: you can send Evites to people on SMS, and users can send event details straight to their phones.

Under the hood
The Evite platform has been rewritten. Evite technology head Erik Kellener told me, "the existing technology platform would not take us" where the company wanted the product to go. The big beneficiary of the new platform is the mobile user base; the previous platform didn't allow the integration between Web and mobile users that the new one does. Kellener said Evite is now built around APIs, which allow services like JS-Kit's to more easily integrate into the system.

Finally, Evite emails have useful details in them.

However, the Evite API is not open. You can't just write your own Evite front end or widget. "If the market demands an open API, we will address it," Kellener said.

Likewise, the company is behind the curve on social-network integration. There's no Evite application on Facebook (whose own invitation system is an important Evite competitor), no OpenSocial support, and so on. That's part of the "next phase" of development, Kellener says.

Future iterations of Evite will focus more on data portability and universal accessibility to the platform. Today's new Evite is just the "toe in the water" of the new feature set.

Evite may be threatened by new social network-based invitation systems, but it's hardly down and out. McCollough claims that the service has more than 15 million monthly viewers.

The Evite team is right to focus on user interface improvements before reaching out to developers through an API program. However, I do believe that Evite's users would greatly benefit from the platform's integration into existing social networks.

At the moment, Evite is essentially a tool for setting up tiny social nets around events. These networks pop up during the invitation process and die, once the event starts. There's a big opportunity for Evite to bring the product into the modern world of social networking, with its persistent and rich personal connections.

See also: MyPunchBowl (review), Crusher (review).