VelvetPuffin, a social network masquerading as unified IM

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

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
2 min read

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.