Update: Namesake is again limiting signups, but you can use this invite link to jump the queue.
I obsessively sign up for every site or service that I find. But if I measure my level of enthusiasm for a site based on how much time it takes away from the other sites I love, then Namesake is definitely my latest favorite shiny new thing.
Namesake is the creation of former MySpace execs Brian Norgard and Dan Gould, and launched last September at TechCrunch Disrupt. But it kept a pretty low profile, and you needed an invite to get in. That’s always a reliable way to fire up interest, and of course I requested one. I only got in a month ago.
I liked what I saw, but of course it was a pretty sparse neighborhood at first. But slowly, more invites went out (users got invites to share), and more and more people logged in, and there was more and more activity.
This week, however, signups absolutely exploded, at least among Hawaii users. My already jam-packed email inbox was bursting at the seams with notifications as new connections were made with friends (Namesake auto connects you with your Twitter and Facebook friends).
And yesterday was an incredibly busy day, in part because Namesake (at least temporarily) suspended the ‘invite’ requirement. There was so much going on, and so much to keep up with, I barely spent any time on Twitter and Facebook… two services where I generally spend far too much time.
If, like me, you’re the curious, signer-upper type, I invite you to join. Heck, even if you’re not, the obsessive compulsive geek in me would recommend at least checking in to reserve your preferred username (and profile URL).
What Is It?
Namesake’s mission is to “build trust through conversation.” And with all the hype surrounding social media marketing, the pitch definitely smells a bit like a game of buzzword bingo. But perhaps what’s interesting about what Namesake is doing is how well it’s doing something that’s nearly as old as technology. It’s a conversation platform, something that we had with dial-up BBSes, USENET, message boards, and yes, just about every social network out there today.
So in many ways, Namesake is not revolutionary or original, but I think it’s solidly designed, and works well. It combines the best parts of several social web services together, creating something that’s surprisingly compelling.
In short, Namesake offers real-time threaded conversations with tags and upvotes, which alone is great. But a key ingredient is its personal profiles and user-to-user endorsements for various kinds of expertise. But frankly, it’s hard for me to describe Namesake without comparing itself to other services.
A lot of the things I liked about Namesake were the very same things I liked about FriendFeed. Of course, even when I wrote about how much I loved that service, I knew it was pretty geeky and might not catch on. Sure enough, Facebook bought Friendfeed for its technology, and the standalone service is now a ghost town. Friendfeed did a lot for people that did geeky things, but not for the average web user.
In part because people “get” discussion forums, I think they’ll likely “get” Namesake. Even though it can still be overwhelming for a newbie.
Like Twitter, Namesake is great for conversations. But unlike Twitter, which relies on hashtags to find public comments on a given topic, Namesake conversations are threaded, archived and easily readable, and easy for anyone to join in. Conversations can be tagged with topics, so you can hit “marketing” to find other marketing conversations, or “cooking” or “design.”
The conversation stream feels a bit like the Facebook news feed filtered to just show status updates and comments. And the site strongly urges you to use your real name and to interact as a person, not as a business or brand. (Of course, like on Facebook, that doesn’t stop companies from setting up shop, like HMSA or Kamehameha Schools.)
But unlike Facebook, the site is open and the content public. This is important, to me. You can read Doc Rock’s conversation about how Namesake is the “next big thing,” without having to join or log in.
Like Reddit or Digg, you can vote up conversations and comments that you like, bumping them back up to the top of the stream to get more attention.
Like Quora, the invitation to start conversations generally sparks requests for advice or feedback. Of course, Namesake is just as likely to spark a discussion about celebrities as it is a discussion about programming.
Like LinkedIn, Namesake invites users to say what they do well, and collect endorsements from friends who affirm that they’re good at what they say they’re good at. Unlike LinkedIn, though, you don’t have to be all business. Sure, you could say you’re good at programming, but local entrepreneur Olin Lagon lists “reverse engineering cookie recipies.” And thanks to the tagging, you can see who across the site has the most endorsements for a given topic.
If you like any of these services, you’ll probably find something you like about Namesake.
And the killer feature may very well be the real-time aspect. It made Namesake… dare I say “sticky”? It was actually hard for me to log off, thanks to real-time notifications of new comments and other activity. It’s hard to click away when the site tells you, “Someone is typing a reply…”
What’s not to like?
Although I do recommend you give Namesake a try, there are some caveats and downsides.
First and foremost, of course, is the fact that Namesake is yet another social network. Who can say whether it’s going to be any more successful than the hundreds that have come before? Will it be worth investing time and contributing to conversations if the company sells its technology or fails year from now? Do we really need another place to check into and struggle to keep up with?
I’m also worried about scalability. A lot is happening on the site, and the live updates and notifications are sexy. But already today, pages and conversations are taking a few seconds to load, when two weeks ago the site felt zippy and light. A sluggish or crashed site can bring a quick death to any service focused on interaction.
And Namesake needs a mobile app. It takes a lot of code to make Namesake as slick and sexy as it is, but that code barely runs on a mobile browser.
I definitely think Namesake needs to support groups. This will become more and more important as more and more people sign up. Sure, I can track the topics I want to track, and follow my own and my friends’ conversations. But already I want an easy way to see what people in a specific group are saying (independent of topic). Users in Hawaii, or LOST fans, or members of a club, or employees of a company.
And speaking of companies, Namesake needs to do something for businesses. Facebook has “Pages,” and something similar is needed here. I’m actually kind of dismayed that organizations are signing up for a service designed for individual interaction, but it’s inevitable. I don’t want to have a conversation with or be friends with a brand, but if there’s no way for Pepsi or Zippy’s to feel represented, they’re going to use a regular personal account.
All in all, as a social startup, Namesake is out of the gate with a lot to offer. Given my history with web services, you have to take it with a large sodium chloride crystal, but I do recommend you sign up. And if you do, I look forward to joining your first conversation.