Namesake a Noteworthy New Network [Invites]

Namesake Profile

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.

Inbox Full of NamesakeThis 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.”

Namesake Topic Page

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.

Namesake Conversation

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.

Join Namesake

10 Responses

  1. Bill K says:

    Joined yesterday. Still trying to figure it out. I’m the type who likes to poke around on my own and discover–even if slowly–how to best use a medium like this. I am likewise concerned about scalability, seems to run more slowly than I’d like. It also seems to think I’m using IE7, and I’m not.

  2. Ihilani says:

    Hhmmm…sounds interesting. My one hang up is that it is ANOTHER social network like you said. Still, snagging the profile name i want might make sign up worth it. Great review!

  3. Gee Why says:

    One of my gripes is the difficulty in discovering new conversations. There’s the home page of the live view of what conversations are happening, but that Discover tab up to is not usable at all. It presents an A-Z list that I’m not going to look through.

  4. scrivener says:

    I find it interesting (and not necessarily contradictory, but perhaps a little) that you think threaded conversations are a good thing while you decry the use of longer tweets on Twitter.

    I’m fully with you on the Twitter thing. One thing that makes Twitter so wonderful is its simplicity. This is why the threaded conversations aren’t really a thrill for me. The immediacy makes it feel like a high-maintenance activity, and having to click on a threaded conversation every time it gets updated is a lot of work. It’s what made Plurk so un-fun.

  5. Ryan says:

    Twitter excels when we make the most of what the platform is. Twitter extenders, that say, “Here’s a fragment of a longer thought, but if you w (cont.) click here!” are a hack and fragment the key characteristic of the platform: a singular channel, a firehose, of status updates. I don’t mind links to photos and articles, but if the statement itself is offloaded, there’s something wrong.

    I agree there’s a lot to catch up on in a threaded system (like any message board), and actually I’m kind of used to ‘new on top’ and find the scrolling on Namesake tiresome.

  6. Nicholas Augusta says:

    I tried to register while Namesake suspended the ‘invite’ requirement yesterday. I was away from a computer at the time so I tried through my iPhone, Balckberry PlayBook, iPad and my Android phone to no avail. It was impossible and extremely frustrating. After about 9 times I was done. First experiences count a lot. You only have one chance to make a good first impression and that clearly did not happen.

    So tonight I tried again and of course now I’m in the “que” to get in. I might be the only one that this has happened to but rest assured after trying several platforms to register makes me wonder about their whole set up. Thus far the experience has been nothing short of dissapoiniting.

  7. Ryan says:

    Sorry to hear about your disappointment, but you had to know early on that the site wasn’t built for mobile? I would’ve hoped the iPad would’ve been a possibility, but once you’re down to Blackberry, you’re almost looking to be frustrated! Mobile is definitely on their hitlist, but for a young service, it makes sense that it’s designed more for desktops. The UI is very interactive and does a lot of things that would tax smaller devices.

    Didn’t know that the signup form closed down again, either. Good to know. So the invite link embedded above didn’t get you in right away? Interesting, but not unexpected. It was growing fast, and starting to slow down.

  1. May 19, 2011

    […] Put a couple of nerds together equipped with an iPhone and a quiet corner and let it roll. Ryan and I kick off Techspotting video with our impressions of the new social conversation platform called Namesake. Enjoy the video and if you want to read more about Namesake check out Ryan’s blog post on […]

  2. May 20, 2011

    […] Ryan Ozawa contributed to this report. Read his full Namesake review at Hawaii Blog. […]

  3. May 23, 2011

    […] Things definitely got heated last week with regards to bringing back old school favorites onto the big screen to be viewed in the way they were intended to be. As previously stated earlier in this post, 59 people participated in the poll on Consolidated Theatres’ Facebook page. In the end it was basically a two horse race with Back to the Future beating out Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark in the polls 26-23 (respectively). There was some lively conversation/campaigning going on in Consolidated comments, some of which even I participated in offsite on Namesake, the newest social networking platform enamoring the Hawaii tech community. […]

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