Convore, Rebooting IRC, Brings Group Chat Into the Social Media Era
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the stakes on Convore are intentionally lower. “Every single post on Quora might have an impact on my career,” writes Martin Wawrusch, a Los Angeles-based entrepreneur who is the co-founder of a stealth-mode startup called Freshfugu. “I see Convore as a replacement for IRC, fire and forget style, quick on the fly topic conversation, not as messy as Twitter but real communication.”
And the longer people hang around Convore, the more they see how it’s different, and the more uses they can imagine for it, according to Culver. “I think the standard use case is that someone comes in through a public group, and they see the topics, which are often questions, like ‘What is the best burrito in San Francisco?’” says Culver. “Maybe they have an opinion on that and they create an account and they say what they think the best burrito is. Then they think, ‘This is cool, how it updates live.’” Indeed, both the Web version of Convore and the iPhone app append new posts to a conversation in real time—no page refreshes required. “Then they think ‘Hey, this would be great to use with my group of friends or my work,’ so they make a private group or start a public group,” Culver says.
Currently, Convore is free to all users. (When I visited the startup in April, it had roughly 30,000 users, who had exchanged more than 650,000 messages since the service launched in early February.) Culver, Florenzano, and Maguire say they could add specialized features for business users to bring in subscription or licensing fees, or build a white-label version that would fit inside other organizations’ websites, but for now, they’re holding back on customizing the tool too much while they look for the right audiences for the software.
“Sometimes we are surprised,” says Florenzano. “We’ll go into something thinking that Convore is going to do well, and it doesn’t.” The South by Southwest Interactive Festival in March was a case in point—Culver went to Austin expecting to sign up thousands of new users, but “it was horrible,” she says. “It just didn’t do anything for us.” The same weekend, though, Florenzano went to a Python developer’s conference in Atlanta called PyCon, where “people just ate it up” and Convore became the unofficial conference backchannel, he says. “The things we don’t expect will be big wins for us end up being huge.”
Whether Convore itself ends up being huge will depend on a lot of factors, like whether the tool’s appeal extends outside the techie audiences who currently use it, whether companies think it has advantages over competing messaging systems like Yammer, and whether the startup is able to raise the money it will need to hire more developers, add premium features, and build a sales operation. The endurance of Convore’s spiritual predecessor, IRC, may be a good sign: the tool build up a solid user base despite its complexity, which may mean that a simplified, Web-based reboot of the group-chat concept has a much greater chance of catching on.
On the other hand, IRC never grew much beyond the geek crowd, which may mean the biggest natural audience for real-time group chat tools is people who are chained to their computers, such as coders and Internet startup founders. So group chat is definitely an old idea—but whether it’s also new again isn’t clear yet.