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NY-based Betaworks launched their Firefly product into public beta today. We initially reviewed Firefly when they presented at the NY Tech Meetup. I’ve embedded the demo video below so you can get familiar with the Firefly service.
Here’s the idea. If you aren’t happy with the commenting service that we offer, or aren’t happy with any of the new crop of comment replacement services, Firefly can slap a layer on top of your page, and allow everyone to chat in real-time using cutsie bubbles without any idea who you are chatting with.
To be effective, everyone who is browsing the page also has to turn on the service. Luckily no plugin is required to use Firefly so they have that going for them. There’s no login or registration required so the messages might start to get a bit "fun". Swearing is allowed by default it seems. Maybe Firefly could be successful if they partner with MySpace or Bebo.
It’s really cute for about 2 minutes on a site that has good traffic. If you load it up and are alone, it’s boring as heck. Either way, once the cutsie factor wears off, it’s lights out. The maximum number of chatters in a Firefly window is 50 at a time. If you are #51, you get a ticket like at the deli counter. When your number is called, you enter the room to pick up your salami and cheese.
Initially SAI’s Peter Kafka called it, "a feature not a service". Today Eric and Dan over at SAI seem to think it’s cooler than Peter did — I’m with Peter on this one. Update: Kafka seems to like the service more today than on the original review. He notes, “We could definitely use this w/some modifications…really great stuff. Look forward to using.” Here’s what Firefly looks like on a site running the service:
Update: Om Malik has also reviewed Firefly and notes that he likes the idea but doesn’t see it as a business. He also says they may charge bloggers for using the service. I’d agree with Om as the information provided by Betaworks seems to indicate that the service is free only during the beta period.
Here is one of the quotes we received from the Betaworks team:
"Joshua Auerbach, firefly GM, said, "Firefly’s ‘wow’ feature is the mouse-tracking. Being able to see other visitors’ mouse cursors is just amazing – you have to see it to believe it."
Firefly founder (?) Billy Chasen presented his application last night at the NY Tech Meetup. Firefly is part of Betaworks which looks like half-startup incubator, half-vc. Firefly is a real-time online chat application that doesn’t require an installation. It’s a "cute" application in its design and innovative. It actually reminds me of those applications that popup when you are on a commerce site where a customer service rep asks if you’d like some help.
What I don’t get is why this is better than hooking up a Meebo Room or any of the other embeddable online chat applications. Sure, Firefly is cute, but outside of that, what is it really? It’s an online chat app that’s limited to one page chatting. I’d much rather chat with users across a site. Also, for the majority of sites online, there will never be more than one person inside of the Firefly application – remember not only do you have to be on the same page as everyone else, you have to "install" the application. The Firefly site seems to indicate you will chat with everyone currently on the site not the individual story but that might actually make the conversation even more confusing.
What I heard after the demo was over was two main things. First, the name is close to firefox and the URL is actually "firef.ly" – this means for all time they will have to tell new users that it’s "firefly – that’s firef.ly" – you can see in the demo that Billy struggled telling the viewers the link. I’d suggest a name change now in case the tool gets popular. The other main feedback was that the tool seems more of an annoyance when one is trying to read a story. The way the tool is setup is that you can turn it on and off whenever you’d like so I would see a user reading the story then turning it on. This tool is more of an anonymous chat than a friend chat like Twitter/IM is.
Peter Kafka calls it a "feature not a business" and suggests that Firefly could charge Web sites to install the functionality. I disagree. Peter goes on to call it a "ADD Twitter" and again I disagree. While it’s smart to try to leverage Twitter as part of the explanation, it’s nowhere near the realm of Twitterville. If we put both companies on a map, Twitter would be the U.S. and Firefly would be Poland – that’s how close the services are to each other.