Monday, July 21, 2008

Evite Redesigns Itself, Remains Mostly Uncompelling

I have nothing against Evite. I've used the service. It's useful in a way. And now that the service has been redesigned to make it less cluttered, expose more information (such as event location in the notification email, rather than hidden on the eVite site), and otherwise more friendly, I should feel excited about it.

I don't.

I've tooled through the new site trying to pin that feeling down, and I think I have it: the site only flows in one direction. Evite is built around an age-old premise: you're throwing a party and need to send out invitations. For that purpose, it works well enough. You can put together an invitation with a minimum of fuss, you can invite your friends by way of email addresses or a saved list of contacts, and your invitees have options for commenting on the event and inviting other attendees themselves.

So where's the problem? Evite, both old and new, isn't collaborative. It assumes that you already know the details of the event you're planning. But, in my experience, I often have just a general sense that I'd like to get together with friends or family; the details emerge over time. I don't know when the party will be until I know when my friends are free. I don't know what the party will entail until I know what they want to do. In short, the actual invitation is the final step in a process of communication, negotiation, and collaboration. The invitation is easy; it's everything that leads up to the invitation that's hard, yet paradoxically that's the part of the process that Evite doesn't touch.

For a few years now we've been hearing about calendar tools that help people with conflicting schedules pick a meeting time. I'm surprised that Evite didn't think to build collaborative scheduling into their redesign. And lately we've been hearing a lot about OpenSocial and other services that allow you to sign into multiple social services with a single ID; how much more convenient and powerful would Evite be if you could effortlessly plug it into your existing Facebook or MySpace network? I don't want to pull my friends into an Evite contacts list; I want them to be there, automatically, as soon as I sign in.

Ultimately I'm disappointed because Evite missed an opportunity to make itself indispensable. An Evite invitation has always been a marginally useful service, nice in its way but never all that much better than plain ol' email. They might have escaped that scenario with an upgrade that turned their service into a powerful networking tool, but that didn't happen.

Maybe next time?