Pow/Wow and Branch Launch to Power Social Conversations

Pow/Wow, a new NYC-based startup that launched a public alpha of its product this week, is designed to make moving from sharing on social media to having meaningful, real-time conversations as seamless and painless as possible, all via the deceptively simple-seeming mechanism of a hashtag. The service lets users turn any tweet into a real-time group chat with the addition of the hashtag #GoPowWow, and provides additional features once the chat goes to its Powwow.im website. It also allowing users to loop Twitter back in at any point.

In practice, it works like this: At any time, a Twitter user can use the #GoPowWow hashtag in a tweet, which autogenerates a reply from the Pow/Wow account and a URL, which leads to a chatroom on the site. The first message included in that chat is the original tweet, and anyone mentioned in the tweet is automatically added. Participants can invite as many additional people as they’d like by entering in their Twitter handles. People can then converse in the room, and optionally tick a box to repost anything they type in that room back to Twitter. It’s simple, but also powerful; information like email addresses are automatically hot-linked within the conversation, clicking participants’ names brings opens their Twitter profile in a new window, and all conversations are archived and can be opened and rejoined or ignored whenever you want.

Pow/Wow is just now entering its first phase of active public use, after originally being conceived by founder Jared Matthew Weiss nearly two years ago and undergoing 18 months of development. Weiss, an entrepreneur and former motivational speaker, conceived of Pow/Wow as a way to deepen the online social conversation.

“The experience of a conversation hasn’t really been explored to its fullest online yet,” Weiss told BetaKit in an interview, which he says is because the social web is based on a “sharing” model, which doesn’t necessarily encourage prolonged back-and-forth communication. Twitter provides a way to follow up on something someone else has posted via @ replies and direct messages, but those tend not to become deep conversations.

Pow/Wow developer Mark Azevedo said that while he does have plenty of interaction on Twitter, there was something left to be desired out of that kind of engagement. “I do have lots of conversations on Twitter… but they’re shallow, short, and generally never involve more than three people,” he said. “Pow/Wow is a just a public space for you to carry on a meaningful dialogue without the restrictions of being a consumption medium (i.e., Twitter).”

In practice, it’s reminiscent of the soon-to-be defunct Convore, but it manages to be both easier to get into and yet still retain a lot of the advantages of that service. Conversations can spring up randomly without any setup, beyond a one-time Twitter API-use authorization. Users can still create lasting rooms based on groups, but it’s also easy to just hash out a longer one-time debate sparked on Twitter that neither party necessarily wants to air in front of their entire Twitter following. Rooms are public and appear on the Pow/Wow conversations page, but only the last 10 conversations are visible to logged-out users. Weiss says privacy controls will be added to the tool.

Another potential competitor for Pow/Wow long-term could be Branch, the new service based around social expert conversations announced yesterday by Biz Stone’s Obvious Corp. Branch, however, places a lot more focus on curation and reputation, things it shares in common with Quora, and doesn’t appear to integrate quite as tightly with Twitter, though it does allow Twitter sharing. Branch and Pow/Wow are both coming out of incubator Dogpatch Labs, and Weiss notes that the teams are in fact friends with one another.

Pow/Wow is free to use, and its site is ad-free for now, too. Weiss said that for now the focus is on building the experience, but he acknowledged that possible revenue ideas include partnering with businesses to improve their Twitter-based customer support model. “On a high level, we see it as an amazing tool for brands/companies to use for customer service,” he said. “[For example] a user tweets at a brand about something and the brand can easily reply with #GoPowWow and take that convo off of Twitter and into a more intimate and conversational environment to provide support.”

It’s an idea that makes sense: businesses could essentially conduct live support chats right on Twitter where complaints tend to arise, and easily cross-post back to Twitter news of a successful resolution to a user’s problem.

It’s is still very early days for Pow/Wow, and the company is currently working off of an undisclosed sum of funding raised back in October of 2010. But if Weiss’s notion of organic conversations that “span the entire social web” starts to catch on, and brands catch on to it as a way to talk to their customers in a more controlled fashion right where the discussion is already happening, Pow/Wow could be on to something.

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