Evite is the big player in this industry. Renkoo pitches itself as “Evite done right,” seeking to incorporate Web 2.0 features. It has been testing its product with a select group of users for months. Several other start-ups are in the invitation/event management race, including the trio in San Francisco: Skobee, Socializr and Timebridge, all at various levels of testing and development.
Renkoo, though, has taken the technology high-ground. The service lets you correspond with people in real time while arranging events, using an advanced AJAX technology called Comet. You register at the homepage, and then you can invite people (if they are not a member, they get an invite) and chat with them live as if you are in an instant messenger box. The experience is best at Renkoo’s web site, but users can communicate via Renkoo’s site itself, email, SMS or AIM, whatever they prefer. I tried it out. I had a firewall problem at the site, so used email (I did this by by going to the profile tab, selecting advanced notification preferences, and selecting “Deliver event responses to HTML email”).
The technology part is remarkable. I used Renkoo to arrange a meeting with Renkoo co-founders Joyce Park and Adam Rifkin at Prolific Oven at Palo Alto. I typed into a message box within my email, and didn’t need to go up and hit “send.” I simply hit the “respond to this invitation” tab below the message box, and Joyce and Rifkin got my messages immediately on their screen. See screenshots at bottom below (the first is of my side, using email, and the second is Joyce’s side, where she is using the Renkoo site).
After you’ve finished arranging an event, you can export it to your calendar in Outlook, iCal or Google Calendar.
As with trying out any new technology, Renkoo may take getting accustomed to. Little things, like getting in the habit of typing within the separate message box within email. Easy to do, but unexpected at first. Depending on your computer settings, including firewall, you may or may not get off to a quick start. Renkoo will be tinkering with its product going forward, and I’d like to see an easier way to see the full conversation chain through email instead of just the most recent response.
Finally, a word on Renkoo’s technology and backing: Joyce is a former lead engineer at Friendster, and a prolific coder. CEO Adam Rifkin was founder of KnowNow. Renkoo won $3 million in venture backing from big-name venture firm Matrix Partners. Matrix partner Bob Lisbonne was the VP of browser products while at Netscape. Joyce said she was impressed when he mentioned he can code in Ruby. He was also behind the move by Netscape to opensource the Mozilla browser. When she and Rifkin talked with investors, she was surprised, she said, by how few investors wanted to discuss the technology itself. Lisbonne was one of the few who did, she said.
Renkoo is a “Comet” application, which is an advancement on AJAX. It is one of three Comet commercial applications in existence, and notably, two of them are built by women (the other two are Meebo, built by Elaine Wherry, and Gtalk). You’re familiar with AJAX, popularized by Google Maps. You can scroll across those maps immediately, because the application has quietly fetched more data from Google’s server and updated your browser. Comet goes one step further, opening a persistent connection with the server as long as you stay on one page. There is a good description of Comet here.
Renkoo was built using the Dojo toolkit, backed by IBM, AOL and Sun. Other kits are Prototype and Yui.
Here is a partial screenshot of the email interface:
Here is a screenshot of the browser interface:
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