It may seem like tilting at windmills, but Wallop Technologies expects to shake up the social networking market, currently dominated by entrenched players like News Corp.'s MySpace, Facebook and Friendster.
Wallop is betting that a slick platform based on Adobe Systems's Flash multimedia system, an absence of ads and a community of third-party developers will set apart its social networking site, which it will announce on Tuesday at Demo Fall in San Diego.
A private company spun off from Microsoft's research unit, Wallop hopes its service will primarily draw people between the ages of 18 and 25 who value its "high-end" yet intuitive user experience, said Karl Jacob, the company's chief executive officer.
Wallop's Flash platform is open to developers, so that they can create modules for members to dress up and enhance their social network profiles. Some of these modules will be free. Wallop will share revenue with the developers from the sale of others.
Goowy Media, a San Diego startup, will offer several modules for Wallop, and, at least for now, all will be free, said Alex Bard, the company's president and CEO.
For Goowy, offering modules for Wallop is a way to promote itself and its Flash-based Webtop application, which includes e-mail, calendar, contacts, games, instant messaging, file storage and optional add-ins.
This is the first deal of its kind for Goowy, whose executives decided to feature its work on Wallop after being impressed with the service's user interface, Bard said.
"They have created a great new experience," Bard said. "They're not taking a me-too approach to social networking, and that's very smart."
To address the privacy and safety concern affecting MySpace, Wallop will provide very granular access features so that members can control who has access to their profiles.
Wallop also impressed Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox. "It's a very different type of user experience. Instead of interacting with static Web pages, there's a lot of motion and fluidity in it. It's more alive."
Now, it remains to be seen if Wallop will be able to attract a critical mass of people and if enough of them will be willing to spend money on purchasing modules for their profiles, Wilcox said.
"It's not just about having a great place. You need to have people there," Wilcox said.
Another interesting issue will be whether Wallop ends up competing with Microsoft's Windows Live Spaces blogging service, which has been adding social networking features. Jacob believes Wallop will appeal to a younger, more specific demographic group than does Live Spaces.
Microsoft owns a stake in Wallop, which is also backed by investors like Norwest Venture Partners, Bay Partners and Consor Capital.
For more information, go to http://www.wallopcorp.com.