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The internet, like anything else, goes through fads. Just like the rest of the world, those fads start at the top with celebrities and trickle down until no one really knows how they got started. Several weeks ago, some of the top names on the internet like Kevin Rose and Veronica Belmont began asking their friends to join them on a new site called Plurk. Slowly but surely, their regular fans on Twitter and Pownce begin to traipse over to Plurk, joining their favorite celebrities in birthing a new social network.

But maybe I should back up a moment and explain the movement of which Plurk is a part. The concept is called “microblogging” and it has taken the technology world (not to be confused with the real world) by storm. Individuals can post messages via the web or their mobile phone to free services like Twitter and keep their friends, or “followers,” up to date on what’s going on in their lives. It’s similar to blogging, in that it is a free system for syndicating one’s thoughts and opinions, but the length of the posts (140 characters) and the speed (instantaneous) at which they can be published has really taken microblogging into its own.

After Twitter became the main way for some of the most famous “internet people” to keep up with their fans, a rival service, Pownce, was launched by none other than Diggnation’s Kevin Rose. Pownce is different from Twitter in that it has more features like picture and file sharing. There are far fewer users of Pownce than of Twitter, but some smaller communities use it to keep each other up to date with their personal happenings on the web.

Where does Plurk fit into all of this? Well, first of all, Plurk did not try to clone itself after Twitter. Instead of listing all of your friends’ updates on a single page of text, Plurk has created a new interface that works like a timeline [pictured below]. Also, there is a subtle undertone of silly humor throughout the site that quickly warms new users to the kind of community they have there.

Plurk Timeline Screenshot

Below the timeline, there is a large, inviting text box for entering your own “Plurks.” Unlike other services, you are asked to select a modifier after your name like “says” or “wishes.” It can be a little weird for those who are used to a completely open update format, because it forces you to speak in the third person. This is part of the quirkiness of Plurk and in the long run makes posting more interesting. The modifier can be left unselected, by the way, but most users seem to enjoy choosing a specific verb. Image and video links from several media sites (such as YouTube) can also be inserted into the Plurk box directly. This generates thumbnails when the posts are displayed on the timeline and you can play that media in a pop-up window (something you can’t do in Twitter)

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Plurk Text Entry Box

New updates from friends show up as little bars on the timeline, indicating when they were posted. Each bar can be clicked and expanded so that comments can be made directly in reply to a friend’s post. This interface is very similar to an instant messager conversation, except everyone within the network can join in the discussion. As Jason Mayoff put it on the MakeUseOf Podcast #5, it is a lot like “a moving chatroom.”

Plurk Comments

One nice thing about Plurk is that you never have to leave your own Plurk page if you don’t want to. The timeline notifies you when new posts and comments arrive and with a click, your timeline is redirected to those updates. Similar to an RSS feed, you can mark new updates as “read” or you can silence an entire post’s updates with “mute.” The mute feature is key when popular users begin an enormous topic that is constantly updated with comments.

There are a few other features that make Plurk more fun. First off, there is a karma system which gives you points for posting updates, commenting, and adding friends. Right now the benefits of high karma are limited to a larger set of animated smileys and the ability to customize your profile page. It is expected that as more users attain high levels of karma, more benefits will be created too. I find karma motivates me to update my status more frequently.

Right now, Plurk is a shiny new toy for anyone who loves social networks. A good way to think about it is by combining the community aspect of a message board with the spontaneity of an IM conversation. If you are new to microblogging and want to get started quickly, Plurk provides an excellent tutorial for all of their features. In fact, signing up for an account takes almost no time at all – there isn’t even a link to click in your email.

If you have some experience with Twitter or other similar sites, it may take a bit of getting used to. The timeline interface, at first, seems a bit superfluous and your friends may not be members yet. Plurk helps out with the latter issue by providing an invite link that will automatically add the new user to your group of friends. Posting your link on Twitter should quickly gain you friends and karma on Plurk.

For now there is no API available, so the only way to access your Plurk feed is through the website. This is a bit of a downer for those who are used to an external microblogging client. It is possible to export Plurk to your Twitter account using Feedtweeter, though.

So give Plurk a shot and see if it fits into your unique digital lifestyle. Oh and friend Me, Will, Jason, and Shankar if you want to populate your timeline a little bit!

So what about you? Do you Plurk? Do you think this will be the next big thing in micro-blogging and social networking?

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