Geek Chic of the Week: Online Invitations

posted on 12/10/08 by Meghan Wilker

With the holiday party season in full swing, it seems appropriate to talk about online invitation services.

If you've never used an online invitation web site, you're missing out. Online invitations make it way easier to plan parties and manage RSVPs. Googling "online invitations" will result in a number of matches, the most well-known and widely-used being Evite.

I've been a loyal Evite user since 1999. Yeah, you heard right — next year, Evite and I will celebrate our 10th anniversary. I did have a one-event stand with newcomer (and trendy vowel-dropper) Socializr, but the interface was so ugly I couldn't go back. But, for my election party this year, I tried something new: Planypus.

Evite Overview

But, wait -- before I get ahead of myself let's start with the briefest of overviews on Evite for those who don't know. Using Evite, you can create an online inivitation using one of their templates, or create your own by uploading images, selecting colors, etc. (though, fair warning: creating your own Evite can be very frustrating. It took me several tries and some lost data to get it right. And I'm a freaking geek girl!) Enter in the email addresses of your friends, and you're done. As an organizer, you can tell who has viewed the invite and keep track of the RSVPs. You can choose to be notified when people RSVP, or just check the site. They used to also allow you to ask guests to bring things, or to poll your guests, but those features are no longer available.

But, there are a few downsides. The first is ads, ads and more ads. The site is crammed so full of ads that it drowns out the interface. I've been using the site for years and I still find myself pausing to find the big green "Create An Invitation" button (I think it's because I've trained myself to ignore both side columns, expecting to see ads there.)

Another downer? Some companies have restricted access to Evite, so invites sometimes get missed by your friends if you're using their work address. And, users have to sign up on the site in order to RSVP. Bleh.

But, like I said -- it's the most well-known and it gets the job done. If you know exactly what you want to do (place, time, etc.), it's a fine way to manage a gathering. But, what if you don't know what the plans are yet? What if you're organizing a ski trip for 14 friends, or a girls' night out and need to collaborate on date, time, location and other details among a group? Enter Planypus.

Planypus

Their tagline sums it up pretty well, "The wiki for your social life." For those who don't know (and there's no shame in not knowing!), a wiki is a web page that anyone can edit. The best known example of this is Wikipedia; once you create a wikipedia account, you can edit any wikipedia page. Just apply that thinking to a social event. Think of the number of emails that get sent back and forth even when trying to plan a simple dinner party. (Just figuring out what night will work for everyone has sometimes taken me and my friends 15-20 emails.)

One of the creators of Planypus (@smazo) was in Minneapolis a few weeks ago and we met up to talk about Planypus. I was fresh off a good experience with using the site to plan my Election Night Party and was excited to learn more about Planypus. I initially mistook it for another simple online invitation service -- I didn't totally grok the wiki aspect of it until after Stan and I talked. But, the idea is really brilliant:

With Planypus, everyone can contribute and vote on date, time, location. Anyone can edit what they call the "Planspace" — which is where you can outline the details of your plans. And guests can make comments, or mark their comments as "announcements" that are emailed to everyone.

The first question anyone asks when they hear about a wiki concept is, "So, does that mean anyone could go in and just delete everything or put in a bunch of nonsense?" Technically, yes. I'll write another article someday about the self-policing that goes on in online communities like wikis but for now I'll just say that in this case it's even more unlikely anyone would sabotage your invite. Think about it: if everyone that's invited knows each other in some way, your friends aren't going to deface or delete data, because their username will be displayed as the culprit.

3 Reasons to Try It

  1. Planypus is ad-free. As a company, Planypus has no plans to use ads on the site. Their business model is to charge businesses to use the Planypus Platform on their sites, but keep it free (and ad-free) for individuals.
  2. It's very easy to use. I challenge you to try to get confused while using it. It's really clear what to do and you can get an event set up in under a minute.
  3. Design-wise, Planypus is to Evite what Facebook is to MySpace: less customizable, but way easier on the eyes. If you really want a design with a crazy, sparkly background or custom color palette, you're not going to be happy. You can upload a photo to the Planspace, though. And who could resist the cute little Planypus platypus?!


It's a little unfair to compare the two, because as I learned more about Planypus they don't seem to me to be truly direct competitors. You can certainly use Planypus in the same way you use Evite (for an event that doesn't require any collaboration or group planning — as I did with my Election Night Party) but it really shines when you need to collaborate. Evite is a one-to-many way to communicate an event, while Planypus is a collaboration tool. Use the right tool for your job, I say.

I set up two test invitations so you can compare the two yourself. Check out my Geek Girls Evite and my Geek Girls Planypus. Dig around and let me know what you think! (And, while you're doing all this party planning check out our friends the Cocktail Chicks. They'll give you lots of advice on how to do it up right, though I'm sure they'd find online invitations tres gauche.)

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