Evite promises mobile upgrades, site overhaul in 2008

Also looking to ally with social networking sites or publish API, says exec

How does a Web site attract more than 15 million users yet inspire near-total derision from what should be its biggest fans?

Simple: Emulate Evite, which remains the king of party-planning services despite failing so miserably to keep up with Web 2.0 technology advances that it makes America Online look cutting-edge by comparison, according to critics.

Evite "is not actually social" and has made "no progress in years," according to John Payne, CEO of CircleUp, who proudly proclaims about his Newport Beach, California-based messaging start-up: "We are the Un-Evite."

"I use Evite all the time to communicate with my mommy friends," confessed Charlene Li, an analyst at Forrester Research. But "if I sent Evites to the TechCrunch crowd, they would just laugh at me."

Influential blogger Robert Scoble criticized the ad-supported Evite for forcing users to click back to its Web site and view an ad before giving out any event information. While columnist and venture capitalist Stewart Alsop called on "some youngster" to create an Evite knock-off "that's fully buzzword-compliant, AJAX-based ... replete with mashups" that Alsop said he "might even fund personally!"

Snarky Web publication Valleywag listed Evite as number one in its list of "Companies we all hate."

Even Time magazine got into the act, declaring Evite to be the second-worst Web site.

Evite's "fill-in-the-blanks approach feels clumsy and dated. The ads are intrusive, and navigation's a drag," wrote Time in June. It summarized: "We're only mad at Evite because we need it so much, and we know it could be so much better."

Makeover by popular demand

For all those who love to hate Evite, a reassessment may be in the offing. For one, the site will launch later this year a trio of mobile phone features that, according to Jessica Landy Raymond, vice president of product development at the IAC/InterActive subsidiary, would help it leapfrog the crowd of start-ups now sensing Evite's vulnerability and trying to steal its users.

In an interview last week, Raymond also said Evite is "actively working" on the first overhaul of its interface in four years due sometime in 2008. It will be the first major update to Evite since 2004, when it added social networking features in response to the then-popular Friendster site, features that Raymond acknowledged no longer exist in their original form.

And in the area where Evite is most heavily criticized by the Web 2.0 elite -- its lack of integration with social networks such as MySpace.com or Facebook -- Raymond promises "solutions" are in the works.

Evite is currently looking at whether to build applications that would integrate its service with the user bases of certain social media networks, Raymond said. Those include Facebook, Bebo and Hi5, which have all openly published their application programming interfaces (API). Evite is also considering signing alliances with those players, she said.

Finally, Evite might choose to leverage its own formidable user base -- 15 million registered members, 10 million of those "active" members who have logged in in the past year, Raymond said -- and open up its API to attract its own ecosystem of developers to build widgets and Web services on top of Evite.

"We understand how young people are consuming media," said Raymond, who has worked at Evite since 2003.

At the same time, Raymond deflected criticism that Evite has been a technology laggard. She pointed out that parts of the site today take advantage of the same Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) technology powering most Web 2.0 sites today.

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