I’ve been playing around with a lot of invitation systems lately and I did my first large scale test on Facebook this past month. Overall, I’d have to say that the web 2.0 event planning / invitation universe is severely underestimating the potential threat that Facebook events represent. Overall, Facebook events are a great way to invite people to an event but they do have one very serious drawback that I’ll get to in a moment.
As someone who likes to plan events, I think a good software solution should make it easy to perform the following three core tasks:
Event Creation – Creating an event is really easy in Facebook. I actually think they have a really simple interface for creating an event in Facebook. It’s not the flashiest interface (it doesn’t include all of the themes/skins that other services provide, but who really needs them?) but it is dead simple and works very easily.
Event Distribution – This is where I think people haven’t really thought through the advantages of having an invite system live natively in a social network. There are two ways to distribute information about an event – you can explicitly invite people or you can allow the event to spread through a network as other people find out that people they know are planning to attend. The use of the news feed and the “X of your friends are planning to attend XYZ event” language is a great way to get user attention. Given that humans are social creatures and many people are more likely to attend an event where they know others who are going, this combination of explicit invitation and social discovery is a really powerful combination.
Event Management – As a host, there are a specific set of things you want to be able to do once you’ve organized an event. You need to manage RSVPs, have some way for people to communicate before and after an event, and some centralized place to post related content (pictures, comments, etc). The event page is basically just that – it works great as a centralized repository for all information about an event. This is not gee whiz stuff – it’s just well-executed. An additional benefit (and I have no idea why others haven’t done this) is that the Facebook invites have pictures. For large events, being able to put faces to names before you show up (or after the fact, for that matter) is kind of a big deal and really useful. It really helps to personalize things.
So what doesn’t work well? Ah, there is one big gotcha that I found. If you invite a friend who is not a member of Facebook, he/she can RSVP or otherwise view the event without registering. However, if you invite someone who’s on Facebook and not your friend in the system, you can’t send them an invite. Here’s one place where Evite (the old gold standard) wins out – I don’t have to be friends with someone to invite them to an event. Frankly, I get why this is a good thing from a spam standpoint – nobody wants to get spam invites from someone they don’t know. But at the same time there are people who a host might want to invite but are not friends on Facebook. This is a minor point, but it’s important for those who don’t want to “friend” people just to be able to send them an invite.