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8/29/2005
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Review: Imeem Online Community

Imeem is a new online community-building system that offers an all-in-one package including increased privacy and data security.

For many members of the Internet generation, it's not enough to simply surf the Web — you have to be a member of one or more online communities. There are a variety of them out there these days, including simple instant messaging services such as AIM or Google Talk; places to make friends and increase your contacts such as Friendster and MySpace; blogging communities such as LiveJournal; or photo networks such as WebShots.

More recently, some companies have attempted to attract users by bringing all these services together under one roof. Yahoo!, for example, has been experimenting (not all that successfully) with a beta of its Yahoo! 360 service, which offers a page on which users can bring together photo albums, blogs, and contacts with family/friends.



Imeem tracks the doings of online contacts and discussion groups.
(Click to enlarge image)

One of the latest to join the pack is imeem. Taking its name from the term "meme" (which, according to the Wikipedia, loosely means "some sort of a self-propagating unit of cultural evolution"), imeem includes many of the features that are used to create online communities. These include lists of contacts and ways to connect through mutual friends and interests; private and/or public blogs; photo albums; instant messaging; file sharing; and discussion groups (called, in this case, "meems").

The imeem interface is made up of two segments. The first is called the Roster; it is a small window that stays on your desktop and lets you know when you get updates to any of your listings, including your friends and the meems you have subscribed to.

A small button on the top of the window expands the interface to include the main window, which is called the Viewer. This is where you have access to your home page and all imeem's features, either through a menu bar on top or using an icon bar at the bottom. The home page includes recently added content, a list (with photos) of your friends, and icons leading to your blogs, photo albums, and shared files.

Imeem officially opened its doors on August 15, but it is obviously still a work in progress. Its features are still fairly limited — you can't, for example, include link to an URL within your blog entries, an almost required blogging feature. There are also technical issues: When I expanded the window to include the Viewer, and then collapsed it again, I often found myself with two copies of the Roster on my desktop.

However, the limitations that I found most bothersome had to do with the process of finding and joining imeem's discussion groups. There is currently no way to easily browse through all the available public meems to see if any take your fancy. Instead, you have to click on "Add a meem," and type in a keyword to get a listing. If you see a meem that sparks your interest and click on it, you are immediately asked if you want to join, with no chance to check it out first. (Interestingly, there are ways to simply view a meem without joining — for example, if it's listed on a friend's home page.)

Private Meems
One of the ways that imeem is trying to distinguish itself from its competitors is by offering an increased sense of privacy and data security. Imeem is not a Web-only application; instead, it is based on the peer-to-peer plan — users install the application on their desktops, and share information from their hard drives. (imeem calls it a 'Web and desktop hybrid.")

The good part about all this is that all your data resides locally. An imeem representative pointed out, "Anything on the Web is permanent," because it is living on somebody else's server. Because imeem's data resides on your hard drive, when you decided to delete it, it is really deleted.

Another nod toward security are the levels of privacy you are offered. For example, you can create a private meem, and allow access only by invitation. You can also join discussions discreetly, if you wish — you can allow the entire Web to see your membership, only the imeem community, your friends' friends, your friends, or nobody at all.

There are, however, less appealing aspects to this approach. Because imeem is a local application rather than an online service, it does take up hard drive space — and has the potential to take up quite a bit. It is also a bit of a memory hog; as I write this, imeem is taking up about 60MB of my system RAM.

All that being said, imeem has the potential to become a popular base of operations for users who want to join communities of like-minded folks, or who want to create safe places for family and friends to gather online. The interface is reasonably easy to understand, it offers a variety of ways to find people and discussion groups, and it offers enough privacy so that more personal or work-related information can be exchanged.

Imeem hopes to finance itself through the use of sponsored links tailored to keyword searches of the current content. This is a workable solution — assuming that the product attracts enough participants to make it worthwhile to advertisers. In the end, whether imeem succeeds or not will depend both on its ability to grow with its user base, and whether it generates enough word of mouth to attract its target audience.


Imeem
Imeem, Inc.
www.imeem.com
Price: Free
Summary: This new online community has tried to distinguish itself from the crowd by working locally rather than totally on the Web; with some tweaking, it could be an exciting new environment.

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