Image: New Web site InviteShare
InviteShare might allow easier access to new technology that's still in testing. Often techies need invitations to try out such devices.
updated 8/20/2007 12:19:24 PM ET 2007-08-20T16:19:24

As many techies know, getting in on a hot new startup's invite-only "beta" test can be tough.

Some resort to posting pleas on their blogs, others beg friends of friends and — as best illustrated with the slow rollout of Google Inc.'s Gmail service in 2004 — some are even willing to purchase invites through eBay Inc.'s auction site.

But with the July launch of InviteShare, things might get a little easier for those aching to pass the online equivalent of the velvet rope outside the trendy nightclub.

InviteShare connects users who have or want access to new Internet offerings, including the online TV service joost and GrandCentral, a one-phone-number-for-life communications service owned by Google.

Although some sites open beta testing to anyone to raise awareness and work out glitches, many initially limit access to a select handful, creating a certain cachet through their scarcity.

Many Internet users, particularly the tech-savvy early adopters, clamor for access to such invite-only sites, considering them a peek into what could be the next best thing on the Web.

On InviteShare, users register for free and then submit their e-mail addresses to lists kept at the site for particular startups to which they want access.

Those with spare invites respond directly to individuals and are encouraged to give priority to users listed higher — those who have done their part in the past to share similar invites.

The site tries to thwart spam by posting the address lists as image files, something more difficult for spamming software to grab for their marketing annoyances.

Created by Jeff Broderick, a computer programer and Web designer in Denton, Texas, the site was sold to tech news blog TechCrunch recently for $25,000.

TechCrunch founder and editor Michael Arrington, tired of negotiating with startups for beta test invitations to pass on to his readers, said his company was already looking into creating a similar site when he discovered InviteShare. In fact, he wrote about the site on the TechCrunch blog before buying it.

As of Monday, InviteShare corralled more than 28,000 users, who collectively sent more than 34,000 invitations. Nearly 50 different startups had listings — sometimes without the startup's blessing, though Arrington said he has yet to get a complaint.

Adam Healey, co-founder and chief executive of InviteShare-listed VibeAgent, said he is happy to have his hotel-recommendation site included and has even sent invites to InviteShare users.

"InviteShare provides another channel for startups to access early adopters, which is so critical in building community," he said.

Healey said 10 percent of his site's traffic in the past month resulted from InviteShare. He also has used the site to get invites himself — for services like joost and social networking-focused online application suite 8apps.

Eli Horne, a 21-year-old freelance Web designer in New York, has also gotten into InviteShare. So far, he has sent out about 25 invitations to various sites and gotten access to about eight new ones, including GrandCentral, he said.

Horne thinks the site — which lists the most popular beta services on its front page — is also a way to keep tabs on what's hot online.

"If I were trying to launch a product, I would try to get it listed on there," he said.

Arrington knows only of one other similar resource: A group for beta testers on social network creation site Ning, which was co-founded by Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen.

And although InviteShare isn't currently a big money maker — Arrington estimates ads placed on it bring in a few hundred dollars per day — he believes there is real value is in its user base.

While signing up for the site, 80 percent of users have indicated they want to be notified about future private beta opportunities, he said. Eventually, he'd like to pair startups with users, either for free or for a fee, depending on the company.

"All these people want to know about all the new services," he said, "and this is a gold mine for a new startup to have access to."

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