Tuesday, August 21, 2007

New website can get you on beta-testing lists

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 blogs, others beg friends of friends and some are even willing to purchase invites through eBay.

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 tech-savvy early adopters, clamor for access to such invite-only sites.

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 invitations 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 offers.

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 had 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. 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 invitations to InviteShare users. "InviteShare provides another channel for startups to access early adopters, which is so critical in building community," he said. Ten percent of his site's traffic in the past month resulted from InviteShare.

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." (This is NOT a review. Info from The Associated Press)

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