Heello ("HE-low"), a dead ringer for Twitter created by TwitPic founder Noah Everett, just opened to the public. The project was announced a year ago, but it has been silent for most of that time. The original blog post announcing it has been removed (dead link). In fact, the blog link just takes you back to the homepage. Nevertheless, without declaring its intentions, the new Heello has arrived, and it is just like Twitter with one distinguishing feature: group private messaging.
You get a user name with an @ sign, and you @ mention people. No hashtags, though. Just like on Twitter, you can choose your basic design and set a background image. Instead of tweets, you post pings. They're 140 characters long. You have the option to share them to Twitter or Facebook. You can add a photo, which the posted ping will display as an awkwardly cropped version inside the post. You don't follow. You listen. Listeners, not followers. Get it? And it really has Twitter beat on this one: Instead of the awkward word retweet, on Heello, you echo. You can also have a private conversation with an individual or a group. The group conversations are the one feature that Twitter doesn't have. But is that reason enough to launch a service that's otherwise essentially the same (except that it lacks hashtags)?
When Everett first talked about Heello, it sounded like it would be something new. Last August, a year ago tomorrow, Everett told the New York Times Heello was "tackling communications with groups, ... building services that help bring teams together online." Group DMs are the only feature in Heello as it launched today that would seem to address that problem, and it's not exactly a novel idea (see Facebook and Google Plus).
So what gives? Where is Heello going with this?
On August first, the Heello Twitter account posted this ambiguous message:
It's worth remarking that the launch of this Twitter clone coincides with Twitter's launch of its native photo-sharing service. Everett's other company, TwitPic, has been a default option for uploading photos from many Twitter apps, including official ones, but now Twitter's in-house photo uploads will threaten that status. In exchange for Twitter building in TwitPic's functionality, Everett has released an app that copies Twitter. Everett tells VentureBeat that this was "a complete coincidence," but he's "glad the timing happened that way." He goes on in that interview to hint at some upcoming features, all of which sound Twitter-like. Instead of lists, for example, Heello will have channels.
Currently, it's a Web-only app, which is limiting. The homepage says mobile apps are "coming soon." The main stream has three tabs: your pings, which is the feed of the people to whom you are listening, your replies, and a tab called "What's Happening?", which apparently streams all pings live. It tends to lag rather far behind, but right now, it's a good way to discover people to follow. I mean listen to.
Why does this exist? It's hard to say right now. Currently, it's a giant land grab, with people indiscriminately snatching up user names left and right. There's no way to tell, except by intuition, whether someone is really who they say they are on Heello, and all the juicy user names are probably taken by now. Fake @GooglePlus, fake @MarkZuckerberg, fake @YouTube, all of them have been claimed. You might as well go get yours in the event that Heello makes a name for itself. And hey, for all we know, Twitter could become an ad-riddled mess, and we'll all be glad to have Heello when that happens.