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The online invitation wars Add to ...

"Evite is the MySpace of the online invitation world."

Wow. Harsh words from my fiancé when I asked him to help me plan my book launch party. After a heated conversation about Evite's deficiencies, he warned me that I was behind the Web 2.0 times if invitation service Pingg was not on my radar. I doubted that there was a legitimate web app that I didn't know about, so I did a little digging to find out what he was so fired up about.

First of all, I discovered a site called EviteSucks.com, a destination that includes an up-to-date listing of articles and blog posts knocking the leading online invitation service. From Wired Magazine's comment that "Evite is great if you're gonna party like it's 1999" to VentureBeat's opinion that Evite is one of the greatest viral sites in the world, but it's absolutely horrible looking and ridiculously slow. The site also includes a live Twitter feed from Evite haters around the world. Many of the EviteSucks users diss Evite because you have to click through to an ad-filled page before you accept an invite (making it a cumbersome process for guests), but there are also a slew of comments about how the service's navigation is clumsy and outdated.

I've used Evite a dozen times in the past few years. I can't say that I found it all that terrible, until I signed up this week for an account on Pingg. Co-founded in 2008 by two Canadians, the site is just starting to generate a huge amount of buzz online. With hundreds of free stylish invitations, thorough social media integration, and a paid service to mail out a paper version of your invite, Pingg has everything that you need for easy event planning in 2010 and beyond.

As I navigated the invitation creation process, I was amazed how simple the interface is. Once you choose a template, you can pick a design from Pingg's directory (including some beautiful original creations from artists). When the design loads up, which happens very quickly, you can fill in all your event details (including adding a map so attendees can easily find your location). Also, if you want to upload your own image, it's a cinch. Once you've nailed the design and details, creating your guest list is where Pingg really shines.

You can import your addresses from a previous event, cut and paste from your own list, import contacts from your online account (such as Gmail or Yahoo!), or import from a file (such as a CSV doc). Once your list is up to snuff, you can post your event on Twitter or Facebook in one click. This is where you also have the paid option to send postcards or folded cards in the mail (if an electronic invite isn't your thing). Your event web page is also easily customizable, so you can hide your RSVPs if you like or even tweet your event stream (status updates as people interact with your event page). There is also Flickr and YouTube integration, and the option of a gift registry and the ability to collect event funds (via PayPal).

As an event administrator, my favourite feature so far is the dashboard that lets you manage your event. From a pie chart detailing how many people have responded to your event stream, which includes updated info as guests view invites, leave messages, or view your event page. Finally, Pingg is automatically set up so that you can schedule reminders (e.g. a reminder one week before the event) and automatic thank you notes following your event to the people. All of these messages are customizable. Also, when a guest gets an invite via e-mail, he or she can respond with a yes, no, or maybe directly within that message (which includes all the event details).

There is a whole lot more to the service, including paid Pingg Plus features that allow you to customize your URL, create a completely ad-free page (although the free page isn't unattractive in any way) and send digital envelopes. After reviewing dozens of Web 2.0 services over the past few years, Pingg is one of the best that I've seen. It will save you time and money as you plan your next event, so definitely keep it on your radar.

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