Problem & Vision
Twitter starts with public conversations and moves inward via threaded replies & direct messages.
What if there was a platform that starts the other way around—by focusing on private conversations with friends, with the ability to expand outward to include strangers?
I read Twitter regularly to keep up to date and broaden my perspectives. Though I rarely tweet for the following 2 reasons:
- Twitter is public and permanent, and the hurdle for posting is higher
- I have many varied interests, and I want to maintain a coherent public identity
Ironically, I actually love sharing content with people via email / private chat.
As many of my friends know, it is very common to receive a message containing an article from me out of the blue. I try to be thoughtful about what I share and who I share it with, and this is how I prefer to connect with friends – based on mutual interest.
Often times, an article I send to a group or someone sends me leads to a thought-provoking discussion – a more nuanced conversation that I rarely see on social media. And I love it when that happens.
How do we create a space that enables those private, authentic discussions to occur, while expanding those circles of discussion in a way that feels natural, yet controlled and safe?
Twitter doesn’t give us nuanced controls to decide who gets to see our tweets by default – other than the heavy handed – “private timeline” toggle.
I do want to showcase my personal brand via a public-facing timeline.
I also want to host semi-private discussions that others can join via invite, and these discussions should not be publicly visible.
To use a concrete example – I sent this February 2019 Natty Light twitter ad to several close friends, as I thought the comments were hilarious.
Our ensuing private conversations covered the gamut of:
- What a great advertisement this was
- How Wiener’s Circle embraces a similar brand approach, and
- Reminiscing over college party experiences.
On a public platform like Twitter, I doubt we would have had the same type of free-flowing conversation – but I would have loved to have the ability to branch into a discussion with strangers who know a bit more about marketing & psychology. And private communications tools such as iMessage / WhatsApp do not have the UX to easily enable users to branch out.
There should be a way to encapsulate both that free-flowing feeling of private chats & the ability to connect strangers with similar interests all on one platform.
Product test idea
If we were entrepreneurs building this from scratch, we could take the following steps to test this on Slack:
- Start a Slack channel, invite a few dozen close friends that we often share content with
- Get our close friends to agree to only use Slack to share content for a few weeks and slowly invite others
- Create a few public as well as private groups within Slack, moderate as necessary, and see if we could keep the community growing and engaged
One obvious answer is that this would become an independent social media company, and WhatsApp / Twitter would be a good proxy of value creation.
However, there would be B2B potential as well. We could be a tool for enterprises to share ideas and foster collaboration across departments.
My goal for writing these posts isn’t to personally build another business. But I do think there is room in this world for something in between Twitter & Slack / WhatsApp, and I would be very excited if someone else turned this into the next big thing.
So if you are interested in this area or are already working on something related, please reach out. And I’ll try my best to connect you with the resources & people you need. It would be cool to see a new company emerge rather than an existing tech giant dominate in this space.
Note #1: I wrote much of this in late February, before Mark Zuckerberg laid out his vision of a private, inter-operable social media platform. As I clearly agree that there is a market need here, I don’t take the cynical view that Zuckerberg is just saying this for political brownie points – though that is certainly a side benefit for him.
Note #2: Ben Thompson’s strategic analysis of this topic in Stratechery is also a great read, and I’d be much more excited to explore this from a ground-up entrepreneurial, product-design perspective.
About the author: Yishi the co-founder & CEO of DeepBench — We connect users with experts on any topic in any industry, and we also license our software to enterprises to better organize and monetize expertise. (Check us out if you are interested in joining our network or using our product!)