Branch, a startup focused on enabling high quality public conversations on the web, is today launching to the public. The company is notably backed by the Obvious Corporation, the incubator from Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams, and early Twitter employee Jason Goldman, which is also home to Medium, a blogging platform that sits somewhere between long-form blog posts and the 140-character restrictions of Twitter.
Like Twitter and Medium, Branch is also working to leverage the web as a platform for social conversations, with new tools for hosting, sharing and publishing those discussions online. And like Medium, it’s hoping to explore another niche in this general space. It’s not blogging, it’s not long-form monologues posted into the ether, nor is it micro-thoughts like on Twitter, but rather dialogs between a group of participants.
The startup allows users to pull in any content, like a tweet or a video, then expand on that subject by inviting other users via email or Twitter to the conversation, or the “Branch,” as it’s called.
The company is most often associated with Twitter, as it takes advantage of Twitter users’ propensity to get involved in longer, more involved discussions, which can often be hard to then limit to Twitter’s 140 characters, or follow using Twitter.com or its associated apps. In some ways, you could say that Branch is enabling a long-form version of Twitter, to put it simply. It’s the crossroads in between a tweet and a blog posts’ comments section, perhaps.
Branch users often use the platform for getting advice, sharing media, or posting their own ideas alongside their commentary, then inviting feedback. These requests, of course, can be tweeted out in order to be shared.
The company’s name comes from the service’s ability to fork various conversational threads into new branches, allowing for mini-conversations that veer off (branch off) from the main topic which got the dialog started between users.
Branch first exited from private beta to public beta in August 2012, and today it’s dropping the beta label entirely, while announcing several new features as well.
One new feature, highlights, extends Branch’s ability to provide feedback and encouragement to users, alongside other mechanisms like Favorites, Likes, Hearts, and upvotes. Users can now double-click any sentence in a Branch to highlight it, and also type in a text box next to the sentence to Branch off that highlight into its own conversation.
Another new feature is an Activity Feed, which lets you keep track of the changes surrounding the Branches you’re a part of, including number of views, who’s watching your Branches, highlights and other activities, members joining your groups, and more.
Branch Wants You To Be More Informal (More Like Twitter?)
The company has also added SoundCloud and Spotify integration, for starting conversations around music, but the most interesting change in today’s release is Branch’s shift in how conversations can be presented. “Write like you talk,” the company encourages its users. What this means, is that Branch wants users to feel less pressure to be eloquent, writing long fleshed-out, grammatically correct sentences when beginning conversations. Instead, suggests the company via blog post, feel free to post your points one by one, e.g.:
The Knicks are doing so well this season!
Carmelo has really hit his stride.
Imagine how much better they’ll be when Amare returns.
That’s actually an interesting change, because these point-by-point conversation starters feel a lot like…well…tweets. One of the reasons why Twitter became so popular, in fact, is that it removed the pressure of having to compose a longer thought. The limitation forced users to sharing a quick idea or comment. Now Branch wants to cater to those same folks, it seems.
The new version of Branch is live now, sign up is here.
Branch (formerly Roundtable) enables a smart new brand of high quality public discourse. Curated groups of people are invited to engage around issues in which they are knowledgeable. This service holds the promise of a new platform for dialogue on the web—a necessary departure from the monologues we have grown so accustomed to reading online.