The Internet isn’t lacking for sites and services where people can post their comments and thoughts, but Andrew Sider, co-founder and CEO of a startup called Bunch, argues that there’s still something missing: “How do we connect with people, not around friends, not around social networks, but around a topic that they care about deeply?”
After all, Sider said that many of your Facebook friends and Twitter followers probably aren’t passionate about the same things that you are. He acknowledged that online forums have filled this role in the past, but he said those forums are now intimidating to casual users and also kind of uncool. (Other attempts at reinventing the forum include a new startup called Discourse.)
“The new reality is, I don’t believe in 20 years our generation will use forums,” Sider said.
So Bunch tries to have to combine the accessibility of a social network with a commitment to depth and topic-based groups. When you first sign up, you have to sign in with your Facebook account, so your comments are tied to your real identity. Then you can join the communities that interest you — but you can only join three. After joining, you can view and participate in a stream of conversations around a given topic.
Sider said these features should encourage people to only join the communities that they really care about and to post substantive, civil comments there. He added that Bunch is experimenting with other features that encourage depth, such as a bigger comment box and a minimum number of characters in each comment.
I liked what I saw in the brief demo that Sider gave me, but I pointed out that it could be a big challenge to recruit a user base that comes from a number of disparate online communities. Sider said his initial strategy is integrating with other social networks — for example, users can cross-post their content between Tumblr and Bunch. (Apparently some of the early beta testers like the quality of conversation on Bunch enough that they’ve started to treat it as their default blogging platform.) Plus, users get a journal page showing their activity across different communities, and it’s visible to non-Bunch members, so you can promote it on other social networks. After all, Sider said that if you’ve got a good conversation going, you want to get other people involved, too.
After a closed beta test of about 20,000 users (who have created more than 50 communities), Bunch is opening to the public today. It’s also releasing its iPhone app and announcing that it has raised $1 million in funding from Real Ventures, 500 Startups, BDC Venture Capital, Round 13 Capital, and undisclosed angel investors.