The team behind the social conversation platform Branch is today launching a new venture with Potluck, a service which seems almost the complete inverse of the company’s earlier efforts at inspiring thoughtful, quality discussions on the web. If, according to the Internet’s 1 percent rule, only a small minority will activity participate in content creation (as with Branch), then think of Potluck as the service that appeals to the larger majority of so-called “lurkers.”
Potluck is essentially a link-sharing network built on top of a users’ social connections from Twitter, Facebook and Gmail. But unlike many of today’s social networks, including both Facebook and Twitter as well as Branch, the focus is not on having users craft an online persona, but rather on the content being shared.
Explains Branch CEO and co-founder Josh Miller in a blog post on Medium (a product, like Branch, also backed by Twitter founders’ incubator The Obvious Corporation): “Potluck takes the performance out of sharing by making it more personal and less stressful.”
He says that on most social networks today, there are pressures to produce “double-digit likes, original witticisms, breathtaking images,” and by emphasizing the content instead of the people sharing that content, the hope is that Potluck will be able to build a sharing service where the first thing that’s noticed is not the who, but the what.
Links shared on Potluck aren’t accompanied by people’s names or avatars, only the topic or name of the link, and the number of your friends who are talking about it. Only after clicking through will you find out who else was discussing that same subject. You can then join in the discussion, or just “heart” it to show your approval.
The links that users share in Potluck are those they come across every day when surfing the web, but often don’t get shared. The links can point to anything – an article, a YouTube video, or even a tweet, and that content will show up in a rich media widget of sorts in the Potluck news feed.
Miller tells TechCrunch that while Branch was seeing adoption among by some larger Internet publishers like USA Today and SoundCloud, for example, it hasn’t caught the attention of the masses. “It has not been catching on with my college roommates or my siblings,” he admits. “The reason it hasn’t, is that with Branch, we very much pushed the publishing mantra…[it] really enticed people who like to publish, but for people who don’t blog and tweet, it’s not something that’s approachable to them.”
“Eighty-six percent of the Internet has not written a tweet or a blog post before, and doesn’t really want to,” Miller explains, citing data from Pew Research.
And yet, Branch had continually added features to try to appeal to that broader potential user base, before finally realizing that perhaps those features would work better in a standalone product. So a couple of months ago, the team ripped out the unused pieces that were not working in Branch, and built them into Potluck.
During its private beta, Potluck’s 1,000 beta testers spent on average 10 minutes on the site sharing links and engaging in conversations.
And yes, in case you’re wondering, the service’s ultimate goal is to cleverly convert the Internet’s lurkers to sharers. “What Branch, the company, cares about is conversations. That’s what we’re driven by,” says Miller. “The whole reason we took the time to even focus on Potluck, is because we really do want to empower the people who are not having conversations to have conversations.”
The launch comes at a time when the most popular social networks, like Facebook, Instagram or even Snapchat, are all based on a “friend graph” that replicates your address book in the cloud, so to speak. All these services are about connecting you with people you already know. Miller, meanwhile, says there’s some nostalgia for the time when the Internet was able to connect you with people you may want to know – like you once found via old comments sections, Internet forums, BBS, or elsewhere.
“I, and none of my friends, have ever known the Internet as a place for anyone but the people we know,” says Miller. “It’s inevitable that on a network of billions of people, there’s an opportunity to connect you with people you might know or should know.”
Plus, he adds, “the next big social network is going to be one that offers you a very unique network that you can’t find elsewhere.” That is, it will build something beyond the social graph everyone is spinning off of today.
Potluck is live now here, and an iOS app will arrive in a couple of weeks.