Potluck, the new link-sharing service from the team behind social conversation platform Branch, has now arrived on the iPhone, where Branch CEO and co-founder Josh Miller believes it may be able to better serve its larger goal of bringing today’s Internet “lurkers” out of the shadows.
“There’s a rule on the Internet that 1 percent are going to create, 9 percent are going to curate, and 90 percent are going to be lurkers,” says Miller. “So by definition, we’re working uphill. But I actually think the iOS app is a big part of why we think we’ll be able to overcome it, at least to some extent. [Mobile] feels like a much more intimate environment.”
The app, Miller explains, is laid out in a way that resembles mobile messaging services or iMessage in an effort to make Potluck feel more casual and informal. Beyond that, the iOS app is not much different from Potluck on the web. It still lets you find friends, post and favorite links, and engage in conversations with others around the item being shared.
The whole thing is very experimental. After all, there are quite a few “link-sharing” services of significant size today, for example, Reddit and Digg. What Potluck is ultimately doing is exploring how the design and flow of an application could push more mainstream users to participate, when so many communities today – even the big ones – never really break though the above-mentioned rule. Even as their raw numbers grow, the percentages of creators to lurkers still remains roughly the same.
Launched just last month, Potluck was in some ways inspired by Branch’s previous failure to inspire more social conversations online among mainstream users. Though media publishers like USA Today and SoundCloud had been drawn to the platform, Miller had lamented that it hadn’t caught on with regular folks, such as his college roommates or siblings. The team realized then that’s because Branch still catered to those who already like to publish – it was just yet another platform for that activity to take place.
Potluck, then, emerged out of features that had once been added to Branch in an attempt to attract a broader user base. The result is a simple, social link-sharing service that puts the content first, ahead of the egos of those doing the sharing. Links shared in Potluck are not accompanied by people’s names or avatars. Only after clicking through do you see who among your friends is in the “room” chatting about it. The idea is that the smaller sizes of the rooms will help Potluck feel more approachable.
Another design tweak meant to encourage participation is how the links are presented to end users. Instead of sorted by popularity, they’re sorted by activity (most recently active first).
“On other sites, where the focus is about consuming content and finding interesting links, the popularity sort makes a lot of sense because when you go to Digg, Reddit or Hacker News, you just want to find something cool to read,” says Miller. With Potluck, however, the goal is instead to get you to hang out with people both new and old. “The popular environment is actually really intimidating for those people who are ‘lurkers,'” adds Miller. “A massive conversation with 50 people and all this back and forth might be intimidating to hop into, versus something that just has one or two or four people, where one or two are your friends.”
In the few weeks I’ve been hanging around on Potluck, it seems like the service has not yet hit the sweet spot in terms of getting more users to participate instead of just liking or lurking. There’s still a large number of links fed into the system by the more active users, while others are content to just browse. But it’s still early days. Miller says it’s too soon to discuss user numbers, but did say that retention from those active during launch week is high – 50 percent returned the week after.
Potluck for iPhone is available for download here in the iTunes App Store.