Former Twitter Chief Scientist Launches Steven, An Emoji-Based Social App

I can’t quite put my finger on why I keep using this new app called Steven – yes, Steven, like a boy’s name – but I do. The app itself is sort of silly – it offers you a way to log your activities and location using emoji, optionally add photos, plus view and respond to posts from other friends, also through the use of emoji.

Why? Well…why not?

The app may not be as trivial as it seems at first glance, despite some similarities to other, even goofier emoji-based social networks.

By recording a user’s everyday activities and location, the latter in a decidedly “non-creepy” way, Steven is gradually building up a database of information that could be put to use in the future for any number of purposes. On a personal level, that could mean a navel-gazing look back at your past, in order to extract certain trends. Are you getting to the gym as much as you said you would? How much of your life is spent at the office? And so on.

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But the app also has another element to it that’s interesting – something that its creator describes as a sort of “ambient awareness” of what you’re friends are doing, even when they’re not actively publicizing that on Facebook, or explicitly checking in on other apps.

Pushd, The Company Behind Steven

Steven, for background, was created by Summize co-founder Abdur Chowdhury, who sold his company Summize to Twitter in 2008, where he became Twitter’s Chief Scientist. A few years ago, he left and started a new company called Pushd, which is backed by a couple of million in seed funding from various angels, as well as Betaworks.

The app was not first to be created by Pushd, but it’s the first the team is taking to the public.

abdur-chowdhuryExplains Chowdhury, “one of the things we missed from the early days of Twitter was the awareness of your friends and what they were really doing,” he says. “Now it’s a great news channel, you can see all the highlights from people’s lives, but you really don’t have those deeper conversations with your friends and family anymore.”

Over the past year and a half, the Pushd team, which includes ex-Summize and Twitter engineers, has been building products and killing them. The company created apps in the social space, including a check-in app, one that could track the people you were hanging out with, another to build stories on mobile that you could share to Facebook, and yet another that was about creating content that would be shared with friends in the future.

But the app that led to Steven was a game where you collected emoji of things you did throughout the day. The game itself didn’t pan out, but it inspired what then became Steven.

Steven, by the way, is named after a cat that belongs to the girlfriend of one of the developers – and yes, they were just joking around at first by calling the app Steven. Chowdhury says that the team liked it because it didn’t sound like one of those “internet” names.

“App names…are so boring. Giving it the personality of a cat, it just seemed right,” he says. “That’s a horrible answer, isn’t it?” he adds with a laugh.


How It Works

To use the app, you simply download it, launch it and let it run. Steven tracks where you are and suggests and records an emoji. If you’re shopping, maybe you’ll get a credit card emoji. At a coffee shop? A coffee cup is recorded. At work? A little computer may appear. At home? An emoji house. Etc.

The app will learn where you work and what’s home over time, and when it’s not sure of a location it gently asks via a push notification.

Though you don’t have to actively check-in, you can launch Steven and add a photo, plus browse through friends’ photos and emoji and respond by pushing back an emoji and, optionally, a brief comment.

IMG_0848During beta testing, Chowdhury says that around half Steven’s users were primarily using the app for “life-logging” purposes, while the other half was using it more socially, to take photos and give emoji feedback.

Now the team is looking to see which of these use cases, if either, stick, as it’s introduced to a larger crowd.

I have a hard time understanding why I keep using Steven, as it’s not giving me any critical information or feedback at this point, and as a beta app my friend list has been small. But there’s just something fun about collecting the emoji and seeing your life mapped out this way. (In the Settings, you can even view an emoji calendar, “subway map,” or “pile.”) It’s not really as seemingly pointless as the other emoji social networks since you can use it for simple messaging, and tracking where you’ve been and where as well as for photo-sharing.

I could also see the app getting smarter over time, learning about your routines, and making predictions, recommendations or sending alerts related to that, as well as when there are deviations from your usual day-to-day goings about. But I could also see app fatigue kicking in at some point, especially if my network on Steven never grows beyond the usual tech early adopters.

If you want to play with Steven too, the app is a free download on iTunes.