Sharing my tribe: introducing flock for Twitter

Find, follow and create playlists of awesome people on Twitter

Not so long ago I wrote about finding my tribe on Twitter, and how the people I met there changed my life for the better in more ways than I can name.

But the fact remains that new users face a steep learning curve and have trouble finding people to follow, the very people that make Twitter such a magical place for devoted users. Curating a great Twitter feed is a real chore, and most of us power users are always tweaking and refining the people we follow in order to “tune in” to the perfect stream of information. Think about how hard it is for power users to find new accounts to follow, and now magnify that problem by 100x for new users. Pretty overwhelming.

It happens that my buddy Zach recently came to me with an idea for a hack project: user-generated Twitter lists that you could follow in one tap. I instantly loved it. A curated primer for building a good Twitter timeline out of people relevant to you and your interests, leveraging the only way I know of to reliabily find awesome new users to follow: other people. A little bit of help building & tending to your flock on Twitter.

For example, a list could be something like:

  • Brave foreign journalists
  • Standup Comedian Twitter Addicts
  • Golden State Warriors
  • Up-and-coming entrepreneurs

So that’s how our little experiment was born. We hope you like it, and we’d love your feedback on how to make it better.

You can sign into flock with Twitter and start creating, discovering and following lists here.

— @basche42 & @zreitano

*UPDATE 12/22* Looks like our write access to Twitter’s API has been revoked. We’re seeing if we can get this resolved and apologize for the inconvenience.

We believe that user-curated lists, especially as we build features like upvoting & user-submitted suggestions to lists, should be follow-able for users new and old in one simple tap.

We love Twitter. We want people to be able to get to that magic moment sooner and join us in the Twittersphere.

Originally published on Medium


Fuck Patience

“If you want your fucking rock to move you have to push it yourself.” — Meredith Perry

They say patience is a virtue, and in a lot of ways they’re right. Patience about life, about finding out who you are, and about meeting people you connect with — that’s the only tried and true method for riding the waves. Being present & patient with yourself is essential.

But at the same time don’t be patient about the world. Don’t be patient about things that are broken.

Now is such an amazing time to be alive because people all over the world are encountering obsolete, inefficient and unfair systems and for the first time ever are empowered to change things themselves. From the tech startup boom, to the slow but steady growth of online activism and civic organizing, we’re seeing a righteous impatience take hold, and an accompanying acceleration of the pace of change.

Button mashing on an automated phone answering system in order to get a person is not the future. We should not be patient with our antiquated financial system — whose byzantine model inconveniences all & disproportionately burdens the poor. A healthcare system with spiraling costs, unequal access & suffocating bureaucracy should not be accepted. We should not wait for racial justice. From traffic & drunk driving deaths to predatory lending, we do not have to sit back and let change occur gradually. We can do something about it right now.

People will always say things can’t be done. That there are fundamental, structural forces that keep things working the way they are now. Experts will call a paradigm shift impossible up until the day that it occurs. But progress progresses in spite of this ossification of imagination. The arc of the universe is at play, the forward arrow of evolution is at work.

So fuck patience because change takes time, but not as much time as it used to.

Anyone can start tomorrow.

Originally published on Medium

Finding my tribe: a love letter to Twitter

I tried to picture clusters of information as they moved through the computer. What did they look like? Ships? Motorcycles? Were the circuits like freeways? I kept dreaming of a world I thought I’d never see. And then one day, I got in.

– Tron: Legacy

Dear Twitter,

We’ve heard a lot about what you’re doing wrong over the last year. Everyone knows that Twitter has a problem attracting everyday users, that the value proposition is not (and has never been) clear, and that the setup and fine curation of a Twitter feed is more trouble than it’s worth for most people. These things are pretty obvious, and I think you have taken some great steps to address them.

But I want to take a little different tack here by telling my own story as a true power user of Twitter, and as someone who’s life has been changed for the better because of it. I want to dig into the essence of why Twitter has been such a profoundly formative & positive influence for an extreme case like me. Maybe I can shed some light on a universal nugget that lies at the heart of Twitter.

I’m a bit weird. I work in technology, but you also might say that’s where I play. The things that I think about during the day are the things I think about at night when I’m off the clock. Even in a booming industry like tech with so much optimism, it can be hard to find people as crazy obssesed as I am, who are perfectly willing to argue about native apps vs. HTML5 for an hour at the bar. It can be hard to find kindred spirits for me, to find other people who are so interested in it all. I found some friends like this in college, but that was really a function of where I was at that time. What Twitter has done for me is help me find my tribe, and find them all around the world.

The people that I’ve met on Twitter have — directly or indirectly — taught me more in the past 2 years than I learned at high school and college combined. I get to go back and forth with scientists, entrepreneurs, brilliant designers and programmers, spiritual seekers and politics junkies, and just all around fellow geeks. My tribe evolved organically, one @reply argument here, one retweet there. I’ve met some lifetime friends on Twitter, some of whom I might work for, start a project with, or go to Mars with. And I know I wouldn’t have met them otherwise.

When I open my Twitter app out of habit, there’s an element dopamine seeking kicking in because I’m addicted to my phone just like everyone else. But what I’m really doing when I open Twitter is reaching out and touching pure information as it flows throughout our global consciousness. Our interest graphs cross pollenate with each other, and people go head to head in an open arena of expression. Sometimes it’s not pretty. But out of that chaos comes something very special. You can see ideas rise and fall on Twitter. And despite all the bickering, people’s minds are changed and hearts are softened everyday there.

Thinking about it as just a place to share and discover content, to follow live events, or have a second-screen experience for TV only gives you part of the pictureTwitter allows people to love the things they love even more by experiencing them together. It’s a place for passion. It’s a place where interests and ideas are the centerpiece, but where people are the soul, and as the stewards of it I hope you don’t forget that.

I grew up on AIM and Facebook, but I found myself on Twitter. I came to it at a point in my life when I was checking out different jobs and cities, trying to figure out just who I was & where the other weird people were. And it eventually dawned on me that they are everywhere. That’s why Twitter is so important to me.

Don’t fuck it up.


Originally published on Medium

The pregame is the party: Silicon Valley’s war for your night out

Tech in nightlife isn’t a new phenomenon — from Ticketmaster to Tablelist — we’ve used technology to make our night out better ever since the dawn of the internet. This previously analog industry has done a great job of digitizing, with sophisticated point-of-sale, ticketing and logistics solutions widely available to venues. But even as mobile reshapes vertical after vertical, we continue to see a lot of the same good(!) ideas around what should be next in nightlife tech — on-demand bottle reservations, exclusive deals, location-based social networking — without the kind of explosive growth & mainstream tech brand that we’ve seen elsewhere.

The technical capabilities are absolutely there, and from a culture standpoint, Tinder has successfuly introduced the concept of using an app to plan your night out (even if that night is just date night for now). So why aren’t our great techie ideas for going out catching on? I think the absence of an Uber or even Tinder-caliber success in the vertical betrays this simple fact: nobody has really addressed the keystone job-to-be-done, nobody has solved the right problem.

That’s because getting together is what matters. It’s the apartment rager, the drunk brunch, the Wednesday night dinner and the Sunday evening Thrones watchfest that truly define our friendships. It’s all of the stuff in-between Coachella or a crazy night out in NYC’s meatpacking district that make our lives really worth living. Most of the nightlife apps completely forget this, and skip right to selling you a bottle of Grey Goose. Being presented an awesome nearby concert or a hot nightclub is little use when you’re not sure who you’d bring. The true opportunity here is to help friends coordinate and get together when they otherwise might not have, to connect people that want to go out but don’t have specific plans yet. The app I’m describing will simply help you meet up with friends in the first place. When everyone’s together, the question changes from “what do I do tonight?” and becomes “where to?” In a way, the pregame is the party.

Much of the nightlife tech space is distracted by selling expensive stuff like bottle service & concert tickets, but there are some companies that are on the right track. Danny Trinh’s “Free” app — a twist on Yo’s one-bit communication model — is a very cool attempt at attacking this problem space. Inspired by the AIM away messages of a bygone era, Free lets you set a very simple availability status for yourself, see which friends are also free, & chat with them to coordinate something to do. Through design (Going out, flexible, busy options are somehow less intimidating than a blank News Feed post), Free is looking to reduce the stigma around putting yourself out there when you’re interested in going out but have no plans.

But it’s an app called Wigo, founded in 2014 at Holy Cross, that I think has come closest to the holy grail by starting with the question: who’s going out? The app lets students post “events” that are coming up (along with details) and people can RSVP, view attendees, and post photos related to the event. While it sounds an awful lot like an unbundled version of Facebook events, Wigo has been on a tear over the past year at college campuses. Students are using it to plan their weekends, connect with their campus, and branch out from their core friend group. Many of the same high-minded ideas like a news feed of upcoming events that have been unsuccessfully bouncing around the space are finally coming to fruition, and it’s working because the guest lists are actually filled to the brim with your real friends. Wigo has even managed to get kids from campuses around the country to pre-register for the app and beg the company on Twitter to unlock it at their school. With the classic college takeover strategy and a seasonal experiment (Wigo Summer) with non-affiliated local events, Wigo seems like it really has a shot at making itself a regular habit in the lives of our generation.

Ultimately, the solution to this problem will involve, and yet not revolve around, shiny, concierge nightlife experiences at upscale venues like you can find on Tablelist. The winning app may eventually be able to tell you what parties & venues are “hot” around you, but the primary value proposition will not be such a heat map. You’ll be able to meet new people as a byproduct of this service, but it won’t be explicitly about making new friends. The app will likely direct you to relevant deals on nearby events (like Flux) & will help you and your friends split the bar tab (like Flowtab & Wingman) but the category-defining app will not start out as a tool to do any of that. The technology-enabled nightlife experience of the future won’t be what we all thought it would be, but it will rhyme.

Bringing people together is the hard part. Figuring out exactly which model (events vs. status based? both?), design language & product positioning will both bring people out of their shells & protect their egos is a very tall order (Tinder, anyone?). But once this nut has been cracked, the awesome ideas in nightlife tech that I mentioned earlier — bottle service, drink specials, event tickets, heat maps — all of this stuff will be set in motion. The coordination of people is the point of leverage here, putting the winner in a position to monetize via building or partnering to solve these other complimentary problems. In fact, Wigo CEO Ben Kaplan, when asked about Wigo’s monetization strategy in an interview, said that they’d be looking into partnering with nearby venues in the future where their users can take the party. Likewise, it’s not hard to imagine a button to order a 30-pack of beer (courtesy of the Drizly API) inside the Free app. If an app like this really lives up to its potential, it will expand the market for these nightlife related purchases, not simply capture and monetize them. Less nights of FOMO and Netflix -> more nights out. It’s simply more natural for an app that is frequently used to coordinate hanging out to add one or more of these commerce options (booze, tickets, etc) than it is for one of those commerce apps to add an “invite your friends” button at the end of the checkout flow. This directionality is important. It hints at the fact that we have the spokes, but are missing the hub.

The inventions in mobile nightlife tech that have been popping up over the past few years are poised to take off, just not in a vacuum & not by themselves. There will be some dominant experience around which these other components will orbit, and through becoming the default online means by which people get together offline, this app will secure its place in the center of the nightlife solar system.

Originally published on Medium

From the Uber-Spotify Partnership to Drizly’s API: The Rise of the Remix Economy

People love their favorite brands, including in tech. Facebook, early on in mobile, capitalized on their network and brand equity in order to provide a login service to developers that both enhanced user trust and reduced onboarding friction. And while today many app developers have begun to eschew Facebook Connect in favor of other keychaining options (Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram) or simply using the address book graph/usernames, the appearance of a third-party brand alongside third-party code in marquee consumer apps is becoming more common, not less. At the risk of ironically borrowing from other various themes/theories around collaborative creation, I’ll dub this trend the “remix economy.”

Partnerships have always been a crucial part of strategy in business, and in technology it’s been no different — from open source software projects to channel relationships and everything in between. APIs themselves are also not new — and ever since early pioneers like Ebay and brought web APIs into the main, they have exploded in popularity and become integral to the strategy of many tech companies. I think this poignant excerpt from a blog post on enterprises joining the API economy applies just as well to consumer apps leveraging each other’s strengths:

Third-party developers are the creative x-factors who will drive your brand into the innumerous niches in which your modern customer segment lives. They are the people who will mix and remix your corporate assets together with those of others to create unique, multidimensional experiences. These novel applications and ideas, which would never be conceived in a corporate boardroom, are precisely what will drive surprising new sources of value for your company and give you access to your competitor’s lunchbox.

But lately API integrations — especially in mobile and consumer web — are becoming increasingly more public-facing and central to developing a brand and user experience. Take the Spotify-Uber partnership announced recently.

“Spotify your Uber” is how Uber’s website characterizes the new integration

It’s nothing technically mindblowing — Uber allows you to link a Spotify account to your Uber account, and allows your playlists to be pushed to the driver’s stereo-controlling phone in the car. But the seamless integration delivers not just a delightful listening experience (okay — at least for the passengers), but also a juxtaposition of two wildly popular brands — Spotify and Uber. It’s almost like when you find out two of your favorite actors are actually buddies in real life. When I open the Uber app and see that — “hey! my Spotify is here too,” I get that uncanny feeling of everything being in the right place. Uber’s own API looks poised to provide a similar value-add experience but for transportation in other apps.

Another great example of this ethos is Snapcash — the new Snapchat feature that leverages Square Cash in order to facilitate peer-to-peer payments seamlessly within the app. Payments in a messaging app are nothing new, especially for Asian companies like Snapchat investor and WeChat owner Tencent. But I do think it is telling that Snapchat chose not to roll its own payment solution and elected instead to leverage the existing brand and technology of Square. This is not only a nod to specialization — Square’s business is building payment solutions while Snapchat’s is building a socialization platform — but also to a mutually beneficial brand relationship where each partner’s strengths are partially conferred by association to the other. Snapchat brings an element of hipness and pop culture relevancy to Square, who in turn blesses the Snapchat platform with its payment & commerce chops.

Snapcash demo on Android

I think this colorful exchange between Jack Dorsey and Evan Spiegel regarding the integration really captures the spirit behind this deal. It’s a great example of tech leaders acting like the DJ’s of their own brand experiences: remixing, collaborating and fine tuning not only their final product but how their product fits into the constellation of other services users love.

Lets move to the immediate inspiration for this piece: today’s announcement by Drizly that they will be making their alcohol delivery service available for developers to integrate into their own apps via API. In addition to launch partners such as Miller and Swarm, the API will allow a wave of apps to be enhanced, and perhaps even built, with a co-branded, local alcohol delivery component. In the article above, BostInno mentions a whiskey recommendation app called Distiller. Users will be able to purchase whisky from Drizly right inside their Distiller app, and it’s not hard to come up with a few other uses for this right off the top of your head. Not only do these apps and liquor brands benefit from the technical/logistical heavy lifting that Drizly makes available to them via API, they also can leverage Drizly’s growing but trusted brand among millennials as a cool, upcoming service that many have heard about (if not tried themselves). Launching with Foursquare’s Swarm as a partner really emphasizes the versatility of a platform like this and shows how through one of these “remixes,” social apps and beyond will be able to cleverly integrate e-commerce + more into their apps by partnering up.

When things like this are done well, I get a weird feeling of satisfaction. I get the sense that my mobile experience is evolving into something richer and more personally rewarding as my favorite cloud services and apps begin to “play nice” together. Both self-service API implementations and those borne from coordination behind closed doors are making our apps better and more useful. There are other adjacent trends here at work; the rise of platforms like Stripe for payments and Twilio SMS — along with newcomers like Dispatch for on-demand services (for whom I did some work recently) — has begun to change the way applications are developed. But I think that these brand-level partnerships and app remixes will are becoming increasingly more important and visible to the end-user, and ultimately will change how these companies are grown and marketed in addition to how they function. If I’m right, larger (or more greedy) companies in consumer tech that wish to control everything and “take their ball and go home” will find themselves short not just on friends but also on fans in the long-run.

Originally published on Medium

Dance with the Devil: Apple, payments and the end of credit cards

*Update at 6:15pm at the bottom in light of Walgreens/CVS & Apple News

It truly amuses me to see the iWatch getting far more coverage than the upcoming Apple payments coup. With the recent news that Apple has struck deals with a group of leading banks (and procured discounts from them) and the major credit card companies, it’s clear that the iWallet (or whatever it will be called) is happening, and it’s happening in a big way. I was astonished when I heard that both the banks and the credit cards were involved, because when combined with the rumors of NFC in the iPhone, iWatch, or both, this starts to smell a lot more like a global payments system than a useful feature of iOS. When naming this post, I originally used the phrase “mobile payments” and then realized how obviously that missed the point. This is just about payments, period. Time’s article “Why Only Apple Has What it Takes To Disrupt Our Wallet” reminds us that these awesome developments in mobile payments have been —up until this point — junior partners to big-boy payments (closest thus far has been PayPal). Cupertino has done it before (smartphones, tablets) and they probably will do it again. This is just the first time that Apple is really going to distort reality without Jobs.

Some of this may be their impeccable timing, and their convenient tactic of always getting last-mover advantage that somehow seems like it was first-mover advantage in retrospect. But chiefly, we are here because true mobile-enabled payments is not a technology problem, it is an anthropology problem. It requires a thoughtful bundler to bring order to the chaos that has reigned early in this market’s life cycle. Apple will likely not be the payment monopoly – potentially Google, Amazon, or an upstart like Dwolla or Venmo or Square could position themselves to get a big chunk of it eventually – but they will be the ones to teach us the UI, metaphors, and framing that we use as a society to organize around a payment system. We’ve had NFC for years, and in reality Apple seems to have been treating those days as a free, extended beta test of the technology. If anyone is going to get NFC into the real world, it will be Apple, while at the same time leveraging their advantage of being able to offer software-based payment integrations (or online shopping at first) in parallel. It is not hard to imagine some sort of Passbook integration in the future with payments providers as diverse as Dwolla, Chain, Bank of America, Discover Card and Western Union.

But surely the executives at Visa, MasterCard and American Express are familiar with how things turned out for the record companies after they fled Napster’s wrath to the shade of iTunes. The obvious question is this: what the hell are they thinking? Why would they participate in magnifying the unparalleled advantage that Apple’s platform commands when, by some counts, upwards of 850 million credit cards are on file at iTunes? Apple could easily commoditize the payment provider as a category, all the while bolstering their demand-side economies of scale. With things like Dwolla and Bitcoin in particular, Apple has a ready-made substitute for credit cards once it establishes its platform of platforms. Money is really just information, and while the credit card companies have built one of the first great shrines to Metcalfe’s law (network effects), in a world being eaten by software, you had better build a big enough moat too.

There are some obvious short term boons here for the credit cards. If Apple passbook containing your Visa card causes you to use Visa more often (say, as opposed to cash), and its convenience maybe even spurs you to spend more online period, you could see some real growth in $$s processed (for a while at least). Maybe Amex can stake a claim as a concierge quality, high-end Passbook app instead of a physical card. Surely the brand is worth something in translation. But then they are simply playing on the home field of Venmo, Paypal, and a host of other payment services at every level of the stack, and who have access to the exact same phonebook graph and preferred identity layers (Facebook, Dropbox, Google etc). Do you really want to bet on a credit card company in an extended hackathon against a payment startup?

So, I’m actually not sure who the devil I’m referring to in the title is. But one way or another we’ll find out – a lot sooner than I expected.



According to Re/code, Apple has inked deals with still more partners for its payment system (believed to be NFC based). By apparently signing up Walgreens and CVS, Apple has paved the way for similar bilateral deals with large chains, and we can begin to see a coherent Apple strategy emerge. By training users to trust this payment mechanism at certain key places, Apple defines the interaction in classic Apple fashion and begins to slowly guide users into the future. Expect to see more large retailers and restaurants getting recruited into Apple’s payment network. This is the strategy that should really scare the credit card companies. One morning we may wake up and find that the big chains all “take iPhone.”

It also dawned on me what the point of the iWatch might actually be. If the iPhone 6 is technically the “first” iDevice with NFC, might iWatch be the cheaper NFC wallet option during the transition to NFC in the iPhone install base? Apple’s crude attempt at backwards compatibility? Perhaps with an old iPhone paired to an iWatch, you too can lose the plastic for iWallet.

Originally published on Medium

App discovery is broken. Can Product Hunt fix it?

With the launch of its new iOS app, Product Hunt is starting to look more and more like the App Store we always wanted

It is said that app discovery is broken. We have gone from a highly searchable, discoverable web dominated by Google Search to a few walled gardens. In the case of iOS, a single list portal has played the role of kingmaker since the 3rd party apps came to the platform in 2008. I think Benedict Evans nails it when he likens our current state of affairs to the pre-Google Yahoo directory where it was “every website on the internet.” Simply put, how can we minimize the epidemic of app store rot that Apple’s neglect of the App Store has caused?

Surely — with 1.2 million apps on the App Store — Apple’s ‘featured’ page and the leaderboards by category are not the most useful way to browse, search, and discover new apps. Apple recently shrunk the App Store’s top 250 to 150, further narrowing the aperture through which new apps could squeeze into the limelight. It is unsurprising that these top lists are dominated by incumbents like Facebook and Foursquare, no matter how rocky their constellation app launches have been. I’ve seen various data points on the disparity by income between the top 0.1% of apps and the rest, but really any way you slice it you keep coming back with Pareto’s Law. However, the result is not that new apps cannot be discovered (see here for the contrarian view that it isn’t broken). It’s that good ones could be discovered much more easily. That imbalance is healthy so long as the “elevator” that brings challengers up to duke it out with incumbents is healthy too.

I’m sure most of you who follow tech saw the news of Product Hunt’s raise and iOS app. Everyone who loves products is excited about Product Hunt for what it is already, but I’m also jazzed about them looking ahead. The web is littered with posts by founding teams glowing over their Product Hunt debut and how it attracted tons of high-quality early adopters. These early adopters are key to helping validate the concept, providing feedback, and spreading products that they love (check this deck out for more on this). They are treated almost as rules of thumb or shortcuts by their friends to the best new apps and products, and so reaching and engaging with them is proving to be crucial. Apps are being disovered on Product Hunt (or as a derivative of being discovered on PH) everyday — even without app discovery being an explicit focus.

I don’t know what percentage of products on Product Hunt are apps, but I would guess that its a pretty healthy one. With that in mind, lets take a look at the new PH app:

                               The new Product Hunt iOS app

Its elegance goes without saying. What I can’t shake is the feeling that this should really be the foundation of where I get my apps in the future. This could be a simple, curated discovery model with the deep install links and everything. We’ve seen plenty of “top free apps of the day” or other half-assed shots taken at app curation, search and discovery, but all have either failed miserably or faced legal action from the likes of Apple. I think some offspring of what Product Hunt currently has here is a better way to do it.

With the rise of anthropology over algorithim and the elevation of the app to pop culture icon status, I think Product Hunt could play a very interesting role. Currently, the non-reviewer users of Product Hunt are themselves also the “early adopter crowd,” but that may not always be the case. I believe this iOS app hints at an eventual wider audience for Product Hunt in the mainstream. A future where everyday people (ok fine — milennials) follow star product experts in the valley for new products the same way they follow reporters for news or their favorite fitness & diet expert for exercise tips. Why shouldn’t we find apps the same way we find stories on Reddit? The app business is likely to remain winner-take-all as always, but that does not mean we should resign ourselves to such a flat experience as the App Store. And despite the misleading articles being passed around lately about how the “average smartphone user downloads 0 apps,” this experience of discovery is becoming more and more important as apps truly become mass media.

Originally published on Medium

Internet of Pings: When Notifications Were Poised to Rule the World

We find ourselves at a peculiar non-equilibrium in apps. Drama in the mobile space has recently been underwritten by the perennial “unbundling” debate, and giants like Facebook (Slingshot, Paper), Dropbox (Carousel), Foursquare (Swarm), and Twitter (Vine) have all faced their share of soul searching in attempts to best position themselves along this continuum. Meanwhile, these new unbundles of joy simply add to the growing stack of notifications we’re forced to either deal with or waste time disabling. Compounded with what I call general “app sprawl” as the mobile ecosystem comes into its own, this march towards “peak notifications” is putting an increasing strain on the useful attention of the consumer. Strangely enough, these shifts may only give push notifications a more important role in making sense of the chaos.

Where should you chat with Facebook friends on mobile, and where should you share your pictures? How many apps can we really keep track of and be engaged with, and what happens as apps get replaced by other apps? These kinds of questions are fundamental, and we can only speculate as to where the chips will ultimately fall. But in addition to determining the winner(s) of the platform wars, this quagmire is also about what the atomic unit of the smartphone interface should be. When your phone is constantly buzzing with notifications – from iMessage to Twitter, to Lyft and Wunderlist – the only real method to the madness is the order in which those notifications appeared on your lockscreen. I have too many apps on my phone to count, and there are a decent number of ones that I check fairly regularly but which are scattered in the corners of my homescreen/folders. Notifications allow me to engage with my apps as relevant stuff happens to me — no hunting around for an icon (especially if I’m sneaking a peek at work). Apps without any notifications may simply waste away in a folder if pings continue to dominate the experience, but there could also be more purging of poorly behaved push notifiers as their intrusions become more and more unwelcome. We can debate all day as to whether Twitter’s or Facebook’s “app constellation” will shine brightest, but what good will the answer be in a mobile world where notifications shuffle deck once more?

One very real possibility is that the continued ascendancy of push notifications portends the future of smartphone UI. The initial logic of push notifications on mobile was to provide a little context along with the alert and allow the user to consume the tidbit of value without having to open the app. Things have certainly evolved. We see that actionable pings have become a powerful way to draw users into the apps themselves rather than taking the long route through the homescreen/general OS layer. Android has robust interactive notifications already, and iOS 8 is about to introduce them. This is why the WSJ called push notifications “ the most valuable property in the entire media universe,” in its write up on Yo. They appear to be the holy grail of user engagement and stickiness, with one recent study finding that adding push notifications increased user response rates by 300% across 6 verticals. A fascinating qualitative study on mobile user interactions found broad user support for a model of mobile interaction that is modular, notification-centric and ambient or MNA. This kind of “system initiated communication” as it is referred to demands less mental effort of the user while still allowing them to exercise control over the context that underpins the notification regime. People are tinkering furiously in this space for good reason. Personally, I would like to see some more experimentation in terms of what is actually in your notifications. I could imagine something cool like a “notification of notifications” summary notification strategy, or perhaps a one-bit mode where all pings from an app trigger a Yo instead of a distracting, readable message on your lock screen.

I don’t think compulsive refreshing of our favorite apps is going anywhere fast, but I think this kind of “push” oriented world as opposed to constantly having to “pull” when we want things is a running theme in mobile tech today (especially as the wearables revolution allegedly approaches). Apps with the strongest and most user-friendly notification strategy will certainly have the upper hand. Stanislas Cavalie pretty much nails it in his blog when he says, “Using push noti­fi­ca­tions is like knock­ing on people’s door. It’s bet­ter to have some­thing valu­able and per­son­al­ized to say, and it’s even bet­ter if you have been invited to enter!”

Notifications are, of course, the bread and butter of messaging, so I don’t think it is purely coincidence that the two have taken center stage around the same time 😉

Originally published on Medium

Pinterest, Layer and the Commoditization of Messaging

Most folks by now have had time to digest Facebook’s $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp. Such an attention-grabbing headline brought with it a wave of meta-analysis about the future of communication. I’ll leave my take on the messaging app wars themselves to another post, but there is more going on beneath the surface with messaging more broadly as a category of mobile activity.

Let’s take a look at the rollout of Snapchat’s creatively named “Chats” feature that launched not so long ago. Had it not been for Snapchat’s success with “Stories,” the press might have poo-poo’d “Chats” more vociferously, but even still coverage has centered mostly around its “lukewarm” reception with users (citing various engagement sources) and its clever UI. Fresh off of the WhatsApp acquisition, tech-watchers were highly skeptical that another icon dedicated to messaging would make the coveted leap to “homescreen status.” Simply put, how many messaging apps do you really need? Don’t we have WhatsApp, Facebook’s Messenger, and Viber for regular text/picture messaging? That’s the theory, anyhow.

The jury is still out on Chats adoption and stickiness at Snapchat. I haven’t seen any real numbers, but anecdotally some people seem to like it — especially for 3–5 responses to a Snap that then might transition to iMessage. General messaging functionality helps round out the Snapchat experience and enhances their core use cases while allowing Snapchat to dip its toes into adjacent areas. We also saw this earlier in the week with Pinterest rolling out messaging functionality. Pinners can now chat with each other within the framework of shared content. It is easy to see how adding this discussion element to Pinterest could drive more engagement and eyeball time.

This is the commoditization of messaging — and it is not limited to social media. A few weeks ago, I booked my first Airbnb when I visited some college friends in New York. Once I had made the reservation, I was pleasantly surprised to see the seamless flow into a chat with the renter where we ironed out logistics. An ODE (On-Demand Economy) player like Airbnb benefits greatly from rounding out its customer experience with this communication layer. The goal here is different than the social networks: to make the process as easy and seamless as possible so that the customer uses Airbnb for all of their future accomodations. The same means — messaging — being used for a different end.

That brings us to one of the sickest companies out there right now: Layer (@Layer). Layer is the self-described “open communications layer for the internet,” and it provides a set of tools for any developer to integrate messaging (text/pics/video) into their mobile app. They are all-in on the commoditization of messaging, and recently hosted a HackLayer hackathon where developers took their yet to be released SDK for a test drive. Check out a blog post from the company that talks about some of the winning projects and their view on the future of in-app communications. Layer is continuing this trend of the maturation of the ‘startup stack’ in a similar way to Stripe in the in-app mobile payments arena.

A gigantic chunk of what we do with apps involves other people. Talking to other people is a key activity that can be incorporated into a myriad of things. Two taps lets you switch apps, and today’s mobile app power user is so far only minimally annoyed by checking and using 4–5 messaging apps and 5–6 apps with messaging capabilities. I think that this decoupling and recoupling of features x, y and z with messaging is going to yield some really interesting results. In some sense, messaging has gone from being the ‘killer app’ of mobile to being a best practice or ‘killer feature.’

Originally published on Medium