On my bus ride to work in San Francisco for the past couple of months, I’ve passed by the saddest row of happy-face posters in the world.
They’re advertisements for Ello, the once-buzzy social network that cropped up in 2014, billing itself as the anti-Facebook. Its logo is a smiley face that doesn’t have eyes. And thank goodness; how do you get up the nerve to look someone in the eye after you’ve blatantly ignored them for so long?
After becoming the darling of the tech world by promising to be everything Facebook wasn’t — no ads, no tracking of users’ habits — the company fell from relevance almost as fast as it rose.
Now something new has come along. Last week, a social network called Peach launched and grabbed the attention of the technorati. It’s a mobile app started by Dom Hofmann, co-founder of Vine, the six-second-video app bought by Twitter four years ago.
The app works by showing a feed of your friends in a list, almost like a text-messaging app. You can type what Peach calls “magic words” to launch a few different actions: Draw something, send a GIF or talk about what’s on TV.
Don’t understand? Don’t worry. All you need to know is that it’s going bananas. Though Peach declined to say how much it’s grown, if the Silicon Valley echo chamber of buzzy Twitter users is any sign, Peach could be the next Snapchat (or the next Ello).
A day after we asked Ello for comment, co-founder Paul Budnitz said the company’s fall to earth isn’t its fault. “Tech media helps create this hype and encourage a childish form of FOMO [fear of missing out], then seems to celebrate a story of failure,” he wrote in an email.
So why do we get so excited about the next Shiny New Thing in the first place? Facebook is turning 12 this year. Twitter is turning 10. They are both big, public companies with household names. More than 1.5 billion log on to Facebook each month, and founder Mark Zuckerberg is so successful that he can afford to pledge away 99 percent of his wealth to charity. Twitter has its struggles, but it has helped spur revolutions and added the word “hashtag” to the lexicon. Their impacts on society have been massive.
Still, in the realm of social media, those two giants are the incumbents, and that’s always a slightly distasteful term. Peach’s popularity offers a glimpse into the nagging desire the tech industry has to find something new, different, and most importantly, not Facebook or Twitter.
‘Everyone’s grandmother’ is now on Facebook
One popular theory is that now, with Facebook used by more than half the world’s online population, niche communities feel they don’t stand out. Teens, for example, may not share as much if they know their parents are watching.
“Everyone’s grandmother is on it,” said David Carroll, an associate professor of media design at Parsons School of Design in New York. Conversely, Snapchat and Instagram offer a respite, a place to be different. “People maintain different identities on different platforms,” Carroll said.
In that vein, the comparatively small and private Peach has a lot going for it.
Before you go rushing to sign up, remember that the road to social network glory is littered with also-rans.
Ever heard of Path? The app, started by former Facebooker Dave Morin, limited your friend circle to 150 people. It was sold to a South Korean tech company last year for an undisclosed amount. How about Jelly? It’s a question-and-answer service started by Twitter co-founder Biz Stone that iscurrently going through a relaunch.
It’ll take some time to see where Peach lands. It could skyrocket and pose a scrappy challenge to the social network giants. Or maybe it will become acquisition fodder for Facebook or Twitter or any other titan in Silicon Valley.
Or it could end up like Ello on my way to work — literally being passed by.