Twitter cofounders Biz Stone and Evan Williams unveiled two new ventures this week, and this time they aren’t limiting themselves — or users for that matter — to 140 characters. These new projects from Obvious Corporation, the startup headed by Stone and Williams, are Medium, a publishing platform that organizes user-submitted text and photos into collections that can be viewed and edited by the public; and Branch, a Web-based discussion board that will reportedly turn Internet monologues into online dialogues.
“Both projects are attempting to take something that exists and improve it into something unique,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group.
The Obvious Corporation did not respond to our request for further details.
Branch, which is now in public beta with invitations available by request, was actually conceived by Josh Miller and Hursh Agrawal, who were helped by Obvious. The site’s promise is to allow Branch users to decide who they want to talk to, and thus prevent the discussion from being sidetracked.
It could also merge the opinion of blogs with the interaction of forums.
“The interesting thing is that this could make conversations online easier,” said Michael Weiss, managing partner of C-4 Analytics. “Having a blog is big undertaking, and this will allow people to get engaged a bit easier. It could also allow more interaction, so almost anyone can join the conversation.”
But Branch’s creators believe it could also ensure that said conversations aren’t overwhelmed in the process. Those sound like mutually exclusive objectives, but are they?
“I don’t think it is mutually exclusive, and Branch is not too dissimilar from Twitter,” said Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Media.
“This should be something that could allow the conversation to spread,” he told TechNewsWorld. “With Twitter, you’ve seen a lot of noise enter the conversation. This idea is to have the best of both worlds but be able to screen out the noise in the process.”
Branch could also succeed in creating a hybrid of blog and forum, in much the same way that social news site Reddit allows users to vote a post’s position up or down on the site. But whether it will live up to the potential to combine a dinner table conversation with the openness of the Internet has yet to be seen.
“Branch looks the more interesting to me, because it takes something that lacks conflict and drama and creates conflict and drama, which we know — reality TV being an example — can be very popular,” added Enderle.
Unlike Twitter, it could also offer outsiders the opportunity to join — and possibility be filtered out if their comments aren’t appreciated.
“This is different from Twitter, where no one could join conversations if they weren’t connected to you,” said Weiss. “This makes it more of an online forum than just disjointed content.”
The other venture from Obvious Corporation is Medium, which offers the promise of being a social sharing site — but doesn’t this sound a lot like Pinterest?
“It does sound a little like Pinterest, which had a good initial concept,” said Kerpen. “A lot of companies are likely going to leverage the concept, as Pinterest is really the first of the next step of evolution of social media.”
The site does promise to be easy to use and could offer a way for non-bloggers to, in essence, blog and share content. But will users cool to the idea if other users aren’t exactly kind or supportive about their posts?
“Taking pictures is riskier, because people could be very sensitive about what you do or say about their images and that might, more often, create drama the picture owners would object to,” said Enderle.
Yet this still could be the starting point of what is already being deemed “Web 3.0.”
“What is missing right now is the ability to engage those users — create more user-generated content,” said Weiss. “The social sphere remains too much one-way, and this could make it more of a two way conversation.”
The final equation in all this is whether these are the sorts of ventures that should concern Facebook? While neither concept alone appears to be a Facebook-killer, both could do some defacing.
“I think they are the sort of things that will chip away at Facebook’s dominance,” said Kerpen, “but I’m cautious to think that Facebook’s end could become a reality.”
Moreover, Facebook remains strong enough that even if users look to Branch off a bit, or try the Medium, that neither can take a sizable audience away.
“This is probably a start in the right direction, as this taps into the future of that social sphere,” added Weiss, “but in reality, it is going to take a lot more than this to disrupt Facebook.”