Obvious Corp, the incubator owned by Twitter founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone, has pushed Branch out of the nest. Branch, which aims to help the world have better, deeper, and more human conversations online, launched out of private beta today.
But don’t get too excited … it’s now in public beta, and you’ll still need an invite to join.
Branch was founded by New York-based university students Josh Miller, Hursh Agrawal, and Cemre Güngör, who worked with Williams and Stone for four months in San Francisco before moving back to the Big Apple to continue work on their conversation-facilitating app, now called Branch.
The goal is admirable and big: boost the signal and trim the noise of web-based communication to re-create the passion and deep connections of intense offline conversations, online. The company’s mission is to “empower people to talk about the world around them.”
The result? Pretty much an online forum.
At least, on the surface. Beneath that instant impression are some innovations. Key to the innovations is a feature called Branching, and that’s also a critical differentiator from online forums.
One of the challenges of online forums, as highlighted in Branch’s launch video (below) is keeping content in context.
Anyone familiar with forum posts has seen this … a post that begins with apple pie veers to Macs vs PCs, deviates to politics and Obama versus Romney, and finally dead-ends in an all-caps discussion on the sexual orientation of orangutans.
Branch solves that by enabling users to add out-of-context content to a new branch. Each post in a conversation can be branched off to start a new conversation, which takes the place of threading, an innovation traditional forums use to contain sub-topics.
Creators of discussions can end branches, so the conversation does not last forever, and people who are not in branches to start with can ask for an invite — the equivalent of going up to someone in a coffee shop with “I couldn’t help but overhear …” Or jumping up and down in gym class when it’s time to pick teams and the cool kids are going first, shouting “Pick me, pick me.”
And, I suppose, the other feature is that right now, access is limited, theoretically increasing conversation value and intimacy.
My question: Is that enough? Can Branch offer a compelling argument for users that they should use its service for connecting and communicating with people?
Akanet at Hacker News is not too sure:
I’m not sure how any of the highlighted features really promote intimacy or quality in conversation.
Nor is “Username3”:
How is this different from a forum post? It doesn’t do anything for debates.
The thought that keeps bouncing around in my head is this: Great, amazing, intense, and memorable conversations are real-time, not delayed. Rapid repartee, quick jokes, little sidebars, rabbit holes that you and your companions pull back out of and restart the main thread … those are all key parts of conversations.
Not to mention nonverbal cues, laughs, gestures, volume, and the speed and cadence of answers … all also part of the give-and-take of great conversations.
It’s early days and everyone releases minimum viable products. I expect more from this team, and I expect great things from the company started by people who brought us Twitter and Square.
But at this point, color me disappointed.
Here is Branch’s introductory video, which is gorgeous: