As platforms reach that tipping point and transition into status media, they also begin to lose those characteristics that allowed for authentic community and conversation. Thus, as social apps mature and move away from their early versions of community-based platforms to status media platforms, a white space opens up for new social platforms to provide community and conversation, thus restarting the natural cycle of social apps.
Perhaps one unlikely app, given its enterprise roots, that provides a great template for a social platform leveraging conversation, is Slack. Teams and entire workplaces have flocked to the product as a replacement for email and chat apps. It makes communicating at work and gathering/sharing information faster and richer – so much so that 10 million office workers log into the app daily, actively using it for ~90 minutes during weekdays, and staying logged into the app for ~10 hours/day during the week.
But let’s examine Slack purely as a social app. Slack, as a messaging platform, has conversation at its core. It also has a strong sense of community. All members are invited, and often are already connected through an existing IRL community (e.g. an entire start-up office, a recreational soccer league, a collection of individuals interested in retail and fashion.) By this nature, community exists based on affinity, interests, proximity, or a common goal. Within Slack, conversations are then organized in two ways:
1) In channels – a further subdivision into topic areas from the general community so that those who are interested or relevant to that topic can communicate with one another without spamming the broader group, thus increasing engagement and participation.
2) Direct messages – private messages that are 1:1 or in small sub-groups of the overall community, functioning similarly to any messaging app.
Slack is not purely an app that indexes high on community/conversation. Utility is a clear strength given its numerous integrations with services like Twitter, Salesforce, and Dropbox, making communication and the sharing of information at work both faster and richer. Entertainment is certainly at play as well – if you’ve ever worked at a startup using Slack, you’ve been subject to (or have heavily participated in) the onslaught of gifs, memes, and polls that seem to take place at lightning speed. I’ve long wondered, for all the benefits and efficiency that Slack provides as a utility, how much of that is lost to the time suck that is random Buzzfeed articles posted for everyone in the office to see, debate about whether Dave should wear a onesie to the office or sing Eye of the Tiger if your team hits its quarterly sales goal, or meme wars about the fact that the Cheez-its were discontinued in the kitchen.
For all of its strength on these three pillars, I would argue that Slack falls short on the privacy and status pillars. Given the fact that employers could be peering over your shoulder, users may be wary to share on the platform – but that is also just a nature of messaging within any enterprise. That said, Slack has done a great job of taking community and conversation as an entry point to build an effective, engaging social app, whether the market values it as that or not.
This focus on community can be seen in the broader social ecosystem. Real life communities like The Wing have become a new form of social group. Facebook has been experimenting with Facebook Groups and finding new ways to smaller interest groups together. We have entered an era some refer to as “the unbundling of Facebook” where individual apps or online groups are created specifically for affinity groups or interest areas – apps for runners, groups for immigrants in specific cities, or platforms for make-up lovers looking to share product and application tips. I expect that we will continue to see new apps, and new features within existing platforms, that foster tighter communities around shared interests or goals in the way that Slack has modeled.
This is one of a series of excerpts from my chapter in Finding Genius: Venture Capital and the Future it Is Betting On. You can check out the entire excerpt series here. The book is available for purchase on Amazon.