Inside.com Interview about Brizzly
5 months ago
· 6 min read
Back in August, I gave an interview about the relaunch of Brizzly and the current state of social for the Inside Social Newsletter. It’s still fairly relevant so I thought I would post a lightly edited version below.
On August 21, Jason Shellen, most recently the head of platform at Slack, launched the “next big social network” on Product Hunt called Brizzly. Its description – “Like Twitter but by yourself.” The simple web app allows users to type in a message (similar to a tweet), press send and have their comments go, nowhere.* Please note: This was language Product Hunt used to describe Brizzly, not the official tagline.
The launch was a bit of a gag by Shellen but also a statement. “My inspiration for this version of Brizzly was old friends deleting their social accounts over the past few months,” Shellen told Inside.com. “I don’t think they need a place to type into the void but they do deserve better from the public companies in this space.”
Shellen released his initial version of Brizzly in 2009 as an interface to “add super-powers to Twitter and Facebook,” he told us. It was acquired by AOL in 2009 and shut down by the company in 2012.
We recently spoke to Shellen about his repurchase of Brizzly and his take on the future of social media.
How have social media companies changed since the first launch of Brizzly?
Twitter and Facebook have cut the APIs that would allow anyone to build something similar on top of their platforms. Following that lead, Instagram and Snapchat rose to prominence on top of relatively closed platforms as well. My enthusiasm for building on top of other’s platforms has certainly waned as a result.
A common theme seems to be that people choose engaging experiences over open platforms. I don’t blame them, but it’s a big trade-off that sometimes isn’t felt for years down the road. My hope is that great spaces can be built on top of open systems. Independent developers shouldn’t have to fight to exist.
Even more disappointing and frustrating is watching these companies take so long to adequately address the abuses enabled on and by their services and policies. I have sympathy for some of the product issues they face but many of us close to these companies have been sounding the alarm for years with seemingly little response or care.
What are your thoughts on social media censorship?
If you have a party and someone spills a drink you clean it up and move along. If a guest deliberately pours a bottle of wine on the floor you might admonish them and kick them out. If a friend tells you, ‘This person has done this in three other houses in the last month’ then you wouldn’t invite them in the building in the first place and you’d probably warn others.
Services like Youtube and Facebook should be good hosts of their platforms when there are people who mean harm. As hosts, they are stewards of the commons just like the next platform that comes along should be.
What are the potential downsides of “being a good host”?
The downside is more pleasant platforms at the expense of some accidental squelching of speech. Free speech doesn’t mean you can say whatever you want, wherever you want. It’s probably why there should be more transparency in the decisions being made because these aren’t governments, they are companies capable of bad decisions just like any of us. We can leave, we’re not being forced to use these services, it just feels like it sometimes.
Where do you see the social media industry heading?
In my own networks, I’m seeing a little frustration over where to invest their time. I’m usually paying attention to a very intentional, early adopter crowd and many of these folks are back to blogging or moving on to podcasting or doubling-down on Instagram. Other friends have been harassed to the point where it’s not worth the time spent blocking replies or comments from bad actors so they give up or go private. It’s an odd and depressing time for social media.
Do you foresee a more fragmented landscape?
The success of the large services was from blending your existing network (people you already know) with things they think you should see. It feels like that’s getting old. People want real connections and to be in more control of the programming as well. I don’t expect the incumbents to adequately address that and I think it’s an opportunity for new services.
What about privacy?
People sign up for these services because of the network, community and usually one or two key features. Until now, people have assumed that privacy is a feature of every service. Though I think it’s been proven that most of the time that privacy is an illusion. No one will join something just because of privacy but it could become a differentiator if there are companies who are willing to stand up for their users.
Starting the “next social network” became cliché over the years. Do you think that will change?
I think it’s possible that people will get tired of being the product (monetizing eyeballs) and move on from the major networks. I’m eager to see people create smaller networks for specific communities. I haven’t seen anything amazing on the horizon in a while so that probably means it’s time for something new in the next 18-24 months. In the end, users will go where they find their “people.”
I believe the fundamental human motivation that drives people to connect through social media is that they want to be acknowledged, understood and informed/entertained. I think social media is pretty good at the acknowledgment and information part but we haven’t moved very far in the understanding portion. Increasing human understanding is incredibly motivating to me and it’s what I hope to work on next.
Will “increasing human understanding” be the focus of Brizzly 2.0?
I don’t know what the next incarnation of Brizzly will be quite yet, but there are some problems to think about and those are getting clearer every day.
Do you believe social media will ultimately be used for good?
All of the major services have wonderful examples of bringing people together for a shared cause. People raise money to rebuild houses of people who they don’t know. Long lost relatives are reunited and political change is organized every day. Sometimes the terrible things we’ve seen on the platforms get drowned out but I’m willing to admit good things happen there and we should find a way to increase that kind of positive change on all services.
With the original Brizzly, we allowed users to submit descriptions for trending topics right alongside the Twitter or Facebook timeline. Eventually, we turned it into its own service called the Brizzly Guide. It was almost a Wikipedia of what’s happening. Our community was great at quickly providing context alongside descriptions in the form of links and other media too. We employed an editor and had some serious community management tools in place behind the scenes to make it run smoothly. To me that was the promise of social media, dip your hand in the stream, improve the conversation, keep the good bits and pass it along.