Mike Isaac

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How Private Can You Get? Origami’s Social Network Takes Families Into the Fold.

The natural reaction to the meteoric rise of sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn is to pull back. We’ve seen it with Path and EveryMe, the latter being Oliver Cameron’s friends- and family-centric mobile application launched earlier this year.

Strange thing, these apps: As Cameron tells me, despite what they may be intended to do, users have a way of coopting technology to suit their own needs. As a result, apps like Path and, yes, EveryMe, can feel less intimate, open to far more people than perhaps you originally even wanted.

Enter Origami, Cameron’s new venture into scaling down social to the essentials in your life: Family. After Cameron saw that only 30 percent of EveryMe users were sharing with family — which was the original target group the app was intended to serve — he decided to build another product independent of EveryMe instead of drastically changing up his original app.

“People have valued their privacy for thousands of years,” Cameron told me. “With that in mind, we built Origami, something of a combination of Skype, Picasa and Facebook Groups. Think of it as a Google Apps for families.”

Instead of “relegating the ones we love into scheduled phone calls and greeting cards,” the idea is to incorporate family into our daily digital lives.

It is heavily video- and picture-focused, with an initial emphasis on building for the desktop — “However unfashionable that may be,” Cameron admits. But consider the demographic: Facebook’s high level of older users signed on to the desktop Web before mobile exploded, and Origami caters to that crowd of users.

Something else refreshing: Unlike Path, or the more granular Pair app (which is literally an app for two people), Origami comes with a built-in business model — it’s a premium service. Pay-to-play right from the start. Obviously that may affect user sign-ups initially, but it’s a way to start with revenue right off the bat.

The obvious question is, why reinvent the wheel? Users could just stick to Path or Facebook Groups, but be more judicious in who they add.

Cameron says that existing services that are trying to cater to families aren’t doing a good job of it. Either the user experience is terrible and not entirely family-oriented, or perhaps you make the mistake of adding a friend to your group instead of a family member — it changes the entire dynamic. Origami is aimed at family right from the get-go.

Cameron, co-founder Vibhu Norby and the Mountain View-based team of six will use the existing $4 million raised from rounds with Tencent and other seed investors to work on Origami, while still continuing to develop EveryMe as a separate, standalone product. Cameron told me that he prefers this instead of an outright pivot, though I imagine it may be difficult to focus on building two separate products simultaneously — especially if one takes off.

The company has opened Origami up in private beta beginning Thursday, and is now taking user sign-ups to slowly seed the product out to select groups for initial testing and learning.

We’ll have to wait and see if this time they can keep it in the family.


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