New Companies Are Redefining What It Means to “Share” Online

A Poshmark profile

A Poshmark profile

Lately, I’ve heard a lot of chatter predicting the decline of Facebook as users want to be more selective about what they share online. I get that — even as an adult, there are things that I’d just rather not share with my mother or father, who are proudly on Facebook. But as the company’s last earnings call showed, Facebook isn’t slowing down anytime soon. What is happening is a shift in the way people share online, and it is driven by a handful of new mobile-centric networks. Often, these networks are not only seeing the majority of their growth occurring on mobile but they’re seeing it driven by a younger demographic with a frequency that we haven’t really seen before.

People are still sharing baby/pet photos, engagement announcements, job changes, etc., on Facebook and Twitter, to some extent. But when things get a little more specific, or maybe even more personal, they are turning to companies like Snapchat, NextDoor, Avocado, Rando, etc., all of which are built around a use case that isn’t appropriate for a large open network.

In case you aren’t already using these highly addictive apps, here is a breakdown of some of the most interesting ones, by use case:

You want to share photos with your friends or family, but privately and/or temporarily.
Think about a photo you want to share, but don’t want it to exist indefinitely on the Internet — either because it’s goofy or because it would only make sense to a close friend. Snapchat* allows you to take a picture that’s visible to the recipient for a few seconds. This type of ephemeral sharing not only lowers users’ inhibitions but also brings back some of the fun aspects of sharing that went away when your co-workers friended you on Facebook. The other unique element of Snapchat that is less frequently discussed is the reduced friction around direct communication that is driving much of its growth and stickiness. The app opens immediately to the camera and enables faster photo-taking and photo-sharing than the default camera app or any of the available photo apps.

The person you share the most with is likely your partner, and not all of that sharing is interesting (i.e., “can you pick up eggs on the way home?”) or Facebook-appropriate. Companies like Avocado* are closed networks for more intimate sharing with just your partner. With Avocado, you can privately and securely share a synced calendar, shared lists (i.e., to-do lists), photos, etc., with each other, and the expectations around who are and are not in the network are clearly defined.

Path, which is focused on private sharing with friends and family, is another company that would fit into this category. But I fear that Path is built on a fundamentally flawed premise — the idea of “close friends” is not always black and white. And given the social expectations that have been set up around “accepting” nearly every friend request you receive, can quickly end up with a pretty large group of “friends” that are really only acquaintances, resulting in, effectively, a smaller (and less valuable) version of Facebook. The beauty of networks like NextDoor is in creating rules around who can and who can’t be in the network, to drive a high-quality, differentiated experience.

You want to share anonymously.
Because they are public, searchable and somewhat permanent, our Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles tend to represent a curated and carefully managed public persona. Anonymous social networks, like Whisper*, Rando and HealthKeep, provide a more open platform for people to share a secret, a confession, an embarrassing question or even just a photo, without having to connect that shared item with your online identity.

On Whisper, users post “whispers” (picture plus overlaid text, often of a confessional or shared-experience nature) to the community. In and of itself, the app is really interesting, but what is more exciting are the conversations and connections that are happening as a result of people coming together to discuss whispers. It is now beginning to expand beyond its early younger demographic, has become much more mainstream and is seeing billions of page views a month.

You want to share and communicate around shared interests/passions with people you don’t necessarily know.
Another use case that has broken out in the last year or two among young women is mobile-centric sharing and communication around products, largely clothing and fashion.

At first glance, Poshmark seems like a pure marketplace for used clothing, but if you use the app or talk to the founders, you’ll quickly find that the community behind the marketplace is what is driving its insane growth. Users are not only connecting in the app but also meeting offline at parties and events hosted by the company, or for group shopping trips. As an example, Tracy Sun, co-founder of Poshmark, recently shared a story where a user invited a few other women she met on Poshmark to stay at her house for the weekend so they could all attend a local event. That shared passion among strangers is something that doesn’t occur on the larger social networks, both because they don’t allow you to engage with strangers in the same way, and because they’re not focused around this specific use case, which drives higher levels of engagement/interaction around these passions than would otherwise occur among friends who may or may not share the same interest.

Knotch* was built on the philosophy that opinions and interests are at the core of how you discover new friends. In the app, a user is able to comment — or knotch — on a movie they’ve loved, a restaurant they’ve eaten at, or a celebrity or current event, and see how others (both strangers and friends) feel about it. A color thermometer (red to blue) indicates how hot or cold people feel about something, so a user can see how individuals feel about a topic, as well as view the aggregate sentiment.

By offering a more varied, selective, or in some cases, anonymous sharing experience, each of these networks has found a way to offer something users don’t get from Facebook or Twitter.

Justin Caldbeck is a Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, where he invests primarily in the Internet and mobile sectors. He is currently supporting the teams behind BloomReach, Duck Duck Moose, GrubHub, PetFlow, Stitch Fix and TaskRabbit. Prior to joining Lightspeed, Justin was a partner at Bain Capital Ventures, and was responsible for launching the firm’s West Coast office. Follow him on Twitter @dukeblue35.

* A Lightspeed portfolio company


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