PEACHY KEEN

Bloomberg Businessweek (Europe) - - ETC. -

The great new app you don’t need. By Kyle Chayka

Ev­ery­thing about Peach, a mo­bile so­cial net­work for the iPhone that was in­tro­duced at Jan­uary’s Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show in Las Ve­gas, seemed hip, down to the URL: peach.cool. Part Twit­ter, part Face­book, part Snapchat, it com­bines ev­ery­thing peo­ple like in an app. A pop­u­lar emoji even in­spired its name.

The week­end af­ter its de­but, Peach breached the top 10 in iOS net­work­ing apps. The feat, re­quir­ing tens of thou­sands of down­loads per day, was fu­eled by me­dia in­fat­u­a­tion ( Wired: Peach “is so hot right now”; Mashable: “WTF is this app ev­ery­one’s talk­ing about?”). And then, like a fruit at t he peak of ripeness, in­ter­est in Peach soft­ened. By the end of the month, it was ob­vi­ous: “Peach is a turkey,” pro­claimed mo­bile news site BGR.

It was a whiplash-in­duc­ing hype cy­cle, the likes of which seem to oc­cur more and more fre­quently. Ello, a so­cial net­work free of ad­ver­tis­ing, saw hys­te­ria turn to snark as it failed to make a dent in Face­book’s user num­bers. Path, a photo-shar­ing so­cial net­work vaunted for its de­sign and pedi­gree (its founder is a for­mer Face­booker) raised $77 mil­lion only to fade into obliv­ion last year af­ter it was qui­etly ac­quired by an ob­scure South Korean com­pany.

Be­fore cra­ter­ing, each of th­ese apps boasted a new mode of dig­i­tal in­ter­ac­tion that might have been bet­ter than cur­rent fa­vorites, if only they’d been given more of a chance. But there’s no air for al­ter­na­tives to breathe—not with Face­book to keep tabs on friends (and fren­e­mies), Twit­ter for news (and self­pro­mo­tion), and In­sta­gram for shar­ing pho­tos (and hum­ble brags). Then there’s LinkedIn for pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment, What­sApp for mes­sag­ing, and Snapchat for any­thing else we wouldn’t want pub­lished to pos­ter­ity. We’ve set­tled into a world where we’re good with the apps we have, thank you very much. Which is too bad: Just be­cause an app can’t take away mar­ket share from Face­book—a sui­cide mis­sion from the start—doesn’t mean it can’t add value. “I al­ways love see­ing new ex­per­i­ments,” says famed in­vestor Marc An­dreessen, who won’t say if he has money in Peach. How might a fresh app stand a chance? “It needs to be more sus­tain­able than just a new thing to play with,” says Hunter Walk, a seed-stage ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist. “There needs to be some cre­ation, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, or con­sump­tion hook, maybe all three, that causes you to re­turn.” And even this may not be enough. Peach has at least two of those qual­i­ties. For one, it ex­cels at cre­ation. Its unique “magic word” sys­tem of­fers users a short­cut to mak­ing dif­fer­ent kinds of posts: Type “shout” to gen­er­ate a sim­ple mes­sage in large text on a mono­chrome or photo back­ground; “rat­ing” to ap­pend a star to your post; or “mood” to leave a Live­Jour­nal-like con­fes­sion. The app is good at com­mu­ni­ca­tion, too. Friend­ships are mu­tual— no pub­lic fol­lower num­bers means less sta­tus anx­i­ety. Con­sump­tion is harder to judge. The space is so in­ti­mate that brand ac­counts feel strange. Peach con­tent is per­sonal, not for broad­cast.

Peach hasn’t been to­tally de­voured yet. There’s still a core group of users, but if the app piv­ots in an at­tempt to re­claim lost buzz and “no one’s sure what they do any­more,” says Ello cre­ator Paul Bud­nitz, they’ll lose that con­stituency. Choire Sicha, co-founder of the Awl me­dia net­work and an early and avid Peacher, says he still likes the ser­vice: “I had a re­ally nice day on Peach to­day. It was prob­a­bly eight min­utes of my life, but it was mean­ing­ful.” <BW>

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