I follow 882 accounts on Twitter that together have produced 92 tweets within the last 10 minutes. Some of those tweets are updates from news organizations (Mad Men finale ratings have just been released, my binge-watching is killing the planet, and a senator is planning to introduce a bill to make same-sex adoption legal in every state). Others are witty reactions to those tidbits. Several are live tweets from a conference I’m not attending.
None of them, however, are very interesting 10 minutes later–at least, none of them I see after a quick scroll to catch up to the present. For all I know, there might be an evergreen pearl of content mixed in with these 92 tweets, but looking for it seems overwhelming. There’s just too much to sift through.
Two new social networks think they have an answer for this conundrum: They allow users to post only once per day.
One of them, This. (spelled with a period), is launching an iPhone app on Wednesday. Named for the Internet shorthand for “read this,” it was born inside of Atlantic Media but has since spun out to become its own company. Its founder, Andrew Golis, who was formerly an “entrepreneur in residence” at the media company, says it has signed up about 10,000 users since launching in November 2014. The other startup, Catchpool, is a scrappy independent site that launched its beta version in May of last year. Its founder, Erica Berger (an occasional Fast Company contributor), says a few thousand people have signed up for the beta version.
Both products are, for now, invite-only. And both sites work a lot like Twitter: Users can follow people and organizations that they care about, and after that, those users’ followers appear in their news feeds. On This., a user can even “Rethis” something, like a retweet. But the effect is more akin to a social magazine than to Twitter or Facebook’s news tickers. “Everybody shares things that they’re passionate about because it looks like crap if you only have one thing to share that day, and you are sharing something totally mediocre,” Golis says. “It also shifts the content type away from the breaking news or ephemeral.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean users post long content: Political cartoons, videos, and analysis are among the most popular links on This.’s site.
The This. app, like the site, allows users to see content from just people they’ve followed or from everybody on the network. As of now, it’s only a consumption mechanism; there is no way to post a new link from within the app (you can post a new link from the mobile website). People who post links on the website get 110 characters to explain their choices, which are displayed in the app with each link. Clicking on a link opens the webpage inside the app, which adds buttons for adding “Thx” to the poster (like a Twitter fav) or Rethis-ing it (which will likely never sound right to say). To find the next article, users can either click back to the feed or simply click “next.” That is how confident This. is that every link in your feed will be worthy of your attention.
Other attempts at building a social magazine, like Flipboard and Pulse (now part of LinkedIn), have focused on pulling content from publications into their own apps. Facebook and Twitter, too, have increasingly been focused on keeping people within their environments. Twitter Cards allow photos, videos, and music to be played directly within the site. Facebook recently announced that it will host articles from publications like The New York Times and Buzzfeed directly within its app.
Catchpool and This. are taking precisely the opposite approach by sending you to publishers’ sites.
Because This. opens webpages within the app, the publication’s masthead and sharing buttons are still visible. When you visit, say, a New York Times article via This., it counts toward the number of free articles you can view on the Times website before hitting its paywall. “Rather than sucking up all the attention for ourselves, as a utility, our goal is to push you to the content that is worthy of your time so that you can go spend time with it, not us,” Golis says.
All of this seems like an odd strategy from a social product that wants to make money. Facebook and Twitter’s main business goals are to get people to 1) post more often and 2) spend more time on the site, where they will see advertisements.
This. is like a social network turned inside out. Its bet is that advertisers care not only that people see their ads, but what state of mind they’re in when they do.
Just as publishers spend time on quality content that, on Facebook and Twitter, flies by in exactly the same way as a post about what its author ate for lunch, there’s not a social network to place the type of ad that might have once gone in a glossy magazine. “I feel as though if we’re trying to solve the problem for high-quality content,” Golis says, “then we’ll have actually solved a pretty important problem for high-quality marketing.”