You’re awesome Simon and I don’t want to rain on your parade, but I’m interested to hear your thoughts about why I need ANOTHER chat app to maintain groups in?
I have group chats in iMessage (everyone with an iPhone), WhatsApp (anyone) and Microsoft Teams (work), there’s crossover of course, but very few people that don’t fit in one of them. Especially if you add Facebook groups for events etc.
There does look to be some cool features, but they are “that’s cool” and not “I must have this app now” and even then they are massively out-weighed by downloading another app that nobody else has. And if the features prove to be popular, the above mentioned will just copy them anyway!
I’m not 100% sure of the problem that Sphere trying to solve to be honest You aren’t going to convince groups of friends to use another chat app, and it is business leaders who would need convincing to move from Slack or Teams. I’m not really sure where your market is or how you can convince groups of people to install it (other than techies who want to play with it… but there is no revenue from them).
I get where you’re coming from, I’d argue too that getting a critical mass of people to move away from Whatsapp is going to be really hard. I’ve downloaded Signal and Telegram but “no one uses it*, because no one is on it”, (or what ever the catch 22 adage is…)
I reckon the really important benefit from what Simon said, is that ability to control the way the thread works is a lot easier. I kind of get Discourse x WhatsApp vibes from what he’s said.
Example: I joined a couple of Mutual Aid groups around my street when this whole lockdown started, and they are awash with random irrelevant information, topics going off thread, and also being targetted by Spam. Those sorts of groups I could see benefiting from this concept.
I would like to hope I could get groups across if it was good enough.
Not entirely analogous but I’m thinking of splitwise and how I struggled to get friends on board at the beginning but now seems to be used by everyone, even lots who have purely Monzo households/groups.
(If Only You Knew The Power Of The Dark Mode...)
From what he said about some of the features, I’d say it could be helpful for small communities. For example, I attend and speak at a WordPress meetup. At this meetup you get all ranges of technical abilities(I was amazed at just how wide the range of abilities and skillsets were when I first went), We currently use Meetup to notify of upcoming events and we have a group on fb where some people chat. But there’s not really a platform like this that is quick and painless to join. Slack can be a ballache if you don’t already use it. I had to jump through hoops to get set up on teams for work. Workplace by FB is pure S****, normal fb groups are restricting(plus there’s a lot of people like me who would like not to rely on fb), Whatsapp is pretty restrictive, plus rubbish if it’s a community of acquaintances rather than friends, I don’t want everybody to know my number…
I think there’s room for a new type of chat app, but how you advertise its USP’s enough to gain a good uptake is the bit that would baffle me. Plus like someone said above, like with any start up, the already established apps can rip off your ideas quicker than you can make them.
It’s one hell of a challenge because it’s a very saturated market place
But then you have to convince people you don’t even necessarily know to install an app they don’t know, no doubt make an account etc etc… or they could just stick with WhatsApp and just ignore stuff of no relevance. I think we have to remember that most people are not like members of this forum.
Admin of a small discord server here that makes up part of multiple community areas for a single group (forum, discord etc.) I’m wondering where about sphere fits in. What does sphere consider small in terms of communities? For example 1000 members is small in terms of discord communities.
One of the great things about discord is it scales we’ll be it 10 member group to 10,000 member groups. And I’m trying to place Sphere so I can tell if it could serve a purpose in our community in any way.
From your description it sounds like sphere is more oriented to much smaller groups more focused on a single things. e.g a single teams game specific group, a local community pool group. Small and specific. Would this be accurate?
If so, how does sphere allow these groups to communicate with each other? Say for example that you have a group of people with multiple interest areas?
The primary benefit but also drawback of discord is that most of the community management/oriented features exist through the use of 3rd party bots who have admin access in many cases to fully function. So discord has some huge advantages, multiple rooms means that a community can discuss separate subjects without splitting the community, it also has voice (121 and group) which has been extremely important, but the lack of inbuilt community oriented features is a drawback (albeit not huge considering the use of bots).
That you have polls already solves one issue though it would be great to see how you implement this so people can vote without is disappearing in the chat?
I think this would also need some sort of wider ability. Many communities have published material. There’s two types of announcements in my mind. For everyone’s eyes and acknowledgment announcements (the type you described). And community announcements or publications that people should be able to opt in to subscribe to. It also needs to have automation, for example to pull from a RSS feed and format it how the community leaders want it.
I could probably go on. Just a few thoughts. It would be interesting to see more, I’m not 100% sure if there’s space for it for me or not, but I’m not 100% sure on it’s exact goal in some respects.
Maybe the example I had isn’t the most suited, but I’m sure there are more that would have a better time encouraging sign ups. I see why a broad open invite group would be hard.
But lets say you run a amatuer football league, or your local branch of your political party, or your local AmDram group, etc etc. Or maybe you run a small business and need to communicate quick messages to your staff - basically any group that there is ‘flow’ in which one becomes engaged, and has some form of organised structure in which information needs to flow.
Running out of examples, but I could totally see a space where it fits if it’s made and advertised well. The “ignore stuff of no relevance” bit is also tricky, because people lose engagement and interest if the threads are filled with irrelevant stuff.
If you can reduce the hurdles of some of the more flexible tools (like Slack, and to an extent Discord), allow a more community based feel, like Discourse, plus the instant communication and ease of access of WhatsApp… Then sounds good.
I think that is a good example of a use case. I just can’t see it being useful for anything else, the market is so crowded. To use a weird aircraft analogy (because I can’t think of another), you historically have had wide bodies for long haul, and narrow body for short haul. Now we have narrow bodies designed for long haul. The middle of the market (where I think Sphere possibly sits?) is a void because narrow bodies are adapting to bridge the gap.
This is all in and of itself really valid feedback for us. Thank you all so much
To be clear - we are very clear and aware that right now we haven’t cracked Product/Market Fit, and we also don’t yet know what it’ll take for us to get there. It might be a killer feature we come up with that nobody else does. It might be a group of features. It might be creating FOMO through PR and early adopters who believe in the prospect of something better being created and who are included in the shaping of a product that we start building out transparently and in the open. It might be all of the above, or something else entirely.
When I started at Monzo this was also largely the case. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but it’s also true that “Nobody wants to switch banks” was true back then and to some degree still is even with 4 million customers.
What is clear is that there are groups of people using solutions that aren’t meeting their needs. WhatsApp has a big barrier in that everyone’s phone numbers are visible. I know many groups who won’t use it because of that. The groups that I do know that are using it often up creating multiple chats and them not being segmented together is problematic. There’s also the distrust of Facebook and the fact that dev work at Whatsapp is pretty opaque, and their core platform is aging (it’s a decade old at this point) that could weigh into it.
Slack offers limited tooling unless you pay, and so one big issue there is information getting deleted in large groups.
That’s totally fair - and again, it’s not completely analogous but that’s also true of Monzo, with incumbents copying features
Don’t worry about raining on my parade - I knew the challenges before I joined and it’s my job to overcome them, or at least give it my best shot!
I’ll come back with a more detailed response to some of your points on this next week re: Discord etc if that’s OK! But the answer to this specific question is - yes, quite possibly.
We do have early testers who are admins of groups with thousands of people. We’re synthesising and balancing out the feedback we get from them as well as all the admins we have from smaller groups right now, and it might well be the case that we decide that what we can realistically build is going to be disproportionately helpful for groups of x size and that it’s not going to be possible to cater to groups above a certain size. We don’t know that for sure yet, and that’s all part and parcel of figuring out product/market fit
One broader point that is giving us a lot of excitement right now is that we appear to be operating in a new wave of consumer/social, which hasn’t been the case in many years. Covid may well have accelerated the move into new paradigms.
This blog post is really interesting, and something our investors and our CEO Nick are very much aligned with in this regard
That would be great. There appears to be some interesting ideas as far as I can tell. Thanks for the response.
I think this is broadly correct. The issue I see with what others have done is that instead of identifying a gap they’ve just made yet another chat app.
Why does everyone use WhatsApp if telegram is clearly more feature full? Yeah part of it is that WhatsApp has the user base, but every decade or so people shift platform it seems so numbers isn’t the problem. Telegram is just a reskined WhatsApp at the end of the day.
The groups angle is an interesting idea that I’m not sure has been fully cracked. I’m also not sure how it could be cracked.
I will say this. If you can fix this problem, then you might have a killer feature:
Hey Neil, thanks! Very well. We spent the current sprint phase we are in validating a great deal of things - both existent already and a variety and design prototypes and the learnings from them are very illuminating. They’ll inform the features and the continued testing and refining we do over the next phase.
We are taking things one step at a time, but we are happy with the progress. Feels like gradually putting together the pieces of a puzzle!