Sphere - Updates and what I'm up to 🌐

This certainly feels like a huge hole in Sphere’s business plan. :thinking:

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Hi Simon.

Wondered how Sphere is getting on with this thorny problem.

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!

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Not sure whether I follow that.

Is that basically a no?

Small update… We recently launched our landing page website. One of the first steps towards coming out of stealth mode!

Check it out:

Aside from that, we’ve been focusing on “production-readiness” by which we mean squashing an absolute ton of bugs across Android, iOS and Web. Plus, our design team are hard at work mocking up a few design prototypes of upcoming features so we can show them to some of our early cohort users to gather their thoughts and feedback before we build them.

We have a significant amount of groups actually using the product day to day right now considering how early we are (including quite a few forum members here) and I’m in the midst of planning our first digital event!

Couldn’t be happier with how progress is going :blush:

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Some super interesting ideas here! And the UI from the initial screenshots looks lovely. Excited to see how it plays out especially with Discords re focusing on its copy https://blog.discord.com/your-place-to-talk-a7ffa19b901b

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We’re actually super excited about this, it validates a lot of our thinking. And we share the same VC investor :slight_smile:

100% there is always room for some competition! Best of luck and excited to try it when you launch

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Always good to see competition but from experience messaging apps seem to be very regional.

WhatsApp in much of Europe, South America. iMessage in North America and Canada

Facebook messenger is the preferred in Iceland.

I just wonder how easy it will be to hit that critical mass. I wouldn’t bother downloading any other app based on only 1-2 people I know wanting to use it for a group chat, not when we already use an alternative together already.

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Valid point! I am a very heavy Discord user and a reluctant Messenger and WhatsApp user . I only use the Facebook products as everyone I know in europe/the UK does so I have little choice

Hey all!

I know it’s been a while since I updated, we’ve been cracking on kicking the product into shape :raised_hands:

I’m happy to announce that we have landed on the set of requirements that we believe are suitable for a public launch of Sphere early next year, and we’re hard at work on building them! This will include some much needed features such as file sharing, emoji reactions, and more.

In the meantime, we’ve just launched Sphere One. This is basically the Sphere Community, on Sphere (we were calling it The Meta-Sphere for a while internally :joy:)

For now, it’s still invite only, but if you’d like to join and check it out, I’m happy to share a handful of invites privately. The app is still early beta and so all feedback is super valuable. Hit me up if you’re interested and I can get a few more folks in.

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Hey everyone! Got some big news to share today :raised_hands:

So when I joined Sphere back in May, there was very little information about the company that had been publicly shared. I made it my mission to bring about change and for us to get to a place where we had all the foundations in place to start operating a lot more transparently and publicly.

Well, when it rains, it pours, so I’m really pleased to announce the following have all gone live over the last few weeks:

1) We’ve launched our solution/landing page! :arrow_down:

This is the brief, beautiful introduction to Sphere. Really proud of the work our design team did on this. It feels like a clear concise addressing of the problem we’ve identified and how we are approaching solving it.

2. I wrote a thing! :writing_hand:

I wanted to launch our blog with a more narrative version of essentially the same points that are on our solution page, with additional background, context and nuance. So here it is!

3. Twitter and Instagram are live! :bird::framed_picture:

You can now follow along with what we’re doing on both Twitter and Instagram - @SphereMessenger is the handle on both.

and finally…

  1. We’ve launched our Community Forum! :fire: :fire:

Early days, but I’d love to see you all over there if you’re interested in what we’re doing.

Our dev team have been working super hard over the last few months, and amongst much more, we’ve recently launched in our product:

  • GIF support :partying_face:
  • DM support :email:
  • Link Previews :link:
  • File Sharing :bar_chart:
  • Emoji Reactions :heart:
  • Sending and viewing videos in-line in chats. :video_camera:

Most of this falls under what we consider to be table-stakes stuff for a messenger app. But our dev’s are also working hard on some pretty major stuff, including a fully fleshed out Events feature, making it easy for any group to create and organise events, gather RSVP’s, host contained discussion of any given event, and send reminders and updates to attendees. Imagine something as powerful as EventBrite or Meetup, but as simple as WhatsApp, meaning groups can organise events in seconds, and that’ll give you an idea of what we’re going for. We’ll be sharing some sneak peeks of this on our forum soon.

We’re really proud of what we’ve done in 2020, and we feel that we’ve set the stage for an amazing 2021 where we deliver the future of community-driven group chat.

Wishing you all a happy holidays, and hoping we’ll see you over on our forum!

Love to you all :heart:

Your former admin, SimonB :heart:

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I do really like the design of it and some of the features, I think it’s very well put together and well designed app.

But you’re going to have such difficulty because I have all the various apps and so does everyone else. I was recently invited on a stag do next summer and it was just obvious that the group would be on WhatsApp. Nobody had to ask what app to use, what app people have got, what they like the most etc etc. It was always going to be WhatsApp.

If I landed on Earth today and my fellow aliens and I needed an app to communicate, this would be high up the list, but sadly that isn’t much of a use case. (Not yet anyway)

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I don’t see anything other than a pretty skin for WhatsApp. There is no USP here (yet)? The blog post talks about civil unrest and extreme politics and so on - but surely that depends on your user base, it is not a fundamental problem with existing apps. PEOPLE are the problem - always have been and always will be. We are a disgusting species - no app will change that sadly. Or are you telling me you will ban spheres that don’t fit the companies values (hello censorship!)?

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I just don’t get it personally I’ve got vibrant communites on WhatsApp, Messenger, Telegram and Snapchat.

Is this just not a case of an oversaturated market with another app with no unique selling point. I’ll keep following to see how it goes but I’m not convinced.

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Totally fair Rob, thanks for the feedback! I just got off a call with our new Head of Product who is starting next month and one of the things we’ll be figuring out is whether our USP will be a single, powerful feature that we build or whether it’ll be a combination of what the product offers combined with our values. It’s certainly getting to a place where things are starting to become clearer, but there’s also a reason we’re still in closed Beta right now :slight_smile:

I disagree that the problem is not with existing apps. I personally believe that the existing big platforms have hurt humanity due to optimising for engagement and at the same time attempting to create a space where there is little product consideration for the way that people treat each other. And without having considered these implications from the beginning, it’s tough to retro-actively begin to enforce new behaviours. The issue is not about censorship or free speech - it’s about how people treat each other, and we feel there’s much that can be done in that space. It’s a gigantic nut to crack, to be sure, and maybe we’ll never crack it, but we plan on giving it our best shot. There are new apps like Telepath that are identifying similar and starting from a similar place, which gives us confidence that others are seeing the same thing we’re seeing.

Thanks for following, Dave! I guess it’s my job to convince you :slight_smile: If nobody tried to disrupt a market, then nothing would ever change - saturated or otherwise. One might also argue that fintech is a saturated market… or that there were plenty of ways to communicate before Slack, or before WhatsApp. Ultimately I think there’s unfulfilled potential for unifying people online, and optimising for empty engagement is delivering the opposite of that.

I am really glad that you guys are being honest with your feelings here, though. This isn’t simply a difficult challenge, but it’s potentially the biggest challenge there is, in re-shaping human communication online. I’m under absolutely no illusion of how high this mountain is - it’s gigantic! But there is a difference to be made, and I joined this company to work my hardest to chip away at it :slight_smile:

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Despite harsh criticism, Simon, you know I love you. It is nice to see you back with an update :+1:

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I vaguely remember chatting with you about the undecided USP some months ago. Personally, I always imagined that the USP of a new product would either be there from the instigation of a new product or be decided pretty soon afterwards. At the very least, I’d assume it’s difficult to really develop the product when the USP might shift during development.

I’ll be interested to see what the USP shapes up to be.

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I think that’s fair. With that being said, ultimately customers decide what the USP is, rather than the company. And it might be that the overall experience - or a combination of features might be the USP - or even the values of the company itself. And it’s not necessarily the case that you have to have one singular feature right away - Instagram launched as a location check-in app named Burbn and proceeded to build a ton of features around that concept. Down the line, they built filters, noticed that filters drew more interest than the other features and proceeded to remove every other feature except the simple sharing of photos to a feed and adding filters to those photos.

One good anecdote that I remember - when I started at Monzo back in 2016, there was a heavy dev focus around building out monzo.me. There was strong confidence in monzo.me as being, perhaps not a singular USP, but certainly something that was considered a very strong feature that would drive a lot of growth and unlock other possibilities.
And this was actually before “Monzo With Friends” (the contact matching / P2P) was built, which was clearly the real winner out of the two.

monzo.me of course ended up quite marginal, and never saw a great deal of use. Meanwhile, fairly simple mechanics that weren’t planned out a great deal ahead of time, like Golden Tickets and the original Coin Jar roundup mechanic, ended up driving a ton of growth and consumer interest.

So for me, I think if we have our core values/principles/vision, and we build features that align with them (which is where we’re headed, we just had to get the table-stakesy core stuff down first), then the customers will let you know what they believe to be valuable - whether that’s one thing or an overall experience or set. That’s really a guiding principle of being community-led.

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Excited to use our forum to share our first sneak peek of an upcoming feature!

We are building out an events platform, to help folks easily organise and manage all sorts of events. No more Facebook Event plus separate WhatsApp chat… With Sphere it’ll all be in the same place :relaxed: