Calling all wallflowers: Potluck combines public sharing and "dark social" to encourage conversation
Potluck, the new social service from Branch Media, isn't about sharing links. Providing a place for users to collect, share, and discuss the Web's miscellanies is merely the vehicle through which Potluck's true purpose -- convincing the social media era's wallflowers to join the never-ending, global conversation -- can be achieved.
There is an entire generation of Internet users who have been warned about the dangers of social media since before they knew how to launch a Web browser. Facebook is a utility meant to help you connect with your friends and family -- it also happens to be a good place for stalkers, potential employers, and anyone who knows your name to sift through your photos, videos, and personal information. Twitter is a constant stream of information that allows news, memes, and non-sensical, all-lowercase jokes to travel from your brain to your followers' eyeballs -- it can also be used to find your location, expose opinions and facts you'd have preferred to remain hidden, and lead to being hounded by online ambulance chasers. Social media is at once fun, stressful, enlightening, and dangerous.
And then there are all of the people -- call 'em ninjas, call 'em gurus, call 'em whatever you like -- who insist that you have to manage something called your "personal brand," which sounds a bit like something a rancher would say to a particularly dim-witted apprentice. Between the fear of having your identity stolen, being kidnapped, and then being haunted by the one ill-advised blog post you wrote about smoking pot that one time in your cousin's basement, any service that wants you to stick your face alongside a potentially permanent update can seem downright horrifying.
That's why services like Snapchat, which allow this generation of social media spooks to share photos, messages, and videos without worrying about them popping up in a future employer's Google search, have become so popular. That's why "dark social," or one-to-one sharing tools like email, instant messaging services, and even traditionally non-social tools like Pocket, has become so popular.
Branch Media CEO Josh Miller says that Potluck is the result of the company's realization that its conversations platform, Branch, didn't encourage non-social people to emerge from the shadows and participate in a semi-public forum. After watching how his teenage sister, mother, and friends used services like Gchat, Facebook, and email, he realized that people needed a partially private method of sharing and that it should focus on links.
"The majority of people would love to talk about links and shoot the shit about them and connect with people over them. There's just not the right opportunity to," he says.
Potluck seeks to solve that problem by creating a halfway point between dark social and public services like Facebook and Twitter. You don't know who shared a link until you click on it, a feature that the service hopes will allow bashful sharers to add links with impunity; there isn't an easy way to link to a profile, preventing most people from being shamed by the links they've shared with the service; and you're meant to interact primarily with friends and friends-of-friends, which allows for some serendipitous discussions without forcing you to interact with anyone who happens to find your profile.
Unlike other social tools, which can quickly devolve into popularity contests -- who has the most followers? whose photo got the most likes? which service drove the most clicks? -- this allows Potluck to be about the links being shared instead of the person sharing them. The people who have friended me on Potluck don't care that I'm the one who shared a link to The Awl's post about "Kanye West and his 'thirty white bitches'" or The Verge's story about "Victor Oladipo's NBA Draft through the lens of Google Glass." They don't even know I was the one who shared it unless they're interested enough to click on the link anyway. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram -- all of those services are about me. Potluck, Snapchat, and many messaging apps are about what I want to share.