Why the new social network "This" is a Facebook alternative that actually makes sense

By David Holmes , written on November 13, 2014

From The News Desk

Remember Potluck? Have we already forgotten about Ello?

All three of these sites are link-sharing social networks that arose in a post-Facebook world. Some, like Ello, launched explicitly in response to Facebook, promising never to collect or sell user data. But while these "Facebook killers" have attracted plenty of press, none of them have lived up to the hype, instead operating more as conversation pieces for everything we hate about mainstream social networks, as opposed to legitimate contenders for our attention.

Today, yet another alternative social network has launched. And while it doesn't boast any lofty anti-Facebook sentiments in its mission statement, it's clearly trying to solve a problem that plagues mainstream social platforms: Too much noise.

The site is called This. (as in, when you share a link that's so self-evidently awesome that the only description you need is "This.") The hook is that users can only share one link a day. So assuming you follow smart, curious, well-read folks, your This feed will be more streamlined than the chaos of Twitter and more finely-curated than Facebook, which for me has basically become a sad social version of America's Funniest Home Videos.

This is the brainchild of Andrew Golis, who served as an entrepreneur-in-residence at Atlantic Media and later became General Manager of the soon-to-be-defunct (Atlantic) Wire. Golis tells me that while Atlantic Media funded This, he thinks of the parent company as merely an "incubator" for the project.

"The next step will be bringing in investors to set up an independent startup," he told Pando in an email.

The Atlantic Media connection is key, however. Unlike Ello and, This doesn't have to attract millions of users to be a success. It's not a social network that functions simply for the sake of being a social network. The content its users share already powers a newsletter, and nearly every news organization, in their quest to offer everything to everybody, has added a curatorial "Here's What Good on Other Sites" section. Now, the Atlantic can offer the same thing, only its shareables can be curated by a whip-smart community, as opposed to a lone editor.

"For Atlantic Media," Golis said, "I think it was an opportunity to inexpensively experiment with something new that had a similar mission -- surfacing the most important stories and idea(s) -- but a radically different approach."

This is still in invite-only beta, but all profiles are public. In recent days, Golis has shared on his page a New York Times Magazine article about Martin Luther King, Jr, a Fresh Air eulogy for Car Talk's Tom Magliozzi, and a New York Magazine interview with Jon Stewart -- in other words, it's all killer, no filler.

Although This has a long way to go -- for one, there's no mobile app yet -- I'm excited about its potential. For example, I don't have time to read every article in Jason Hirschhorn's excellent MediaREDEF daily newsletter. But if Hirschhorn had a place to share the one story that beat out all others for the day, I would read it every time without fail. For the unmissable sports story of the day, I could follow someone like Bill Simmons, while Ezra Klein could give me the one politics story I need to read that day, and so on. Users could even subvert the model, sharing the most "hate-readable" item of the day.

But first, This will have to convince these high-profile writers and curators to join the service. It's off to a good start: anyone familiar with "Media Twitter" will recognize plenty of names on the service's growing user list. But how will This keep users engaged when Twitter and Facebook already take up so much of the modern Internet maven's time? Weren't new media types pretty excited about Potluck at first, too?

"The thinking is this: for people who really love digital media and spend a lot of time with it, it's nice to be able to mark something as special," Golis said. "It matters to be able to broadcast something you love and not have it get lost in the maw. And for people who really love digital media but don't have enough time with it, the ability to follow a few trusted people and get a much higher signal to noise ratio set of recommendations is powerful."

With his talk of investors and independence, Golis clearly wants This to be more than just a feather in Atlantic Media's digital cap. "I want to build a big healthy business around quality," he said. Good products and good businesses don't always go hand-in-hand, however, and recent history is littered with the graves of social networks that never took off.

But I hope This is a success. Because with a glut of great newsletters and Twitter feeds that collectively share thousands of "must-read" stories a day, This could be the perfect network for keeping in the know, while also keeping our sanity.

[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]