Tag Archives: branch

Branch, four months on.

Branch, the new discussion platform from the company behind Twitter, has come out of private beta, allowing anyone to create their own conversations.

The platform has been open to selected individuals for a while, and I blogged about it back in late August with a distinctly ‘not quite sure about this thing yet’ take on the site which allows groups of individuals to talk around topics, but four months on, the service has developed dramatically.

Demonstrating a dedication to listening to its early adopters and involving them in the discussion of new functionality, paired with rapidly rolling out new features, the branch.com platform has already become a really valuable mine of discussion and tool for facilitating conversation where twitter is simply too brief.

Three key features really stand out for me.

Invite only branches – I was initially sceptical about the idea of allowing only those who you hand-pick to be part of a branch, but after continued use, I’ve realised its strength is in holding a salon, rather than a free-for-all shouting match. The ability to ask to be added allows outside voices if the moderator approves the input, based upon their ‘pitch’ to join in.

Highlighting – taking ‘likes’ or ‘favourites’ on to the next level, rather than liking an entire post, you can highlight specific comments or statements within a post, to really zero in on aspects of the conversation you appreciated. This gets around the ‘Curate’s Egg’ of many blog posts or random musings.

Branches – the eponymous feature, being able to fork off a conversation into a separate branch allows you to take discussions off at a tangent without diluting the main flow. This directly supports the disparate thinking that often leads to really interesting debate and thought, without leading others away from the theme at hand.

They’re also integrating Spotify/Soundcloud, grouping of conversations (and people), actively working with early adopters which they call ‘Friends of Branch’ to develop the platform further and have placed a real emphasis on design and user experience.

For publishers, the immediate value and opportunity will be around offering discussion salon content quickly and easily, almost like a written panel debate, easily instigated and rolling, and will no doubt offer new forms of content and structured debate beyond its current format.

For brands, the opportunities are less clear yet – perhaps the facilitation of conversations, inviting key figures or remarkable minds to talk around topics close their heart, perhaps open consumer panels around product development, perhaps collaborative democracy tools to make decisions in the open.

From a data perspective, being able to see which users are commonly highlighted and respected against particular topics will offer some real insight and quantifiable metric of authority and respect, which goes way beyond tools like Klout to identify and understand influencers.

For something that launched publicly this week, there is already a fantastic wealth of value to be explored, and I’m going to keep a keen interest in how publishers and brands start to use Branch within their own activity.

I don’t get Branch, but that’s okay

I’ve been playing with Branch, one of the several new platforms from Obvious Corp, the team of people behind Twitter (and Medium, and Karma, and Lift).

branch-featured

Branch is a conversation platform. Each branch is a conversation. An invited group of individuals discussing a specific topic. Not the troll-heavy, signal-to-noise-ratio light world of Youtube (and increasingly Facebook), but a quieter (perhaps more informed) place where intelligent conversation and debate sparkles.

But I don’t get it.

First of all, I don’t understand how this is any different to a commenting platform, beyond the invite-only mechanic. One has to ask to join in a conversation rather than just posting. If you’ve started a branch, you can either invite others to join in, or accept requests to join in (basing that acceptance upon either knowing the individual, or if their ‘pitch’ to get involved has merit. Whilst I’m no fan of trolling, this seems to immediately reduce the opportunity to have valuably open debate. Serendipity seems to be firmly designed out. As a conversation moderator – if I don’t like the sound of someone’s opinion, refusing them entry to the debate seems at odds with what the web is great at doing – allowing everyone a voice. Perhaps it will teach us to be better moderators, to welcome opposing thought.

Secondly, it isn’t real-time, yet conversations kinda are. If you’ve asked to join a conversation, it could take some time before you’re invited, after which time, your thoughts have been posted by another, leaving your invite unused, perhaps leading to an odd “every time I invite him, he never posts” feeling, or worse “now I feel I have to say something” leading just less valuable input. The conversation feels stilted, and notifications are either thick and fast for every post or non-existent.

Finally, I’m not really sure what it offers beyond a platform like Quora – which seems to have far richer and intriguing conversation than Branch right now. Many branches seem to start with a blogpost which is then discussed (like, er… disqus). Quora starts with an open question – enforced as a question. Perhaps this is the differentiation – a recent branch by Libby Brittain (one of the platform’s team) called Iteratative GIF Branch shows a varying use, like Photoshop Tennis – but this is not a new model either. Just look at most forums for similar ideas.

This might read like I don’t like Branch. I actually love it.

I love the conversations which are forming, I love the selection of interesting discussions. I like they can be ended. I like the structures around ‘branching’ a conversation into another thread (which is of course the eponymous action, and could in time be the most interesting aspect, in attempting to map divergence of thought).

But I just don’t get it yet. I don’t think I’ve found its applicable use for me.

And that’s okay.

I’ve long been confused by people’s frustration (often anger) at platforms or devices which they don’t have a need for. That’s okay! You’re not obligated to use this!

It happened recently with Little Printer, I heard several people say ‘Pfft.. £200?! What’s the point? Why would I want that?’. That’s okay, don’t buy one. No-one will think any less or more of you.

You don’t hear this same sort of hufflepuff about films – “Pfft! The Avengers?! Why did they make that? I don’t read comics…”.

It was the same with Twitter. Many people said “I don’t get it” or “Why?” – and actually, that isn’t a valuable question. Not every platform needs a purpose, and not every platform finds its true purpose in first months of life. Twitter now has a real and valuable place in the world, (it has many in fact), it has changed the face of journalism, citizen action and put both ‘real time’ and ‘the stream’ firmly in to the mainstream. If Twitter had drowned in people saying “Why bother”, the world would be a very different place.

It is the same for many technologies, they’re re-appropriated for other uses which are more valuable. SMS the often cited example of a technology which was adopted for uses far beyond its original intention, everything from group messaging to mobile banking.

Use of platforms can be a very personal and individual thing. The best platforms offer you an insight or a mechanism which scratches an itch you have (and to be successful, that many others have too).

I hope the same is true for Branch – it is too early to tell what its true purpose or value to me is yet, but that’s okay, and it is just worth keeping an eye on, and playing around with it as it develops, until its audience project on to it the true value of the platform.

Long live not having a clue what something is for.

Update: I’ve been actively playing with Branch over the past week to try and see what content and use cases work best. I posited a question, I started a work discussion thread, I started a co-authored story, and the most fun yet – I formed a hive mind (which got featured on the homepage). Interestingly, they all feel like they need curation and ‘hosting’ to keep the conversation alive.