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.