For all of the Internet’s vastness, and for all of the possibilities it offers, it’s odd how willingly we pen ourselves in. We could go/click anywhere, do/click anything, but we tend to stick to familiar social media turf: Facebook, Twitter, and (increasingly) Snapchat. It’s sort of a McDonald’s/Burger King/Wendy’s syndrome. They’re fast, they’re easy, they get the job done, they’re there.
And as the Big Three platforms grow (or try to — sorry, Twitter), adding features like live video and making overtures toward e-commerce, life outside these walls becomes ever more difficult to imagine, not to mention schedule. But just as Snapchat somehow graduated from high-school hallways and junk-pic infamy to disruptive contender for millions of eyeballs and billions of views, other upstart startups are trying to stake a claim in finite-seeming social media space.
What follows is a Small Three worth keeping an eye on, not because these new neighborhoods are particularly bustling, but because they represent three very different directions for social media’s future.
Launched last year by YouTube celebrity Casey Neistat, whose daily videos, nervous energy, and big ideas have amassed nearly 3 million followers. Beme’s beta last year hit the ground stumbling, but its spanking new version 1.0 release is a sleek lime-green peek into a less selfie-fueled future.
Like Snapchat or Vine, Beme allows you to connect with friends and strangers by sharing short videos. What it doesn’t allow you to do is see what you’re sharing. To post a video to Beme, you press your phone to your chest (or otherwise block the proximity sensor) and it immediately starts recording. Once you pull the phone away, it uploads the clip, which joins your other “bemes” in what plays like a patchwork POV narrative. It’s the first social media platform where switching to selfie-mode feels counterintuitive.
According to a Medium post from cofounder Matt Hackett, the idea behind Beme is “to enable anyone to share their experience in the visceral, immediate, universal language of video without needing to literally or metaphorically edit” — that is, sans filter, or framing, or captions, or doodles, or your best angles, or, most importantly, you.
And it works. Beme nixes the awkwardness that comes from constantly trying to squeeze yourself into the frame. And once more of our cameras migrate to wearables, Beme’s unique perspective could easily become the standard for quickie visual sharing.
Galaxia’s big bang was more like a little pop. Back in 2010, Moshe Hogeg (best known for the nanomessaging service Yo!) launched a fledgling photo-sharing network called Mobli. Leonardo DiCaprio liked it, and by 2013, so did 12 million others (not huge).
Still, Mobli soldiered on, and by 2015, it had grown pretty slick: You could share photos, videos, and even live broadcasts through its (sometimes frustratingly) minimal interface. In June of last year, Mobli launched EyeIn, a real-time image search that could show you photos from anywhere in the world, rolling in as they hit the Internet. But once Instagram closed down its API (application program interface, the programming mojo that lets apps cooperate), Mobli’s flagship product shut down, and its purpose grew uncertain.
That is, until Galaxia, Hogeg’s attempt to restore order to the Mobli universe. Where many social networks steer users to construct and cultivate a single, data-rich profile, Galaxia insists on containing multitudes. Old Mobli profiles were sucked into Galaxia and transformed into “personas,” one of however many discrete social identities users care to create. These personas contain public or private “worlds” that can be organized around any center of gravity: general interests, specific topics, degrees of friendship, alter egos, closeted Nickelback enthusiasm, you name it. If your world is cool enough, you can even charge an entrance fee.
Where Beme’s gaze is pointed outward, Galaxia’s goal is inward exploration, mining the self for more selves. Instead of flattening your online social life into a linear narrative, Galaxia tries to replicate the complex interconnectivity of real social space. It’s a noble endeavor, but to some it may feel like too much work.
Right now, only Facebook has shown signs of readiness for the transformational effect that virtual reality stands to have on social media. Mark Zuckerberg announced the company’s acquisition of leading VR firm Oculus back in 2014, and since then we’ve gotten sporadic glimpses of how VR and FB will play together. (Spoiler: More selfies.)
Meanwhile, deep in the boiler rooms of Steam — a gaming platform where much of the VR revolution is brewing — a new social VR app is picking up momentum. BigScreen is still in beta, but the app, which is making an early name for itself in the diffuse VR landscape, lets you hang out in a variety of virtual social spaces (luxury apartments, outer space) with friends and/or strangers. You see their avatars, but you also see the desktops of their computers, and anything they open on them. Up to four people can occupy a room, playing games on Steam, watching movies, and collaborating on projects.
The ability to go deep into other people’s desktops makes for a far quirkier and more free-wheeling virtual sharing experience than those offered by other new social VR experiments like Oculus Social and AltSpace, which allow you to make VR calls, play games, and view Web pages. Of course, this level of intimacy has its own share of hazards.
One writer from The Verge was traumatized at the sight of whatever his virtual couchmate was browsing (and his account of it prompted BigScreen to immediately add user protection features). And his experience is a cautionary tale not just for BigScreen but for VR in general as it becomes more social, more life-like. If you’ve ever gotten more than you bargained for glancing at an open laptop at Starbucks or the library, it’s a great big world, and not all of it should be shared.