Nov 26, 2019

Small social networks are having a moment

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Small is the new big when it comes to social networking, with a number of startups and established players seeking to cater to people that want to share photos, messages and other information — but only with a tight-knit group of friends or family.

Driving the news: Monday marked the official launch of Cocoon, an app from two former Facebook employees. It aims to create a new sort of sharing experience for close family and friends.

  • Facebook confirms it has developed a prototype app that allows people to quickly share a photo in individual messages to a number of close friends. (The company says it has yet to decide whether to launch such an app, adding is not testing the prototype internally or externally.) Since last year, Facebook has been signaling an increased focus on features that let close friends stay in touch.
  • Instagram, also owned by Facebook, last month introduced Threads, which it bills as a "camera-first messaging app" for sharing with an intimate circle. Instagram also has a feature for sharing stories only with close friends.

Why it matters: Sharing information within tightly knit groups could lead to a friendlier social experience. (Without proper protections, it could lead to a false sense of security, though.)

While big social networks like Facebook and Twitter allow people to have hundreds of connections or more, researchers say that's not really how human social relationships evolved.

  • The so-called Dunbar number suggests that most people are capable of maintaining only about 150 connections at most.

A number of investors seem open to the idea of more tightly curated sharing, with Lerer Hippeau, Y Combinator, Susa, Norwest, Advancit, Foundation Capital, iNovia, Shrug, and SV Angel all contributing to a $3 million seed round for Cocoon that closed in May.

Yes, but: Others, including Path, have tried this, um, path before — with limited success at best.

What they're saying: In an interview, Cocoon co-founders Sachin Monga and Alex Cornell say they aren't really trying to create a different kind of social network, but rather improve upon the real world ways that families and chosen families stay in touch: weekly phone calls, multiple text message threads and shared photos.

  • The pair have been working on the project since leaving Facebook last year, having tested the app with a few dozen families in recent months.

Details: For now, Cocoon is a free service, and available only for iOS, though an Android app is at the top of the company's to-do list. Also, for now, people can only be in a single group, or Cocoon, but that will change over time as well.

  • Longer term, the pair hope they can create a service people would pay to subscribe to.
  • "Even if we wanted to we couldn’t do an ads business — the model itself would preclude that," said Cornell, Cocoon's chief design officer and a co-founder of UberConference.

Fun fact: You may never have heard of Cornell, but you have probably heard his voice. He sings the infamous, twangy "I'm on hold" song that greets the first participant on an UberConference call.

  • "Unfortunately, no matter what good I ever do in life," he says, he will be known for creating that music.

Go deeper: Social media reconsiders its relationship with the truth

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Facebook's plan to keep growing bigger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

While content companies are pushing to diversify their businesses with subscriptions and licensing, and big tech companies draw on income from hardware sales and software sales and subscriptions, Facebook is sticking with advertising at scale for the foreseeable future.

Why it matters: Facebook created its massive business by handing out a free social network and monetizing it through ads. As it expands into other businesses like commerce, payments, and hardware, it's mostly sticking with that formula — convinced that "free and ad-supported" remains the best route to achieve massive scale and to deliver on its mission of connecting the world. 

Go deeperArrowDec 3, 2019

Zuckerberg doubles down in CBS interview on Facebook false ads policy

Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg attend the Nov. 3 Breakthrough Prize Ceremony at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. Photo: Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg remained defiant in a "CBS This Morning" interview airing Monday on the social media giant posting political ads containing false information.

The big picture: Per Axios' Scott Rosenberg, Facebook's policy lets politicians make virtually any claim they want, in ads or posts, including repeating verbatim a false claim that has already been labeled elsewhere as false.

What they're saying: In CBS host Gayle King's interview with Zuckerberg and his wife, pediatrician Priscilla Chan, the Facebook co-founder said, "I don't think that a private company should be censoring politicians or news."

  • Watch the clip below:

Go deeper:

Twitter's bid for a social network standard draws skepticism

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Jack Dorsey's plan to fund an open source network standard left many people scratching their heads as to what Twitter's CEO hopes to accomplish.

Why it matters: Twitter is under pressure to better crack down on bots, hate speech and misinformation, but it is unclear how open standards will help address any of these issues.

Go deeperArrowDec 12, 2019