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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

Go deeper

J&J and Merck to partner for COVID vaccine production to boost supply

Empty vials that contained a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine against the COVID-19. Photo: Phill Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden will announce Tuesday that pharmaceutical giant Merck will help Johnson & Johnson manufacture its newly authorized coronavirus vaccine to boost supply, a senior administration official tells Axios.

The big picture: The development has the potential to vastly increase supply, possibly doubling what the J&J could make on its own, the official said. The company has run into challenges while trying to expand its vaccine production to a global scale.

Casinos throw cash at sports betting media

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Casinos are investing millions on sports betting content to lure bettors to their online and in-person sportsbooks.

Why it matters: It’s a mini gold rush for some sports media companies that were struggling in the pandemic.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
18 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Global carbon emissions rebound to pre-COVID levels

Newly released data show that global CO2 emissions had returned to pre-pandemic levels by the end of last year and surpassed them in some major economies.

Why it matters: The International Energy Agency warned that clean energy efforts are falling short.