Could it be a disadvantage for a social platform to be one step ahead of everyone else? Steller’s VP of Marketing Peter Denton believes that— but he is also convinced that his app will take the world by storm. Sooner or later.
That’s how I usually describe the app Steller — a platform where users create so called ”stories” consisting of a number of pages adorned with text, image and video.
And it is a description that co-founder and VP of Marketing Peter Denton largely endorses:
”If I have five minutes on a bus, how are you going to reach me, engage me, surprise me, entertain me, educate me?”
Peter Denton asks that question during an interview with Di Digital taking place on Steller. He answers it himself:
”Blogs are too hard to consume on the phone, it takes far too long to read a traditional blog post. Video is cumbersome to produce, and it is hard to sit through a six minute video. Thus, we built a format where someone could bring together all of the pieces but let the user drive, so the user can get the wow factor of video and cool photos but consume at their own pace.”
During my work with #TheContenders, this interview has been both the most difficult and in some ways the most fun to prepare, because the format requires not only relevant questions — but also a visually pleasing presentation. It just so happened to be that it was up to me instead of the interviewee to exemplify the app’s strengths. At the same time, the arrangement also left its weaknesses exposed.
Because you see, Steller is namely a passive platform. The social aspect is the sharing and commenting, but it is not a natural environment to have a vivid dialogue in. This quickly comes to light through the passivity of the interview format: the questions are asked in a pre defined story published on a given time, and the answers are provided through comments. Supplementary questions, asked in the comments section, are left unanswered.
”People want to say more than they can do with a single image or video, without having to write three pages.”
But it is not those kind of weaknesses that Peter Denton highlights when he gets the direct question. He has other, much more bold — or, for that matter, cocky — input values.
”We were at the start of visual storytelling which transcends languages and borders. Our weakness may be that we were ahead of the curve, but we know this format is one that enables incredible content that people love,” he says.
”Steller is really about the creation of a format where you can combine media and other interactive elements into a single place. People want to say more than a single photo or video, but don’t want to have to write three pages. Steller gives creators this format and makes it easy to make something beautiful and engaging in minutes for a mobile audience.”
During my six months as an active Steller user, I have not seen a single ad. How do you plan to make money?
”We are 100% focused on building an amazing product right now, before we try and monetize. We have made money through campaigns where we can give brands and agencies ’custom styles’, but we spend all of our time and energy focused on how we can create value for creators and readers across our platform. Long term, we have some very creative plans — that have not been done anywhere yet — but we are keeping those secret for now.”
Would you consider selling Steller to Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat?
”At Steller, we are really focused on empowering the world with a format that allows people to make amazing content. We have seen people from all over the world tell their story in a new and meaningful way and that means success to us. We have also seen brands achieve amazing engagement in campaigns which also means success. If Instagram wanted to expand that ability through a partnership, it would have to be under the task of bringing Steller to more people around the world.”
Twitter attracts journalists, photographers prefer Instagram, and writers love Medium. Who is on Steller?
“Steller is really a format that allows for expression beyond a single video, image or essay. We see entire new groups of creators emerge on Steller who resonate with being able to make something amazing that looks great on a phone. These groups include adventurers, chefs, brands, fashion & graphic designers as well as insanely creative animators like @pinot. So, Steller is a robust format where a new breed of creator can make content.”
How many users do you have?
”We have not made public a number of users, but the Steller format reaches millions of people around the world.”
That is of course a statement that is almost impossible to verify. Which is not uncommon among young social platforms with an, as yet, limited audience.
”Given the advancements in VR, people will make content from their phones that used to take teams.”
Mombo Labs, the company behind Steller — spearheaded by designer duo Brian and Karen Poole — launched the app in 2014. That same year, it was named ”one of the best apps of the year” by Apple. Tech site The Next Web predicted in the spring of 2014, when the Steller app had just been launched on the App Store, that ”Steller looks set to appeal to a Wider Audience.”
So far, the outcome of that prophecy is yet to be seen. The only figures provided to users are the number of page views (via a brief and automated ”email report”), but only when they’ve reached a certain limit. Whether each individual page within the story generates a page view, which would spice up the numbers considerably, or if an entire storyline is equal to one page view, is shrouded in mystery.
Although Peter Denton says that they ”see a huge amount of traffic happening on the web,” after the launch of the web application that makes it possible to share stories with users outside the mobile app. But he fails to provide concrete figures to back that claim.
Have you noticed a boost in the total amount of app users since releasing the web app?
”As the stories travel around on the web, it’s natural that people want to make one too, so as people encounter the web app, they also download and install Steller as well.”
Video is a very important medium on the web in general, and social platforms in particular. Social giants such as Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and Snapchat are investing heavily in online video.
Even Steller is supporting video, but has a limitation; a maximum of 30 seconds per clip (a story, however, can consist of 20 pages with a 30-second clip on each page).
So, how important is video as a medium for Steller?
”We see video as a critical element as it’s so great at capturing so much of a moment and resultantly so great at adding value to a story. Thus, we will continue to make video a forefront format in Steller so that people will continue to capture the world in this way and add it to stories”, says Peter Denton.
What is the state of social media in five years, and where does Steller fit into that vision?
”Social media in five years will continue to be about the commoditization of production for the sake of entertaining, educating and inspiring people. It used to be impossible to get video on the web — YouTube made it trivial. Producing a piece of web content that looks great on any device with photos, videos, text, and interactive elements and a custom theme was very hard — we made it easy. Given the advancements in VR, people will make content from their phones that used to take teams.”
This article was originally published on Di Digital, Dagens industri’s news site covering tech and startups. This is the third part of the series #TheContenders, where Di Digital interviews co-founders and representatives of the new social networks. Each interview is conducted directly on each platform — in this case, on Steller.