Why Super Is Super Special and
Why Bill Murray Is Wearing Shades
I have been using Super, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s new app, for about 3 months and I’m an absolute and devoted fan. I never thought I’d be this taken by a social media app, but in fact, there is something remarkable going on. I’m discovering why this app is so appealing and expressing myself in a way I never thought I could.
I became intrigued with Super when I heard about Biz Stone’s talk at SXSW in March on how the failure of one venture, Jelly, led to arrival at this venture, Super. I’ve had lots of success and failure in life but I always learn, always improve instead of pissing and moaning. Well, okay, I piss and moan. But I always charge ahead too. I wanted to check this Super thing out.
The difference in Super comes across immediately when you launch the app as bright colors and Bill Murray with shades appears. Why is Bill Murray wearing sunglasses? Why not? It’s one of many things about Super that are funny, quirky and best appreciated without trying to figure it out.
To post in Super you hit the pencil icon, get a blank screen and a menu of ‘starters’ pops up with a popping noise. (For once the metaphor of the popup menu is literal.) Starters are short, colorful labels like “The best,” “What is” and “I’m ready for” to get you started.
A social media app that initiates communication by putting words in the user’s mouth goes against
the grain of self-expression in our selfie-stick, public-profile internet age. Somehow those words popping up in bright colors, just suggestive enough, counter the feel of ‘the system’
telling you what to say.
In fact, the whole experience tickles an urge to be creative, expressive and just play.
After you pick a Starter and type some words, the next thing that happens is delightfully stunning. A series of images appears, suggesting a background to what you just typed. You write, “I would love to be on a beach.” There’s your beach! “I’m so sleepy…” Pics of people in bed. Don’t like the images, there’s a search function so you can search for more images (make that “Waikiki Beach”).
You can also use images either from your camera roll or take a new picture and use that. Throw some filters on your image, modify the text to make it stand out and you’re done.
Somestimes the pictures are random, a flailing effort of the search engine to scoop up something, anything from the trove of images on the web…and that leads to more fun. A trending hashtag, #RPF for Random Photo Friday was started by some early Super users to make use of the absurdity.
There’s lots of upbeat, Pollyanna posts, based on those photos of sayings and slogans with pictures of sunsets and flowers. The chatter is definitely scattershot and all over the place. Newbies might post the starter “Sometimes” and some obscure image and you can tell they’re wondering “What the fuck is this?” There’s lots of posts in the morning about coffee.
It’s amazing how often something you write is already represented out there on the web with an image, whether it be happy birthday or “I am so angry.” (Who posts these things out there and how is it search engines index them?)
There are issues that crop up. Around the Baltimore riots, there were a number of “#blacklivesmatter” posts and some conflict over the use of “#alllivesmatter.”
Thanks to a particularly vocal Super user that day, I was set straight as to why ‘all lives matter’ is insulting. She added a link to her post to this article on Huffington Post. You can add links to your post, YouTube videos, etc. You can also pull in images from Super’s randomly generated assortment of art.
Not everyone is asked to identify where they’re from but the Super community is global. I know Superpeople from New Zealand, Taiwan, South Africa, in addition to the U.S. and Europe, a number of Scandinavian-sounding names, South Asia. It’s not all young, though certainly not dominated by elders. It definitely skews towards creative types: there are no accountants that I’ve met. It’s a pretty varied lot. There’s a scientist who does inertial confinement experiments at National Ignition Facility. A truck driver. A train driver. Biz’s mother-in-law is quite active.
With about 1.4 billion on Facebook, over 300 million on Twitter and Instragram both, I don’t have to look at the server’s log files to know the Super community is minuscule by comparison.
This works now, as the developers fix the bugs and the, oh let’s say far less than 1 million users try things out and experiment.
Tuning this app, Biz makes a point of soliciting feedback through a weekly chat on Slack to hear from us Super users. I missed the first few months when Biz was personally responding to everyone’s email.
The chats are another part of the Super experience which demonstrates not just dogged effort to make a better product, but a passion Super users express about the app itself. Harebrained and brilliant ideas get tossed around for an hour and virtually nothing is negated. Biz also imparts some wisdom he learned from the early Twitter days as he sees this app being shaped by the people using it:
The thing is that you have to have the fun mixed in with the serious so that the muscle memory is there. (Use) Super to goof around daily but then something big comes along and you know how to use Super for it. I’m fond of saying that if you want to build a system capable of helping people topple a despotic regime, it also has to support fart jokes. (from Super community Slack chat, 5/5/15)
Like a lot of this crazy, new internet stuff, it’s very easy to say, “So fucking what?” People said that about Facebook and Twitter in the beginning. Today, the entire world also pays notice when a tweet or Instagram pic becomes a major news items.
We Superpeople are wondering what will this be like when it grows up? Will there be different communities within? How will Super fare against the channels of social media we use?
As social media has become a regular part of our daily lives, it has become a worn out path to information, news, work, advertising, events and so much of the Internet that the ‘social’ aspect has been subsumed, buried like everything else online to just what we’re able to perceive at the very moment.
Twitter feeds, Instagram posts and the endless drivel on Facebook fly by with little to no filter, no matter how much we reset to “most recent.” When people respond to something on Facebook for the most part it’s very brief and subdued. With Super, it’s pretty much impossible to respond to and say, “Thanks” or “I agree.”
Returning to Facebook, I find the experience dull and uninteresting, like the color has been drained from my social media user experience. (And where’s Bill Murray with shades!?)
You might look at Super on your phone, “Does adding some color and words on a photo do anything?” Maybe not. But a Starter pops up “I appreciate” that triggers a hidden thought or emotion. And so you type out a few words and add in a pic from last night’s sunset and touch someone in Dubai or Dubuque.
It is not for everyone. For us who appreciate it, we really REALLY like it. My sheer enjoyment of the app is all the more remarkable considering very few of my r/l friends are engaging on Super. I feel like I’m discovering and experimenting with an entirely new, refreshing way to communicate to the rest of the world.
“I could probably do a walk-on on that show Silicon Valley and say this but our mission is to build software that fosters empathy.” (Biz from SXSW via Mashable)
How Super fosters empathy among its users is not in any algorithm nor is it apparent. And that is only one of the strengths. It is fun, funny, surprising, appealing and just might change the world … or spread fart jokes.
Those of us using Super feel it will grow and evolve and attract an untold number of people from around the world, communicating with funky Starters, dropping in background images with text plastered in front, reaching out, telling stories, saying how we feel, expressing ourselves and empathizing with others.