Tapstack is shutting down, this is how we got started and what we’ve learned (formerly Taptalk and Ding Dong)

Taptalk interface

The time has come for us to say goodbye to Tapstack. Apps like Tapstack are very hard to get off the ground and although we tried very hard, unfortunately we haven’t been able to build a sustainable business around it. However, we have had an incredible journey, and I know from all the user’s stories over the years that we’ve helped people feel closer and more connected – and that has always been our goal. If you’re curious why we built and love the app, please continue reading below. We’re shutting down the Tapstack service the 15th of November.

If you are a Tapstack user you can download all your saved taps here till the 1st of December: https://download.tapstack.com. (And for those who’re interested, we’ve included the meta-data too, so it’s technically possible to build a viewing experience around the saved interactions.)

How we got started

Onno demo’ing the first Ding Dong app

What a journey we’ve had, trying to solve the problem of the lack of vulnerability in mobile communication with your close friends. Starting in the Netherlands in 2012, we ended up relocating to Berlin in ’13 and eventually to San Francisco in ‘14. During this time we have been exploring and creating new ways for people to interact and feel closer using mobile devices. It all started with a small idea: what if you could simply ‘ping’ someone, without any conversational interface. What could be the meaning and value of that elementary signal, if you knew that it was sent to you deliberately and purposefully?

“The idea was basically a communication mechanism which is stripped down to the essence,” [Onno] says. “It’s super-simple. Grandpas can use it.” Has he tested that? “Definitely…”

2013: The starting point and the launch of “Ding Dong”

After I met my co-founders Jorn & Leo at the end of 2012, the initial idea quickly started evolving. We thought, what if you could capture contextual information the phone already has (such as your geo-location) and transmit that ‘package’ in one tap? With very little effort, sharing context has a ton of use-cases while at the same time having emotional depth. Seeing each other on a map creates a feeling of intimacy that our users simply didn’t feel when they were just texting each other. This “ping” started to become meaningful, and interestingly most of the messages our users were sending meant “I’m thinking of you”. Trying to say this with a text message appeared to be challenging, and because of the lack of a conversational interface, you’re not ‘risking’ starting one, making it very light weight.

First version of the “Ding Dong” app

There are so many moments when we think of someone, but don’t really have anything specific to say, nor do we always want to engage in a conversation. But the feeling is real, and the Ding Dong app allowed you to simply communicate “I have you on my mind”. Our users loved it.

At some point we even added tiny camera-based snapshots that would appear as a geo-located pin on the map.

2014: Time to empty the whiteboard and leverage our learnings, Taptalk was born

After we realized Ding Dong wasn’t going to take off the way we needed it to, we decided to take a step back. Return to the “empty whiteboard”. For founders, this is a necessary and at the same time hard step to take, you need to let go of your baby. We talked through our learnings, and one of the key insights we had in sharing media with others, is how the application starts. What was presented on the first screen would determine how people were going to use it. For any messaging- or sharing app, there are basically two options:

  1. Capture the media first, and then pick the people to send it to
  2. Pick a person first, and then capturing+sending the media

When you let people capture media first (whether it’s your geo-location, a picture or a video), and then pick a person, it turns out people often want to share to more than one person. Since the effort of capturing is already done, you might as well with “a little extra effort” pick a bunch of friends (or even all of them) as recipients. The low-costs associated with sending media to many, also inversely deteriorates the value of it for the receiver. The audience becomes wider and the shared content slowly changes from vulnerable selfies to more polished pictures of food, or views of buildings and beaches. 🍦🌇

The Taptalk design “inspired” some other apps

When you pick a person first instead, and then capture something for them, it’s completely the other way around. For the receiver, the message is more meaningful — since they’re assured the message is created exclusively for them. People also tend to be a lot more vulnerable, and the context can be more easily interpreted. For example, you can send a photo of ‘something blue’ to a friend who’s really into ‘blue stuff’. Sharing a moment like that can mean a lot for that particular person and absolutely nothing for everyone else. You’re basically saying that you were thinking of them by sending them something only they can interpret, it’s personal (for more on this, see this post).

“Yesterday I told her to download Tapstack and today was the most I’ve shared with her since moving away from home years ago. My mom was hanging with her dog, working from home, having a beer after work and then decided to do some landscaping. I miss her, but today was the closest I’ve felt to her since being away. There’s power in making moments more meaningful, I can’t wait to see what she’s up to tonight.” — Shane Mac

What’s also interesting that in a 1:1 setting, the majority of the users were also “content creators”. On the contrary, in a broadcasting setting, most users were just consuming content instead (and not necessarily that excited about what they consumed…).

Based on these learnings, we designed a new interface: Taptalk was born! 🎉 I vividly remember my own excitement when I saw the first sketch on the whiteboard. It was an interface that we hadn’t seen before while it seemed so obvious at the same time. What if you can capture a picture, select the recipient AND send it, all in one go? You’re basically opening a temporary ‘wormhole’ with someone on the other side. It’s like an asynchronous version of a video call, and the best of both worlds. (The photo being like a ‘single-frame-video’.)

Taptalk interface

In addition, we came up with a new way of adding your friends. We utilized the knowledge of the social graph from your first friend that you added deliberately, in order for them to suggest who they thought you would like to use the app with. The person you trusted to use this app with, probably knows you well enough to suggest the other people you wanted to talk to. This was the only way you could add someone when we launched, and it worked. As far as I know the way we did this was unprecedented, but it just made a lot of sense. The app was designed for close friends and it was critical for the experience that the quality of the people you were adding was high. You’re not going to send vulnerable and intimate messages to people you barely know, even if you have them in your address book.

From Techcrunch: Taptalk CEO Onno Faber Discusses What It’s Like To Be Cloned By Facebook

It didn’t take long before Silicon Valley got on board and it started to take off. After many exciting investors and supporters came on board, including Ashton Kutcher, we moved the company to San Francisco. It was an incredibly exciting time and we even inspired the Instagram team to create a similar app…

Read more here:

One of the best things about Taptalk was the type of content that was shared, just exchanging everyday ‘moments’. The pictures and videos were raw, unedited and unscripted (no retakes!). Our users learned to freely share the moment while thinking of their friend, without being too self aware. This is how your friends know you, and polishing your picture would only deteriorate the feeling of connection on the other side. I still think there’s a strong need for personal and vulnerable asynchronous communication. If you want to emulate the experience in a regular chat client, you could go about it like this:

  • Take a picture or short video to share the moment with someone you’re thinking about — don’t polish it, don’t add filters, and resist the temptation to retake (our motto was “f*ck retakes”).
  • Agree with the other party that they can see it and there’s no need to instantly reply to you. If you do this the you’re not anxiously waiting for a reply or some other form of gratification, and your friend won’t have to stress about having to say something back immediately.
  • Agree that these pictures or videos are privately shared between you and the other person #justforyou.
  • Maybe think of a tag to let the other person know this is a “tap: #tap #toy (thinking of you) #noneedtoreply #fckretakes.

“Because of [Tapstack], we’re able to keep up with one another on a whole new level. We Tap every day, and I know what’s going on with them at work and at home. Some nights when we don’t go out, we all stay in and drink wine and “hang out” with each other on Tapstack. We’ve been in each others’ delivery rooms when giving birth, at the finish line of a marathon, and at weddings. It’s the best tool we’ve ever had to keep in touch, and many days,Taps from my girlfriends are the highlight of my day.” — Madeline Moya

Thank you

We’d like to thank our loyal user community for their love and support throughout this journey. Our friends and families while we were all traveling and moving intercontinental. The team and all the people that worked with us to build the product, grow the community and support the organization. And finally, thanks to our advisors and investors that have been with us all this time and supporting us throughout. We could not have done this without any of you!

– Jorn, Leo & Onno

For further questions, you can reach us at mail@witdot.com.

Leo, Onno and Jorn in Berlin