Roobit: Adapting the “message in a bottle” paradigm to social media.
For the better part of a year now, I’ve been working on bringing Roobit to life, putting together — one bite at a time — what I hope will amount to a vividly tasty experience.
The experience the Roobit recipe aims to create then, is one that doesn’t feel like you’re staring at a fast-moving jumbotron; an uncluttered and unrushed portal to nostalgia and mean fun, where you enrich and
build on your moments with others like memories, rather than put a shelf life on them through the sheer pace of our often passive-feeling consume-post-consume cycles (see extras).
What is the Roobit?
Roobit allows for multiple people to string together videos to share their moments and it allows posters to control the who/where of how their posts are visible.
So, if you’re a fan of Matcha tea like several important people I know, you might fancy leaving a locked video message with your recommendations at your favorite joint, visible only to people you deem true fellow Matcha comrades and only when they go to that location. We’re calling these “Mibs” —
derived from the age-old “message in a bottle”.
Or you could post something without a lock and visible to all your followers (or the general public on Roobit) irrespective of location; they’d be able to respond by chaining a video to your original whenever they saw it in their feeds — which wouldn’t necessarily be as soon as you posted, but could also be when they happened to be visiting that same joint/neighbourhood/city in the future.
At its heart with Roobit, the focus is on taking parts of the soul of the ‘message in a bottle’ construct: memory, communication and connection, serendipity; stripping out or toning down parts that wouldn’t fly in our world — like the possibility of intended audiences never knowing of the existence of the message; adding in the ability for multiple people to add to the message chain with videos (afforded by our world); and applying the resulting format towards the goal of extending our content cycle beyond the ephemeral and hopefully experiencing more lasting rewards and deeper connections.
This is getting too abstract..?
I suppose when building something, getting into your own head a bit too much is near unavoidable, in a necessary evil kind of way. Eventually, it’s the community of users that shapes what it’s going to be — both by breaking it in ways that expose creative/engineering blind spots, and by adopting and expanding on what the app may be doing right, making it their own in original and delightful ways (á la Vine). So, with that being the goal, allow me to share some wishful examples of what I’d think could serve as initial templates for the latter, with some screenshots from Roobit — as it looks at the time of writing this — for some context:
The screenshots show a string of videos published at a popular brunch spot in LA. This would then show up for anyone (or just your followers if you choose as such) when they’re around the same area, allowing them to string their video to the original.
Whether a post shows up or not in your “around you” feed is driven by (outside of location) both recency and popularity (more on that below), as well as whether you’ve already seen it and whether it’s changed since you did. Also, posts that have any of the people you follow in the chain of posters get a bump in priority.
The key thing here is the fact that the app itself does not string together videos at a location, users do; secondly, the posts don’t disappear. The original poster may decide on a theme to kick things off — say what you ordered at a Korean BBQ restaurant known for an expansive menu — allowing others to chain videos of their choices whenever they visit there, creating a time capsule of sumptuous meal combinations.
Needless to say, anyone can start any number of these at any location. Also, the location itself isn’t critical to the kickoff post; it could just be someone posting their dog sniffing for gold (their — the dog’s — behind) that inspires people to chain their own entertaining bits — either through videos of their own pets or something more creative🙃.
About the rings.
The ring colors indicate the amount of “warmth” around a post, moving from cooler to hotter colors as the overall activity around the video increases. For kickoff posts, both view behavior and reach, i.e. number of chained videos, are factored in. So yes, we’ve dispensed with likes.
The world can be your laboratory, but ask first.
I want to get into a couple of experimental features/ideas we’re building around at Roobit. The point is to foster discussions and collect feedback, so please feel free to chime in with your thoughts/ideas.
The first is less an explicit feature and more an experiment in the kinds of interactions users can have on our app. I’ve always wondered at what point we’d cut away from text status updates and move towards the visual. With the Facebook consortium of apps pivoting heavily into stories over the last year and a half, and succeeding so far, that point seems closer.
Specifically, I want to talk about the kind of tweets or status updates that drive a lot of discussions/reactions beyond likes/retweets. Text lends itself well to such scenarios, forcing you to think through and articulate your response, as well as affording anonymity to those who need or want it. But it can have its downsides: from a trivial loss of tone to very serious problems of abuse to (potentially) insidious consequences on a long timeline: loss of nuance and empathy.
Roobit doesn’t have text comments built in; users could theoretically comment on a video by chaining in sub-20 second video responses — assuming the original poster is trying to start a conversation and prefers doing so with a video-thread version of a thread of tweets — but that raises a lot of questions. This topic really needs a dedicated article, but I’ll attempt to boil it down:
- The video-only format, with every account tied to a phone number, may encourage the casual internet denizen to be more considerate/empathetic in face-to-face mode and could make it easier for a community to flag abusive content, but does this significantly raise the cost of operation/stakes for professional troll armies/outrage-addicts — especially looking at a high-bandwidth AI-generated-video-accented globe in the not too distant future?
- What would be the tweet-equivalent length of a video trying to cater to conversations, or is that the wrong question? On Roobit, we’d also have to change the ordering of the video chain for such content; at the moment it’s most recent or most relevant (in terms of people you know) first.
- What about people not comfortable being on video — not necessarily because they desire anonymity — but still want to be part of the conversations on Roobit?
- Is pseudonymity — through expressive animojis and AI-assisted videos — for those that want to have a social voice and protect their identity, the most realistic fit for that kind of content on a platform like Roobit? It seems reasonable to assume it doesn’t help significantly improve on current anti-abuse measures, so this goes back to the cost of operation/stakes question from earlier. However, we may be able to get more nuance and empathy through as our online avatars become more life-like.
The most optimistic vision here would be people stringing together videos — perhaps around the world in different languages — constructed around some very creative takes on “MAGA”/”Acche Din”, with troll armies marginalized.
The second is an existing feature on the Roobit beta, allowing users to set their posts to “floating”, which basically cycles their posts through different cities over a period of a month, allowing people in those areas to string in their responses.
I’d imagine something like this would work best for challenges, adding a city-centric competitive element to it, or in a supremely diverse place like India — with it’s incredible number of languages and food sub-cultures. Dosa vs vada-pav fights anyone?
Or it could work with ASMR-ish video chains. “Floating” or not, in general Roobit would need to figure out how to incentivize creators to collaborate on these video chains — unlocking content based on (crypto?) micro-payments to posters is one such future-feature we’re eager to get feedback on. If you’re a creator or influencer and you find this intriguing, we’d love to hear more.
I do want to mention a couple of apps related to what we just discussed here:
- Tingles, if you’re looking for longish-form professional ASMR content (I find rain sounds soothing and discovered this app on Product Hunt).
- Daisy, boasting Arya Stark as a co-founder, aims to help creative people find collaborators and they also happen to use the term “chaining” to describe that process. Time to step up your game, Sansa. I just happen to be looking for a co-founder. Although, that reverse under-the-leg-double-flip-off banner pic on her twitter is pretty glorious, so any step-up calls may be moot. While I’m here, let me also volunteer for any kind of work on GoT re-shoots, except those involving no clothes, because British colonialism.
Final thoughts and signing up.
Now, by no means is my gut telling me that the Roobit recipe is complete as it stands. But I hope it can serve as a good starting point for stretching the duration of the somewhat isolated bits we tend to post — into the realm of shared memories.
We’ve recently expanded the private beta invites to a larger audience. You can subscribe to check out this early version by putting in your email below (google accounts only for Android); you should then receive invites to the android/iOS apps within a day — except in the off chance this goes viral, it could take slightly longer since we don’t have any enthusiastic interns (is there another kind?) for sending them out.
Also, a giant hug to everyone already on there and and who’ve been their best smart selves in helping figure this out. Lastly, if you enjoyed reading this, please do share.
- It would have been impossible to build Roobit without the open source community. I’d especially recommend looking into NativeScript and accompanying libraries; it’s a great first-iteration choice for anyone looking into building cross-platform apps w/ native performance.
- I wanted to name the app “Roo” at first, derived from “roux”, which is the base sauce in a lot of cooking. Roo is also Aussie slang for kangaroo; kangaroos are cool. But, credit where it’s due, my true millennial sister instantly approved of Roobit. I say true because, technically, I suppose I can consider myself one of the older millennials. Although, if you were a kid in India in the 90's, you got this huge dump of global (American) pop culture as India opened up its economy — officially referred to as economic liberalization; I think we need to invent a term to account for the likes that experienced this additional generational event, perhaps in another post.
- Any pointers towards getting this out to Vine communities would be greatly appreciated 😃.
- On passive-feeling social media cycles — I don’t mean this as a definitive statement on the present state of social networks and interactions they encourage. Certainly, there are a plethora of theses — being written, or waiting to be written, and read — that explore the various nuances. Twitter, especially, is a fascinating beast and any mention of cycles of behavior there must account for rage — hardly a passive sentiment. Though it’s tempting to look at it as still a very isolated form of rage, even when raging with a thousand fellow bots, I’d wager the long-term effects are anything but. logicmag.io seems like one of the places attempting to conduct responsible and multifaceted discourse around the intersection of tech with everything else.