Yesterday, we launched Potluck — a new product from the Branch team that we’re describing as “a house party on the Internet.” I’ll share with you why we chose this metaphor and how it manifests itself in our product.

We began by asking ourselves a simple question: “What should it feel like to use Potluck?” Our answer, “a house party”, while short and easy to remember, provided us with strong inspiration for product decisions and gave us a framework for evaluating design options.

We like many things about house parties. There are no strangers, but meeting friends of friends is the norm. Despite this, they still feel intimate enough that we feel comfortable being ourselves. They let us both deepen our existing friendships and meet new people.

So whenever we were in doubt, we asked,
“What would this look like at a house party?”

Potluck’s feed was inspired by what it’s like to walk through a party, looking for conversations to hop into. You’re looking for several things: a lively conversation with an interesting topic; and a group that has at least a few friends, but also a chance to meet new people. These became the pieces of information that we emphasized in the feed. And just like at a real-world party, our two-pane design lets you flip through conversations quickly, giving you a chance to stumble into ones you might not think you’d be interested in.

Potluck’s conversation pages were influenced by these real-world house party conversations, too. The person that sparks a conversation at a party doesn’t own or moderate it — the conversation happens in a shared space. So in Potluck, whoever posted the link isn’t the “owner” of the page. Instead, we show this information as a byline below the link. Our emphasis is on the people in the space — in particular, your friends. Just like when you walk up to a group of people talking at a party, the avatars of friendly faces are the first things you see on our conversation pages. And for the people you don’t know, we tell you your common friends right by their name, because we want you to feel comfortable talking to them. Think quick introductions via friends at parties: ”John, meet Jane. Jane and I are work friends.”

Even the posts resemble the quick, casual nature of these conversations. Potluck isn’t a space for crafting the perfect response and edit yourself. Instead, we hope that it lets you be as spontaneous and open as you would be in a real-life conversation. That’s why instead of a Send button, just pressing enter sends your message. Posts aren’t contained in boxes, because we want them to feel like a continuous stream of chatter, not distinct pieces of content.

“What would a nod or a hug look like in Potluck?”

The way you can give feedback on Potluck is also inspired by real world interactions. Emphasis on feedback metrics on other social networks motivate people to chase large numbers. On Potluck, we wanted something else, to create an emotional connection between people. Whenever possible, we used faces over numbers, because we think knowing “who” is more important than knowing “how many.” After all, real world interactions don’t come with a tally.

Using this simple, real world metaphor — a house party — helped us stay true to our design goals of building Potluck to be a place that’s comfortable, emotionally engaging and fun. We’re excited to see the conversations you join and people you meet.

To give it a spin, head over to http://potluck.it.


About Branch

We are a New York City-based startup who makes social products that empower people to talk to each other. Branch, our first product, is a platform for hosting and publishing invite-only conversations. Our second product Potluck is a web and mobile application for friends to hang out and talk about cool things they find on the web.

Our design-driven approach gives a high degree of ownership to designers, who drive projects from conception to code, taking responsibilities that are traditionally reserved for product management and engineering. If this sounds like you, drop us a line at jobs@branch.com!