How Vertical Social Apps Broke Away from Their Beginnings

Science Inc.
Science Inc.
Published in
5 min readOct 25, 2023


Craigslist, an open digital marketplace, was born in 1995 and quickly grew in hyperlocal markets, first in San Francisco and then across the U.S. Despite high growth and utilization, with time, the website faced declining market share as other platforms and apps popped up and replaced Craiglist’s bevy of narrow and niche services.

And Craiglist is just the beginning of a tech revolution driven by verticalized marketplaces. Uber (UBER) popped up to take you to the airport, Rover (ROVR) took care of your pup during the day, and Airbnb (ABNB) made sure you had a place to stay. What was once tied together within one community splintered off into specific needs through different marketplaces, specialized to communities, demographics, and utilities to offer a more focused and tailored experience compared to mainstream aggregators.

We believe the next revolution in tech will be a shift from mass social and entertainment platforms (think Meta and Netflix) toward verticalized apps catering to special interests and smaller communities.

Let’s use Facebook’s evolution as another example — it was a social site built around community, with the opportunity to share photos, updates, buy goods within a localized marketplace, plan events, and chat with friends and family. But just like Craigslist, Facebook has already been fragmenting. From Facebook came Instagram for photo and video sharing only and Messenger for private chat. Twitter saw an opportunity for bite-sized status updates and discourse and apps like OfferUp (which acquired LetGo in 2020) became the go-to marketplaces for second-hand goods.

Once a massive platform that provided everything under the sun was broken apart by individual services.

We saw this with Letterboxd for lovers of film, Strava, the app for athletes and fitness enthusiasts, Goodreads (acquired by Amazon) for book lovers, and Nextdoor (KIND) for hyperlocal neighbor connections.

These platforms offer audiences the opportunity to engage with individuals who share similar interests within a more secluded and specialized environment. This shift in social media dynamics has been evident over the past few years, and increasingly, individuals are moving away from broadcasting their content on mainstream feeds and are instead seeking narrow alternatives, such as subreddits. This shift harkens back to the early days of social media, reminiscent of online forums and chat rooms but with a contemporary and updated appearance.

Audiences are flocking to different apps for a variety of reasons:

Focused Communities: These apps cater to specific interests or demographics, which means users can connect with people who share their passions or concerns.

Relevant Content: Users are more likely to see content that is directly relevant to their interests, reducing the noise and irrelevant information found on broader platforms.

Privacy: Some vertical apps prioritize privacy and data protection, providing users with a safer and more controlled environment for engaging.

Tailored Features: Vertical apps often include features and tools tailored to the specific interests of their users, which enhances the user experience.

Less Toxicity: Some vertical apps are known for fostering more positive and supportive environments compared to larger, more mainstream social platforms, which can sometimes suffer from online harassment and negativity.

Alternative to Overwhelm: For users who find mainstream social media overwhelming, vertical apps provide a healthier alternative that encourages more intentional and controlled interactions.

What categories are winning

When it comes to sports, SPRT Inc. has built apps like TNNS, which provides live tennis scores, and GLF, which provides golf course information and hole-by-hole statistics, specifically for fans. Users download one app for one sport only to tune into hyper-specific information that caters to their enjoyment.

In education, teens are downloading Saturn, the calendar that supports the complexities of the high school day and block scheduling.

Superlocal (co-investment with M13) is a hyper-personalized map that automatically shows users all of the places they’ve been using AI and user location history to create the most personalized place search ever built.

Science portfolio company (co-investment with TPG) has been doing this since its launch in 2016, becoming the No. 1 faith app available for prayer and is used as a social network within the community.

MONSTERBASS® brings together millions of anglers across the U.S. through the web, subscription boxes, and a mobile app to connect users to a fishing sport they all love.

Science portfolio company Biite — the company making global brands locally relevant through food culture — closed a deal with one of the biggest QSR brands to create a new global tentpole in the upcoming years. It’s a collaboration platform that invites emerging chefs to make the brand locally relevant within Biite communities. Over the past year, (Biite’s drop platform) has grown and accumulated significant market insights, making it attractive to bigger brands in the food industry and beyond.

Typpo’s disruptive approach to content creation has caught our attention and brought investments from many heavy-weight individuals with zero spend on advertising. In September of this year, the app had over 8,000 downloads in one single day. This month, Typpo is launching its first brand deal with Mattel to promote the 40th anniversary of Masters Of The Universe. Typpo’s content is specific and contains specialty features, which general list platforms lack, making it an active pursuit for users.

And who can forget TikTok; once the platform launched a product with the ability to add background music, audiences saw the app worked much better than Instagram for video sharing, and this is what has made TikTok the huge driving force today.

While vertical social apps are here to stay, they’re becoming increasingly entrenched in hobby culture — something GenZ is leading the charge on, with many new apps springing up to support interests ranging from common to specialized. If there’s a subreddit or a side of TikTok about it, there’s likely going to be an app that follows.

The vertical social market is red hot and will only become more significant as early adopters and trendspotters keep looking for the next best thing. At Science, we continue to use our resources and capital to back companies that understand consumer influence ahead of the curve as we’ve been doing for more than a decade. Trends come and go, but understanding the future is where we operate best.



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