The talent behind Branch Media, the New York City-based social startup backed by the likes of Twitter's Biz Stone and Evan Williams, will officially become property of Facebook thanks to a $15 million deal to “build Branch at Facebook scale.”
Josh Miller, co-founder of Branch Media, announced the news Monday morning via a Facebook post.
“After two years building Branch and Potluck, I am thrilled to announce we will be continuing our mission at Facebook!” Miller said. “We will be forming Facebook’s Conversations group, based in New York City, with the goal of helping people connect with others around their interests.”
Miller said “the products we build will be reminiscent of Branch and Potluck,” but unlike other companies previously acquired by Facebook, such as Gowalla and NextStop, Branch Media will be allowed to continue its services outside Facebook, which is great news for users of Branch Media’s conversation tools.
Facebook Wants To Branch Out
Facebook has taken a long time to improve conversations on its platform. Although Facebook introduced the "Wall" in 2004, users couldn’t post attachments to each other’s pages until 2007, and were only able to tag other friends in status updates (a la Twitter) starting in 2009. A year later, Facebook consolidated instant messaging, text messaging, and emails into its singular “Messages” platform, but since then, the biggest improvement to Facebook’s conversations arrived last March with the ability to reply to users’ comments within a thread.
Branch Media’s two applications, Branch and Potluck, would fit perfectly into Facebook’s ecosystem as-is.
While the Branch app promotes invite-only, easy-to-read online conversations, Potluck was designed for Web and mobile users to easily discuss cool things they find online. With a UI similar to Tinder, where users swipe cards they like or dislike to the right or left, respectively, Potluck allows users to find out what their friends care about (and vise-versa)—whether it’s a news story or a food recipe—and join in on the conversation.
In other words, both Branch and Potluck are about creating refined conversations. And that’s what Facebook wants for its own platform.
What Is Facebook Planning?
We’ve reached out to Facebook for a comment and will update this story once we learn more.* But until we can verify the company’s official plans for its Facebook Conversations project, we’ll have to assume it will build upon the same concepts and features that power Branch and Potluck. After all, part of Facebook's pitch for Miller was to “build Branch at a Facebook scale.”
If Facebook were to recreate its own conversation platform using Branch Media’s know-how, it could adopt Potluck’s UI to organize the most relevant links from friends into attractive cards and leverage the conversation structure from the Branch app to provide easy-to-read, easy-to-share conversations.
Conversations could also include more options: For example, in addition to seeing the “Most Liked” comments, it would be nice to organize comments by chronology to be able to read a thread like an actual conversation.
Facebook’s new Conversations project could be an experimental new platform for the future of Facebook comments, or it might be another animal entirely. It could operate as a separate mobile application, like Facebook Camera or Facebook Messenger, or it could simply be used to experiment with improvements to Facebook’s current platform for discussions. But since both Branch and Potluck continue to exist independently, Facebook must be confident in its own ability to jumpstart the social conversation in a unique fashion.
*Update 3:59 p.m. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the deal to clarify the company was purchasing the talent behind Branch Media, not those specific properties, but otherwise offered no further comment on Monday's acquisition.