Inspiration: a love letter to text & instant messenger

Text is the first and native form of the internet. I love text, and I think it's still the purest form of modern communication we use. Whether it's actually "texting" with iMessage, Whatsapp, Snapchat, or leaving comments on YouTube, TikTok, Twitch, or posting to text-based platforms like Twitter, Reddit, even Substack — it's all based on text.

If you rewind far enough, there's a storied social chat experience that pre-dated text messaging ubiquity — AIM (AOL Instant Messenger). For younger generations that's Snapchat, FB Messenger, etc. "Live chat" has been associated more with interactive & community features of social media platforms. 

Even in the age of "rich" media like video, AR, VR, text is still so compelling. It's fast and easy, doesn't interrupt others around you, is instantaneous to consume, and can be multi-tasked. Interestingly the rise of chatGPT recently has given people a greater appreciation for how simple, elegant, and information-rich text still is in 2023.

Despite how crowded the app world is, I know there's room for another fun, modern yet simple, social, real-time chat experience — @me is one reimagination of this. 💭

Theory: why live, why group chat

There's such an abundance of ways to communicate and consume content asynchronously. For the most part, we still only experience "live" in real life. Other types of "live" we take part in are livestreams, usually consumption experiences, with occasional opportunities to participate (e.g. IG lives, Twitch streams). "Live" with friends happens mostly on the phone (e.g. FaceTime, certain use cases of Clubhouse, and products past like Houseparty). Live brings us together.

Fully public chat-based experiences are chaotic. And most private chat experiences are 1:1 or permanent group chats; they either serve as pure utilities or they become stale over time.  Just like text, I think group chats will always endure. And I've always wanted to make group chats more dynamic — by making the messaging experience and the people participating in it feel more fluid and real-time.

Design & Product: "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication"

These are a few of the product decisions & the choices we've built into the v1:

  • Conversational container: after we decided this would be a group chat based product, we had to decide a few things: 1) are groups fixed or dynamic 2) are the chat containers single-use or multi-use 3) are chats enduring or ephemeral. For a complex web of reasons I won't detail here, we ultimately chose to make the user : chatroom 1:1 — each user has one dedicated chatroom where they can invite just their friends to chat anytime.

  • The network graph: we chose to go with a friends-only graph to dictate who can enter a given user's chatroom. The group isn't fixed at the level of the chat itself like with group chats. When you add new friends on @me, those friends can see you online and join your chat room. We kept it simple for the v1 but there's a lot more we've been exploring here!

  • User identity: we wanted to prioritize usernames over real names throughout the product to reinforce a native identity (and a bit of a throwback to early internet chatting). This doesn't necessarily push towards anonymity though since the initial graph will be based on just your friends (either your contacts or that you deliberately add as mutuals). As you meet more people on the app, it might take on a pseudonymous feel.

  • Visual identity: The @me aesthetic -- colors, typeface, buttons, copy, etc -- is something dear to us. It’s a design inspiration we’ve had in mind but needed to match with the right concept and @me felt right for it. Early users say it has matrix, terminal, and early web vibes, and that it feels like home :)

Early Lessons: striking the right balance

There's a lot we've learned through using the product ourselves and feedback from a core base of early users. To skim the surface, a couple major things we're working on:

  • Balancing privacy and discovery. On the one extreme this could be a place to host ephemeral group chats with people that you're already friends with. On the other extreme, it could be a place to meet and talk with people you don't know at all, in public rooms with people anywhere around the world. The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle, and finding it is hard.

  • Building authentic habits. "Live" inherently depends on notifications to help ensure liquidity, yet products need to create habits that don't rely solely on notifications. Some early users rely on notifications to know when to open the app. Others open to the app sponatenously to see "what's going on" or to initiate a chat when they're free. This is another spectrum that we're trying to strike the right balance on!

Try @me & send us feedback!

The first version of @me is live on the App Store. We’d love for you to try it with your friends! And of course, let us know if you have questions, find bugs, or have feature requests. 🙏

P.S. If you've gotten this far, you're a real one and we appreciate you — stay tuned for more on what's next! 💚