Simple Social Networks



The apps I use the most tend to be apps that do one thing well. No doubt the vast majority of those reading this opening paragraph are of that same disposition. Instead of using apps which do lots of things fairly well, I much prefer to use apps that do just one thing and do so very well.

Simplenote is a prime example. It’s a note-taking app that syncs across all your devices. And it does this task exceptionally well. Dropbox is another example: it will sync the main Dropbox folder with any other computer you have Dropbox installed on. Another example: Yojimbo. Hands down, the finest Anything Bucket out there.

What is now growing as a new type of “thing” is social networks which are built around a singular idea and which implement that idea very well.

Twitter was one of the first examples of this, and is now certainly the most prominent. It has grown a bit more complex since it first began several years ago, but the premise is unchanged: what are you doing? Answer that question in under 140 characters and you can use Twitter.

Instagram is another prime example of a simple social network. The only function of the app and its integrated social network is to post pictures. You have fun with it by applying semi-cheesy filters and exaggerated tilt-shift blurs, but there is little complexity beyond posting your own pics and then liking and commenting on other people’s pics.

I believe it is their simplicity that makes social networks like Twitter and Instagram sticky. If a service is easy to use, people are more likely to use it. The more complex it is, the less likely people are to use it.

Obviously there are additional and very significant things which make social networks appealing, such as the ability to share and connect with friends and family members. But I like how the forced brevity of Twitter and the forced cheesiness of Instagram help to remove the potential for self censorship. The constraints of these social networks also turn into a game — or challenge — for users who adopt the goal of tweeting deeply meaningful or hilarious things or ‘gramming beautiful images.

Stamped is another simple social network. It is more like Instagram than Twitter in that: (a) it currently exists only on the iPhone; and (b) the social network and the iPhone app are one and the same.

I downloaded Stamped last week when it came out and it quickly worked it’s way onto my iPhone’s Home screen, right next to Instagram. I love the simple concept of Stamped: you pick something you like and you stamp it with your stamp of approval. What Twitter is to status updates, Stamped is to our favorite things in life.

Pros

It’s not the simplicity in and of itself that appeals to me. I like the whole idea of the Stamped app. I enjoy stamping things that I like. Who doesn’t?

Beyond that, there are a few things in particular which stand out to me as great:

  • The Design: You cannot launch the app without instantly noticing the design. Every pixel seems as if it were put in place with precise intent. The use of color, type, and layout is extraordinary. The interface of Stamped goes a long way in making the app easier to use and more enjoyable.

  • The To-Dos: When you come across something new that your friend has stamped, you can add it as a to-do (maybe its a book you want to read or a restaurant you want to check out next time you’re in San Francisco). This is one of my favorite features of Stamped, and is a clear sign that the people who designed this app actually use it as well.

    The way your To-Do list works is simple: (a) someone you’re following Stamps something you’ve never heard of (could be a movie, a book, a band, a restaurant, or something totally obscure); (b) you decide you want to check it out; and (c) you add it as a To-Do item.

    Right now I have 9 To-Dos in Stamped. A few movies, a few books, a restaurant in San Francisco, a Web app, and a kitchen appliance.

  • The Liberation of Simplicity: There are no rules for what you can stamp. On Thanksgiving Day people were stamping things like “after-lunch nap” and “pumpkin pie”. Stamped is set up in such a way as to encourage the stamping of whatever suits your fancy. It can be as serious as your favorite book, or as lighthearted as a 2nd cup of coffee on a Wednesday morning. There are no rules.

Cons

I do have a few quibbles with the app.

  • New User Discovery: One thing I don’t like about the app is how difficult it is to discover new people to follow. If I don’t follow you on Twitter or if you are not in my iPhone’s contact list then the chances of me finding you are slim to none.

    I don’t just want to follow my friends, I also want to follow people who have impeccable taste. Who in Kansas City knows the best restaurants? Who has the same taste in movies as me but gets out more often? Who reads a lot of fabulous books? Those too are the people I want to follow on Stamped.

    How can Stamped solve this problem? Perhaps give us the ability to stamp a user. Or, when viewing someone’s profile, show a descending list of who they give the most credits to. Just like there are people on Twitter that I don’t follow on Instagram, and vice versa, how do I find the great users in Stamped whom I don’t yet know are there?

  • No Business Model, Yet: Build a big and happy user base now, figure out how to sustain the business later. That seems to be the business model of choice for many new startups. It was Twitter’s business model, it is Instagram’s, and it is Stamped’s as well.

    However, I did notice that Stamped has one source of income: affiliate links. When a book or a DVD is stamped and can be purchased on Amazon, then a Buy Now button will show up on that item’s detail page within the App. Tapping “Buy Now” will launch you over to the Amazon site with Stamped’s affiliate ID in the URL.

    Stamped Also I’ve noticed that if it’s a movie which is playing in theaters, then you can get tickets via Fandango. Tapping to buy a movie ticket will kick you through a Commission Junction domain.

    I have absolutely no problem with affiliate links. I think the feature of being able to find and buy a Stamped item right from within the app is a great idea. And so if you’re going to be linking to Amazon anyway, there’s no reason not to do so via an affiliate link. It’s a clever and non-invasive way to make a few extra bucks from the app. However, affiliate links require a lot of traffic to generate even a modest income, and they are not Stamped’s primary plan for income.

    I emailed the guys at Stamped to ask them if there were any planned sources of revenue beyond the affiliate links. CEO and Co-Founder, Robby Stein, wrote me back, saying:

    Right now, we are 100% focused on building a product that our users love. We will continue to look at revenue opportunities that make the product more useful by allowing people to easily go try what’s been stamped, but don’t have any specific plans right now.

    Building a large and happy user base is much easier when your product is free. But monetizing later on can be tricky. There are pros and cons to both strategies, and so I hope Stamped has wild success.

Stamping Stamped

One of the first things I stamped in Stamped was Stamped, Inc.

I very much love the categories that this app slash social network is in. It is a simple social network, and, though it is Web based, it is not a Web app. I much prefer native apps over Web apps (on the desktop and on mobile). I also prefer apps which are simple and do just one thing. Stamped is a blend of both, and I think it has a lot of potential to be very fun.