I have been interested in video sharing apps following the Instagram sale, and have, perhaps regrettably, joined the chorus of bloggers asking who will be the equivalent for video. At the moment, the competition is between Socialcam and Viddy, though new entries are emerging all the time, most recently Mobli and Klip. Here are three criterion you can use to determine which is most likely, in the words of Star Trek, to “live long and prosper.”
1. The Obsession of the Founders: Anil Dash writes in the July issue of Wired (link not available yet) that “When you need to decide among competing social apps, look for the one with the most obsessed founder.” By obsessed, he doesn’t mean generally OCD. Dash says you are looking for a founder who is “obsessed with a single problem.” By this gauge, Socialcam, whose founders, Justin Kan, Kyle Vogt, Michael Seibel and Ammon Bartram, come from Justin.TV, a year-old live video stream sharing service, has the clear edge. Viddy’s founders, JJ Aguhob and Brett O’Brien worked together at Xdrive, an early online storage site which was acquired by AOL and more recetly at the Will Smith backed family oriented entertainemnt community site PluggedIn.
2. The “Hacker Metric”: Nir Eyal wrote a recent post where he referred to a “hacker metric” for determining the future fitness of a web startup. By hacker, Eyal means the Facebook style “ growth hacker” as opposed to the Guy-Fawkes-mask-wearing-Anonymous-style hacker. The metric, which you can easily look up for any Facebook app (all the biggest mobile apps are now Facebook timeline apps anyway) at AppData, is the ratio of daily active users (DAU) to monthly active users (MAU). Eyal was writing shortly after the Facebook IPO and was using Facebook’s high DAU/MAU (at the time 58%) as an indication of its intrinsic value. On this level, Viddy just edges Socialcam out. Socialcam has 6.3 million DAU/83.6 million MAU (7.5%) compared to Viddy’s 1.6 million DAU/20.9 million MAU (8.8%). Socialcam does have four times the users, which is a considerable lead, but the metric for both is just a fraction of Facebook’s engagement levels.
3. The “Dark Patterns”: My own addition to the decision tree is what can euphemistically called “persuasive design patterns.” By this I mean the way the structure of the app’s service encourages the viral spreading of the service itself. I have wrote about the way Klout tricks users into engagement by presenting them with a low default score while their “actual score” is calculated—over the course of 48 hours! Socialcam’s interface, while not technically at the level of “dark pattern” manipulation, nonetheless is designed so that you will feel that you need to have an account to participate. Further, there are suspicions that the app is overzealous about posting user activity to Facebook feeds. Viddy’s practices seem fairly transparent by comparison, but there are a wide range of tactics (wonderfully documented by Harry Brignull) that employ “dark patterns” to juice engagement through dishonest means that many startup will resort to through competitive (or VC) pressures. And remember that Socialcam has four times the users! On the one hand, use of manipulative tactics is evil. On the other hand, at least for a while, evil works! So this one is somewhat of a “ quantum metric” whose state changes depending on how you look at it.
Based on this little exercise, I would advise someone wanting to join a video sharing app that will persist to choose Socialcam. But that comes with the caveat that I really like transparency and would, for myself, pick an app with a less aggressive growth strategy and take my chances. I have not run these tests on Mobli or Klip, but if anyone out there has, or has further insight on the two apps discussed here, please report back in the comments below.