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Reuters/Benoit Tessier
The internet’s greatest power is also its greatest weakness.
FUTURE FACEBOOKS

Innovative social media apps the world needs, according to Y Combinator’s head of AI

Daniel Gross
By Daniel Gross

Partner, Y Combinator

As more and more people decide to move away from Facebook after revelations of their grievous data mishandling, it begs the question: What’s next? The demise of one behemoth doesn’t deprive us of our need for social connection, and plenty of designers are ready in the wings to help us find new ways to scratch that itch.

I earlier wrote about some of the existing websites and apps that can help you fill that void—but there are a lot of social networking platforms that are yet to be built. I am excited to see a new era of community-driven platforms ushered in. Who knows—maybe you’ll think up the next one.

Below are a few predictions of the apps you’ll soon find on your future home screen.

Audio

Podcasts are enjoying a second coming. This may be due to Airpods removing hidden friction, the prevalence of mobile in the car, or a hundred other reasons. There are hours throughout the day where your eyes are preoccupied, but you still want to be entertained. I believe there’s now room for a startup to be built around constantly feeding engaging audio to people.

Synchronous podcasts with voice memos. Imagine this: Every day, you open an app at the same time (e.g., 5pm) to listen in with everyone to Sam Harris. It’s Game of Thrones, but audio only. Members send voice memos to each other while listening, and some are played out by the host. Text may work as well, but it’s hard to produce when you’re walking or driving, and voice memos are soaring in popularity on services like WhatsApp.

Audio.app. It’s an app. It tells you what to listen to. Podcasts, Audiobooks, the news, meditation, whatever—and you can hear what other people are listening to, too. Anchor is a good start to this, but I think it still could be significantly expanded upon.

Sharing

 If it can be measured and is interesting to others, it’ll probably evolve into part of a network in time. In this way, we’ll all become characters in The Sims. A lot of what we consider private today will also become public tomorrow. We already share “private” details about our lives: It’s called gossip. There’s value in structuring that.

Biobook. Sleep, weight, and even blood sugar can be continuously tracked. Envision something akin to Fitbit, but for all your body’s metrics. Which of your friends gained the most weight this week? Which coworker slept the worst last night? Who had a donut for lunch?

Strava for sex. People gossip about intimate relationship details all the time—it’s interesting to humans. It may sound crazy today that your sperm count will be auto-shared, but you’ll remember that Facebook also sounded wild to many in 2008. (“Why would I post a photo every hour of myself?”) Strap yourself in — the future is coming quickly.

Social mint.com. People love to gossip about career success. “How much money does she make?” or “Is he good at their job?” Humans forever need to know where they stand in the hierarchy. I’m certain over time your financial holdings, job success, or (gasp!) calendar availability will become public.

Communication

Much of Facebook’s unbundling will go into messaging groups and apps. People will collapse into many small, niche online communities. There are two particularly interesting products you could build in this area.

PhpBB, for iOS. Remember the era of online forums? vBulletin? PhpBB? Good times. Many of the sites were tweaked individually for each community. Popular subreddits also have custom code. The startup cost of making a WhatsApp clone is high, but I bet if you reduced it, you’d start to see many mini “communities” develop their messaging apps, just like Discord did for the gaming niche.

The Batphone. Email used to work, then it got busy. Too many emails! Gah! No worries, if I really want to reach you, I’ll use Slack. Wait! Too many Slacks! Can’t keep track. No problemo — here’s my number. WhatsApp me if you really need me. What’s going to happen when that gets flooded? I’d imagine someone creates an app branded to be the most direct way to contact someone. There’s a cap on the number of messages you receive per day, and you only hand it out to your spouse and close friends. Initially.

Verticals

Online networks are formed by individuals with a shared passion. There’s always room to build a domain-specific network, as long as the shared interest is strong enough to overcome the hurdles of installing an app. Some examples:

Mindfulness. There are a few apps doing this already, but I don’t think anyone has really built out a real peer-to-peer community around this. A leaderboard for mindfulness is an oxymoron of sorts, but I’m optimistic society will figure it out.

Women-only. My bet is a social network for women would succeed now when it wouldn’t have earlier, given the monumental societal shift in 2017.

Pain. Much of what builds community is a shared sense of suffering. There are two types of pain: healthy (Peloton, Strava) and unhealthy (people trying to out-Jackass each other). Sadly, I think both will exist in an era rich with nihilistic kids who lack a leaderboard to maximize.

The speculation era

People love speculating. The oil futures market is much larger than the underlying asset. Cryptocurrencies make it really easy to speculate on anything that’s tokenized, which everyone in the future will do.

Quora with a prediction market. Many are trying to build “Quora, but for crypto.” That’s hard to bootstrap. Instead, I’d suggest just skipping to the fun part: speculation. Here’s how you do it. Scrape StackOverflow.com (or use an oracle). Launch SOCoin, mirrored after the actual values on the website. Sell contracts based on the future values of specific users. “Daniel just joined. He has a good Github bio. How much SOCoin will he have in a week?”

Personal details. A “crypto speculation market for everything” might get very crazy over time: “I’ll sell you a contract that Daniel keeps his blood sugar below 150mg/dl this week.” Speculating on “Strava for sex” would be… risque. But it’ll happen in time. If you can measure it, you’ll speculate on it.

If you find the intersection of psychology and software interesting, build a new social network! Or cult. Or religion. I’d love to help you if I can. My email is d@dcgross.com.

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