Visual social media may be the hot trend these days. All of those photos sure look pretty on Pinterest and Instagram. But don’t count out the importance of the written word just yet. Believe it or not, there’s still plenty of room for it in our digital world in the form of status updates, tweets, and dialogue. One important social element that is often shunned to the back as the photos and videos block its view, is the stream. As basic as it may be, the stream has staked its claim as how we consume information and it has now evolved in the form of Branch–a network of conversation streams that seeks to bring order to our online dialogues.
The stream is nothing new. We see it every time we sign on to Facebook or Twitter. What’s exciting now is that the stream is evolving. What used to be dominated by texts and links has now added the visual components that so many social media strategies are flocking towards. Sites such as Storify have turned the stream into an event–effectively aggregating tweets, photos, and videos that are all about the same event.
For example (politics aside), the Storify stream on the Republican National Convention shows up-to-date photos and statuses from the event, allowing viewers to follow the event in real-time with more context than what’s found in the Twitter stream. It’s a social news ticker, if you will.
After seeing what can be accomplished through the stream by including all of this visually appealing media, you may wonder what makes a site such as Branch so inviting? After all, it’s much more stripped down than the previous example.
The answer to that question lies in the conversation.
Dialogue adds value to our creations and it is currently in an interesting state on the social web. Branch believes that these conversations can serve a greater purpose beyond the initial post. Collaboration doesn’t take place through the sharing of photos, but in the exchange of thoughts, ideas, and opinions, and Branch has built a platform to house those elements. The company describes its service as such:
“We’re building Branch to be a marketplace for your ideas [Branch inserted link]. A place where you go to refine and build upon your thoughts, and improve the inklings of others. Just like you put your spare rooms on Airbnb and handmade goods on Etsy, you will come to Branch in search of people to talk to and ideas to talk about.”
Branch is not necessarily a free-for-all in how conversations form and grow. To take part in a discussion, users need to ask permission to the original poster of the topic, and they need to explain in one sentence what they can add to the conversation. You control who can participate when you start a topic. This is a great way to make sure that participants contribute beneficial ideas, and that the dialogue doesn’t spiral out of control by having dozens or hundreds of people participate.
Dialogues can also break into side-conversations through the ability of “branching off.” This allows users to start a new discussion on a related topic to avoid having it lost in the original stream. It’s a helpful way to keep conversations organized and participants on-topic.
This site might not seem all that different from a message board, or Facebook/Google+’s comment stream at first glance, but after spending some time participating, I can say that I’m a believer in Branch and am cheering for its success.
But, the true future and nourishment of Branch is dependent on its users. This could also be a downfall, as we’ve seen what conversations can lead to when people who post hide behind a mask of anonymity. On Branch, your social profile (synched with either Facebook or Twitter) is open for others to see. The site acknowledges that constructive discourse can lead to great discoveries and encourages users to keep this in mind when conversing with one another.
From what has been seen so far on Branch, notable tech journalists have relied on the platform to talk about industry trends. Not necessarily using the site as an extension of comments for their own articles, but as a platform where detailed thoughts can be collected and expanded upon for the sake of advancing the dialogue around a particular topic.
If you feel skeptical about Branch and see it as just another commenting system, go to the site read through some of the conversations. If this is where the social web is heading, then I’m definitely on board.