The future of social is on the web

Back in 2007 when I was making my dent in the early YouTube community everyone was talking about the “social web”. Then Steve Jobs launched the first iPhone, which set in motion a huge shift from the open web to the walled gardens of mobile operating systems.

For the past decade the biggest players in social have fought over their App Store and Google Play Store rankings. Many social products like Instagram and Snapchat remained mobile-only for years and have only recently started expanding offerings to the desktop web. A personal favorite is the Snap map for web.

In 2018 when we started building a place to have shared experiences we focused our efforts entirely on the mobile app experience, starting with Squad for iOS. There we were the first consumer social company to bring a simple, fun way to screen share from inside of an app to your friends while video chatting together.

But in the past year as we considered where the next big opportunity might be for growing user engagement and retention we started turning our gaze to the desktop web.

What if we could allow people to hang out and do things together, without making them install or download anything?

While we had no way of knowing that social distancing and shelter-in-place orders would soon and dramatically shift attention from smartphones to larger screens, we watched as users spent hours holding their phones up to be able to talk and watch things together on small screens.

Our users are primarily teenagers, and 88% of them have home computers— either provided by schools or parents — so several months ago we started experimenting with the idea of shifting resources toward giving them an option to hang out on Squad outside of their phones. It was a big bet for a small company to make but I’m convinced that it was the right choice.

The future of social is on the web.

Building mobile-only experiences is a waste of time if you’re looking to capture the attention of a diverse, global audience in 2020.

It’s why I’m so excited to be launching Squad For Web.

Squad is now available on desktop web

This furthers our mission of reducing loneliness and increasing human connection, which is needed now more than ever.

By expanding from our iOS and Android apps to the web, we’re making it even easier to experience the same thing as your friends. Our screen sharing is optimized specifically for watching videos so you can use any streaming service while video or voice chatting. (Yes, that means watching Netflix, Hulu & more together.)

We’ve designed it for watching long form content together, like TV shows and movies, so you can be together when you’re physically apart.

The extra screen real estate also enables Squad to keep chat separate from the stream itself — whereas in the app the chat thread overlays on the video you’re watching.

Here are a few things I think you’ll love:

🍿 Voice, video and chat while watching literally anything

💜 It’s a living room, not a stage — each room can hold 9 people — and just like at home, only 1 person needs to log in to their streaming service to screen share with the room

📣 Open a room, copy the link, and have friends instantly join you from the desktop web or inside our iOS and Android apps

👀 Browse & cowatch YouTube, TikTok and select movies, no screen sharing required

📺 Connect or cast your laptop to your TV for an immersive experience

How Coronavirus Is Changing Social Behavior

Screens have been with us for over 100 years. In that time we’ve had many of humanity’s most impressive breakthroughs in science, art and culture. We’ve had social movements of racial, sexual and gender equality. Undoubtedly the ability to see each other’s lives and experiences through screens enabled much of the change that’s occurred in the last century.

Watching and engaging with visual stories helps us gain a new level of empathy, compassion and connection. In a world where we live farther apart from our families and friends, this matters for maintaining our psychological and physical health.

Before Coronavirus, teens were already spending half their waking lives on screens — clocking in about seven hours a day. For the average office worker, it’s far more than that.

Now that we’re all stuck at home and unable to go out to movies, concerts, restaurants or school, even more time is being spent on our screens — but like I’ve said for years, screen time has never been the real problem. It’s what you do and how you’re left feeling that matters.

Teenagers and college students now attend school over Zoom. But after school ends, what comes next?

It’s often a rotation between text, voice & video chatting, playing games, and watching videos on YouTube, TikTok and Netflix.

While the world is looking for ways to stay connected and be entertained, people are turning away from their phones and spending more time on their desktop and TV screens.

In fact, one of the most surprising things we saw during our private beta of Squad For Web was how many people connected their laptops to their TVs to allow them to watch content together with family & friends while everyone lounged on their collective couches.

Credit: New York Times & their sources SimilarWeb, Apptopia. Note: Averages are calculated with traffic numbers from each date and the six days preceding it in order to smooth out weekly variations (weekend spikes are normal). Percent change is from the average on Jan. 21 to the average on March 24.

Although the economy will eventually re-open it’s clear that society will be forever changed after this shared trauma. That’s already being seen in Wuhan, China where city life is a dim version of its former self.

With so many small businesses struggling and jobs lost, it’s clear that it’ll be a long road of economic recovery. And odds are things will get worse before they get better.

Beyond the loss of personal income there’s the psychic shift that is just as important and real — there’s no forgetting the danger of being in large, crowded spaces even after cities begin lifting restrictions.

The entertainment industry will have to reimagine live events, concerts, and how people go to the movies. Squad will be there to provide a platform that makes it possible for these activities to exist in new and fun ways.

Quality time is about mutual engagement in a shared activity.

To feel connected to someone else you need to be able to let your guard down and be yourself with them. That can happen over a variety of modalities — text, photos, voice, video, augmented reality, virtual reality and in person. Each one brings its own advantages and disadvantages, but when combined and playfully intertwined, they collectively allow for a maximum expression of one’s self.

IRL interactions give us more information and depth of experience by being able to touch, taste and smell, but it can also be harder to express your feelings, intentions and ideas in person.

At Squad we’re using technology to bridge the gap so you can interact in a way that matches your comfort level at any given moment — while doing things together such as watching your favorite shows, listening to music, shopping… and often, just talking.

Video chats have grown exponentially during Coronavirus and it’s not slowing down anytime soon. While I believe video chat is a foundational feature of future social platforms, being able to turn off your camera and simply engage in audio or text interactions is critically important. On Squad you can choose the mode that matches your mood. What matters more is that you’re doing the thing you want together.

On Squad you can search for and cowatch your favorite TikTokers together

For so long social platforms have asked us all to perform our lives for each other. My belief is that the next generation of social products will allow for more synchronicity, serendipity and hopefully, finally, more authentic connection.

👉 Please give a 👏 if you’d like others to read it. Follow me on Twitter to stay in touch.

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Esther Crawford

Esther Crawford

3.6K Followers

Product at Twitter. Life story: “Nevertheless, she persisted.” Optimist. Technologist. Wearer of many hats.