After an amazing year, Branch is starting 2013 by coming out of invite-only beta and opening up to the world. Beginning today, anyone can visit branch.com and start a branch or a group right away. (No more wait list!)
We have a few big improvements to unveil, too. We took out a bit here, added a bit there — all in the name of a more rewarding product experience. Below, I’ll tell you about what’s new and why it’ll make Branch an even better place to talk to each other.
Highlights: Rethinking Positive Feedback
Creating content online can be nerve-racking and time-consuming, so we think it’s especially important to give feedback and encouragement to the people who do openly share their ideas.
We’re used to doing this using actions like Favorites, Likes and Hearts. Upvotes and downvotes. These gestures are powerful, but we wanted to create a feedback mechanism that signals not if something is good or bad, but whether it’s worthy of your time. Content can be interesting, controversial, original, thoughtful, or funny — and worth reading, and worth telling other people to read — but still not feel quite right with a big red heart on it.
In school, we’re taught to highlight something when it’s core to understanding what we read — when it’s important, notable. With this metaphor in mind, we’ve built highlights for Branch.
Simply double-click any sentence in a branch to highlight it. You can also type into the text box that appears to branch the sentence off into a new conversation.
We think this serves two purposes: creating valuable feedback for writers by letting them know when something they write is great, and a helpful signal for other readers by making branches easier to skim.
Activity Feed: Know Who’s Listening
One of our design principles is “People matter most.” We think this is real magic of publishing on the internet: it lets you connect with other people. We wanted to bring this spirit to Branch, so now, as soon as you arrive at branch.com, you’ll see who’s listening to what you have to say.
Your Branch homepage tells you when people watch or view your branches, highlight something you said, or watch or join your groups. We were inspired by the illuminating analytics of a dashboard, the community of Twitter’s Connect tab, and the jovial vibe of Foursquare’s feed.
More than just giving you numbers to optimize, we designed this as a way to help you feel more connected to people who care about what you have to say. Our hope is that by showing you that people listen to your ideas, you’ll feel more empowered to share them.
A New Way To Start Branches: Write Like You Talk
The hardest part of writing is making your ideas sound good.
Think about the last time you had an idea. It sounded great in your head, right? It was coherent and convincing. It just made sense — and you probably wanted to share it with someone. But when you tried to turn it into a paragraph, you got frustrated. You wrote and rewrote, chopped up sentences to “make it flow,” and flipped back-and-forth between the dictionary and thesaurus. All while you heard the same nagging question: “Will anyone even read this?”
Now think about how you would have shared that exact same idea in the real world, if you were sitting around a table with friends. You wouldn’t be worried about diction or prepositions, or whether you had a perfect introductory sentence. In person, eloquence isn’t as important as getting across the heart of your idea. Communication, not presentation, matters.
We want sharing your ideas on Branch to feel just like sharing your ideas around a table with friends. With that goal in mind, we’ve redesigned what it feels like to start a branch.
We noticed that the real world, we often speak point-by-point, letting thoughts roll out one right after another:
The Knicks are doing so well this season!
Carmelo has really hit his stride.
Imagine how much better they’ll be when Amare returns.
Now, when you start a branch, you’ll be able do just that: quickly jot down what’s on your mind — as informally and casually as you would to a friend. That’s it! We think you’ll be surprised by how much easier it is to get your ideas out of your head.
SoundCloud and Spotify: Play Music In Branches
Sometimes little changes can make a big impact. That’s why we decided to integrate Branch with two of our favorite music sharing services — SoundCloud and Spotify — to let you share and listen to music right in your branches.
We noticed that you love using Branch to talk about your favorite songs and share your newest finds, but until now, you had to use embedded videos to do it. Now, you can just paste links to songs from either service right into your post. Just like we do for articles, photos, and videos, we’ll make your picks look great and let you listen inline.
Finally, I’d like to acknowledge the amazing team that has made all of this happen: Hursh, Cemre, Andrew, Libby, Julius and Ian.
Head over to branch.com, and add any of us to a branch to let us know what you think. We’d love to talk about how we can make Branch better.
Thanks for listening,