Skip to Content
Uncategorized

A Twitter Tweak, or a Revolution in Online Discourse?

Branch—a startup created by two Twitter cofounders—hovers in a space between a private, lengthy e-mail thread and a public stream of tweets.
August 16, 2012

Twitter cofounder Evan Williams took less than 140 characters to ask on Monday: “What are the limitations of an invite-only conversation? What do you gain and what do you lose?”

The question was followed by a link to a discussion on Branch, a new site that he helped launch in public beta this week that enables this kind of conversation.

Billing itself as a “new way to talk to each other,” Branch is a startup launched through Obvious Corp., an incubator started by Williams and fellow Twitter cofounder Biz Stone. Paired with a second Obvious Corp. launch this week, Medium, a publishing tool “built from scratch,” it’s clear the two Web entrepreneurs believe there is still wide room for innovation in online discourse.

Before creating a new style of conversing with Twitter, Stone and Williams started Blogger, one of the first blog-publishing services, in 1999. “For the people that helped invent the medium, to be revisiting it is exciting,” says Anil Dash, a longtime technology blogger and entrepreneur who was also an informal advisor to Branch. 

Branch hovers in a space somewhere between a private, lengthy e-mail thread or online forum and a pithy, public stream of tweets. Discussions appear in chains, but posts can be only up to 750 characters, and anyone can view them. Unlike Twitter, not everyone can actually participate in a conversation; instead, a current participant must grant access. In addition, tangential topics can be “branched” from the main discourse, and new topics can be imported from Twitter itself. One can imagine a heated or thoughtful Twitter exchange ending with a “let’s take this over to Branch.” As one of the site’s founders, Josh Miller, notes, there are discussions that warrant more than 140 characters.

With few substantial changes in Web publishing or commenting methods over the last decade, the time may be right for both of these products, Dash says.

In his view, Branch, which has now raised $2 million in venture funding, would be successful “if people saw what those of us at the dawn of blogs saw—that you can have wonderful, meaningful conversations online. It’s not just people tearing each other down.”

The other Obvious Corp. venture, Medium, offers new ways to organize photos and text publishing with the goal of improving quality and participation rather than offering yet another way to share.

Branch’s future may be hinted at on the site Quora, which similarly enables people to engage in discussions and has already raised $61 million in venture funds since it launched in 2010. Quora is different, though, in that anyone can contribute and the focus is on answering topical questions, rather than conversing.

On Quora, Branch cofounder Miller asked the Quora founders whether they believe Branch is the competition (they have yet to answer). Miller also recently started tracking answers to the discussion: “What is it like to be acquired by Facebook?”

Deep Dive

Uncategorized

Five poems about the mind

DREAM VENDING MACHINE I feed it coins and watch the spring coil back,the clunk of a vacuum-packed, foil-wrappeddream dropping into the tray. It dispenses all kinds of dreams—bad dreams, good dreams,short nightmares to stave off worse ones, recurring dreams with a teacake marshmallow center.Hardboiled caramel dreams to tuck in your cheek,a bag of orange dreams…

Work reinvented: Tech will drive the office evolution

As organizations navigate a new world of hybrid work, tech innovation will be crucial for employee connection and collaboration.

The way forward: Merging IT and operations

Digital transformation in any industry begins with bridging the gap between two traditionally separate teams.

Investing in people is key to successful transformation

People-related factors like talent attraction and retention and clear top-down communication will determine whether your transformation progresses or stalls.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.