On Valentine’s Day, Joshua Kushner—brother of Jared Kushner, senior advisor and son-in-law to President Donald Trump—announced the release of an app, Bedford, via his Instagram and Twitter pages, complete with a heart-eye emoji.
“For some time, I have been thinking about what it would be like to have a space on my phone for just Karlie and myself,” the post reads, referring to Kushner’s wife, supermodel Karlie Kloss. The post describes how Kushner spent the past few months creating a private messaging app designed to let you interact via text, video, and photo with the single most important person in your life—“a partner, friend, parent, grandparent, etc.” Posts disappear 48 hours later.
Bedford is not the only new app designed to change our relationship with social media by creating safe, intimate spaces for just a few select people. November saw the debut of Cocoon, a network—founded by two former employees of Facebook—that connects up to 12 family members. And earlier this month, the former founders of anonymous app Secret launched Ikaria, an app “built for close relationships.” Another, True, is a private messaging app restricted to small groups.
By allowing you to interact with only one other person, Bedford takes this idea of relationship building with restricted messaging to its ultimate conclusion. Whether it (or a similar app) will ever take off or not, is still an open question.
After you download Bedford and sign up, you can invite a partner by entering the person’s phone number. The actual interface and the promise of ephemerality are Snapchat-like, and perhaps that makes sense—in his post, Kushner thanks, among others, Jesse Chand, a product designer at Snapchat. There’s a screen for taking a photo or video; a swipe reveals a chat page. “Say something nice ;)” a text box at the bottom of the screen says.
After 48 hours, the messages are supposed to disappear. (It doesn’t always work. Several days after my partner and I had tested the messaging, one of our messages remained, rather defeating the purpose of the app.)
What Bedford purports to offer isn't entirely new, of course. Other apps have been competing to offer a more private alternative to Facebook and Twitter for at least a decade, according to Joseph Bayer, an assistant professor at Ohio State University, where he studies the intersection of social media, social networks, and mobile technology. Path was one of the first social-media apps to restrict users, while Together used ephemeral messaging before Signal and Telegram. The latter two apps have since developed small but loyal followings among security experts talking to sources and people not wanting to compromise their privacy.
But the release of Bedford and Ikaria within a week of each other also acts as “a new form of societal criticism,” says Bayer, referring to a backlash against Facebook over its data-handling lapses and influence in the 2016 US election. These newer apps appeal to a growing number of millennials and Gen Zers who are concerned with privacy yet still want to connect. The networks’ selling points are security and small size, not the chance to amass likes or followers. (Bedford’s privacy statement suggests that it might collect information on what web pages a person visits while using the app. The Bedford team declined to comment.)
But all new social-media apps face the same problem. How do you get people to sign up? People who adopt new apps “run into network effects” quickly, Bayer says. Getting friends or family to break habits and take up a new, unfamiliar app is hard.
Making these apps financially viable is a problem too, although this might not be as big a barrier for Bedford as it is for others social-media startups. Kushner is the son of real estate magnate Charles Kushner, and is the founder and managing partner for investment firm Thrive Capital. Bedford’s listed office address is located in the Puck Building in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, a property owned by his brother and father. In 2018, Thrive raised funds worth about $1 billion.
Even so, the question remains: does a social network of just two people actually work?
For us, at least, Bedford was lackluster. My partner and I are heavy texters (yes, even in the same house), and the ephemerality of the messaging wasn’t a draw for us: we weren’t saying anything particularly secretive. Bedford’s capabilities of photo, video, and text were ones that we already had in iMessage, and we almost immediately reverted back to texting. Bedford’s promise of bringing us closer together seemed pretty overhyped—at least for us. I'm not convinced it will ever take off.
But it’s still possible that future apps like Bedford become the way we segment our relationships in the future. Facebook might morph into a general catch-all for people we know or follow, but our most meaningful interactions might occur in a virtual space where the audience knows us outside the screen, says Bayer.
“Some people gravitate to one end of the spectrum,” he says. “My guess is introverts don’t want or need bigger networks. They’re privacy sensitive. That’s partly why Telegram and Signal are doing okay. You can have close to private communications with the people you care about.”