Twitter is, undeniably, an alluring tool. It’s changed the face of journalism, accelerated the accessibility of information, even enabled revolutions. It embodies a certain irresistible ambiance, and has earned at least an honorable mention in the ethos of our current cultural atmosphere.
It is not without failings, however.
In particular, it is not friendly to conversations. Multiple tools exist to extract a conversation from the tangled web of replies and retweets, but most of those tools feel like half-baked add-ons, layered on top of a faulty foundation.
Branch has built an entire platform on the art of conversation, not treating it as an afterthought, but as the centerpiece of a new offering. In their own words:
We want to bring the intimacy of a dinner table conversation to the openness of the internet.
The premise: thoughts are not meant to exist in a vacuum. Instead, their purpose is best served through conversation and debate. The initial 140 characters? That’s just the start. The real magic begins when that thought is expanded to our collective consciousness.
There are two ways to start a conversation: publish an original thought from your head or from the web, or pull in an existing conversation from Twitter (be it a single tweet or an conversation consisting of the initial tweet and subsequent @replies). The bookmarklet accomplishes this with ease in both cases. From there, the dialog begins.
If you choose to start a conversation on your own, you’re given the option to tweet it, and to add contributors via email or Twitter.
If you come across an interesting tweet on twitter.com, simply click the bookmarklet, which will ask you to click on the tweet in question, then pull the tweet and context into a Branch. It will automatically embed the tweet and invite the originator to contribute.
You can also start a conversation from any web page. Clicking the bookmarklet will grab the current url from your browser .
For maximum engagement, the conversation can be had on the Branch web
app, or it can be embedded in any other web entity. You can even fork a
conversation into another ‘branch’ of your own. Links and media are
previewed inline in the conversation itself. All of these small details
add up to a comprehensive and cohesive experience.
Want to find other conversations to join? Just head to the ‘featured’ page and see what discourse is taking place, then ask to join in or branch the conversation yourself.
Branch does conversations, and it does them well. It’s clear, though, that the folks behind this startup are immersed in the very culture of the web, meaning that they are building a product that they themselves want to see. Usually, this results in a much more useful and intuitive product. That seems to be the case here.
It’s also clear that they have more ambitions than an isolated product can sustain. Instead, they see themselves building an infrastructure, an ecosystem. That mindset becomes evident with a quick reading of the Branch blog. The most recent post shows an eye for detail and user experience: they’ve added three branches they believe are relevant at the bottom of the branch you’re currently viewing to make sure the conversation doesn’t stop where the web page does.
The second most recent post delves into the concept of publishing- where it stands, where it’s become stagnant, and how Branch can help.
The Branch team seems to have struck a delicate balance- on one hand, they’ve the vision to build a product that can be the foundation of an entire ecosystem, which is key for any web entity in today’s atmosphere (see Twitter, Evernote, Gmail, etc). Somehow, though, they’ve managed to balance that vision with an intuitive, detail-oriented approach to the app in its current iteration, making it both a pleasure to use and insanely useful. On that note, I'm obliged to mention that mobile apps are on the way.
As much as we say online, few places on the web allow for, let alone are predicated upon, the sheer delight of an engaging conversation. Branch takes the concept to its beautiful, inevitable next step.
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