I'm happy to announce that Convo is now generally available. It is still in alpha and some features are missing, but the core functionality is stable 🚀.
In its first release, Convo has two primary features: events and messaging. Convo events make it easy to plan events with real people. You can invite your guests by name or email and they can RSVP in one click without having to create accounts of their own.
Convo also allows you to message with people directly via Convos. A Convo is a layer over email that makes it easy to connect with people by their real names without revealing any personal contact info.
I built Convo in response to my own difficulties with Facebook and other social media platforms. These difficulties range from the practical to the philosophical. Here are a few of these problems and how I'm trying to solve them with Convo.
📲 Minimal notifications. According to my iPhone, on any given day, I receive an average of over one hundred notifications on upwards of ten apps. In building Convo, the last thing I wanted was to introduce yet another source of notifications to check. That is why I decided to program Convo to send notifications over email. It's a channel that most are adept at using and which induces less anxiety than push notifications. Moreover, I decided to keep notifications to a minimum. There are only a few triggers that cause you to receive a notification.
Convos. Someone sends a message to you directly in a Convo.
Events. Someone sends an invitation, updates an invitation, or cancels an event.
Digest. Convo sends a daily digest email of only those messages that you have not seen. If you haven't missed anything, you don't receive an email at all.
👤 No account required. Creating accounts on myriad web sites is annoying, especially if you don't really intend to use the site you're creating an account on. According to my 1Password app, I have accounts on over 250 websites, most of which I never use. On Convo, when you create an event, your guests can RSVP in one click without signing up. If your guests wish to create accounts of their own, they can do so by linking their Facebook or Google accounts in just one click, but they don't have to. What's more, if you start a Convo with someone via email, they can respond to the email directly. There is no need for them to create an account at all
👨👨👧👦 Critical mass of people. One advantage of Facebook is that everyone is on it. If I meet someone I'm interested in, but forget to ask for their contact info, I can find them on Facebook and get in touch or invite them to an event. While it is ambitious, I hope that Convo can one day achieve this scale. This would solve the problem of wanting to invite friends whose contact info you don't know to parties that you're hosting. It would also create a new, safe space for people to connect via Convos. Since Convos are private, blockable, and slower paced, starting a Convo with someone does not come with the risk of harassment that connecting on other social media platforms does. Moreover, since Convos are essentially just emails, the tone of the connection feels different and more mature than fast paced messaging solutions.
✨ Modern UI. I appreciate good design and easy-to-use web applications. Most web applications I use, however, are utilitarian — they get the job done, but not well or easily. I've tried my best to make Convo beautiful, simple, and straightforward to use. I want it to have the best user experience possible and I welcome any feedback — good or bad.
There are also a few philosophical reasons why I decided to build Convo. One reason is that I'd prefer not to support Facebook. The argument for this position is that Facebook, like all institutions, is under an obligation not to knowingly harm the communities that it serves. Research has begun to show that social media does in fact do harm by incentivizing behavior that exacerbates division. But Facebook has not responded meaningfully to these charges.
My take on the problem more generally is this. There is a gap between the conduct that we expect from the leaders of our great companies and what is legally required of them. The extent of the law in America is limited — rightly so, I believe. But just because some behavior is not illegal or cannot be regulated reasonably does not mean that it should persist (consider adultery, for example). The leaders of Facebook, I'm afraid, have decided that it is more important to meet the expectations of their investors than to meet the moral standards of the communities they serve.
This kind of problem is endemic to modern capitalism, but still I remain a capitalist. The solution, I believe, is for the individuals who make up these companies to be more conscientious. It is also for communities to support companies whose leaders demonstrate moral character over those who do not.
I'm just making a messaging and events app here; and in my day job I'm software engineer at Amazon, another giant tech company, so I understand that this lofty talk may be received with skepticism. Nevertheless, I want to say that I take these obligations seriously. The odds that Convo succeeds are slim, but if it does, I want it to help to ameliorate our communities and not further divide them.
So far, the concrete steps I've taken to fulfill this promise are these. I've made all of the source code to Convo public on GitHub. That way anyone can see how user data is being used; and anyone can open an issue or PR to point out something unsafe or untoward.
Secondly, I've tried to structure the user experience of Convo in such a way that the typical problems of social media cannot occur. It is not possible to broadcast snark or invective to nameless strangers on Convo. Notifications on events come only once a day and Convos themselves (though not events) are currently limited to just eleven members — these things make it difficult for fights among strangers to break out.
There is a question as to whether such a platform can succeed. Is part of the explanation for the success of social media that it is in some ways indulgent? In other words, can a social media platform that tries to encourage civil conduct succeed? Or would people find it too boring? I'm not completely sure of the answers to these questions, but I think it is worthwhile to run the experiment.
I have a lot of ideas for Convo and I'm looking forward to expanding its feature set over the coming months and to reimagining what social media can be. I hope that you will join.