Kullect Reinvents Blogging for the Smartphone Era
Blogs are coming up on their 15th birthday—the term “weblog” was coined in December 1997, according to Wired (though it wasn’t shortened to “blog” until 1999). What’s interesting is how little the form has changed in that time. A typical blog is still just a collection of text-based essays or articles and comments written on a computer and posted to the Web in reverse chronological order.
What if you were reinventing the blog from scratch—what tools would you want to build to serve the same basic sharing impulse? You probably wouldn’t limit people to creating posts just on their desktops or laptops. In fact, you would want to encourage them to publish primarily from the devices they have with them all the time, their smartphones or tablets.
And it wouldn’t be just about text. You’d want to make it easy for people to publish photos, videos, map locations, and other media. You might not even restrict people to having a single blog—you’d want them to be able to create as many online collections as they want. And you’d probably want to make collaboration easier, so that many people could publish to the same collection.
In other words, you might build Kullect.
The creation of two former UCLA computer science grad students, Kullect looks at first glance like YAMPSA—Yet Another Mobile Photo Sharing App. And in a week dominated by the flabbergasting news of Facebook’s $1 billion acquisition of Instagram, it’s hard not to be a little jaded about the huge wave of mobile/social app developers hoping to follow in Instagram founder Kevin Systrom’s footsteps. It all feels like a repeat of the frothy days of 2004, when a zillion social networks like Tribe.net, LiveJournal, Orkut, LinkedIn, Spoke, MySpace, Friendster, and Everyone’s Connected were competing for our attention. (Most of these, of course, would soon be obliterated by Facebook, which was then in its infancy.)
But Kullect stands out in some interesting ways. I’ve spent some time recently with creators Sasank Reddy and Jeff Mascia, both before and after they won the prize for best startup at last week’s O’Reilly Media’s Where 2012 conference in San Francisco. Their app is very young—it debuted on Valentine’s Day—and only about 1,000 people are using it so far, according to Reddy. I have no idea whether it will become the next Instagram. (If I had perfect instincts about these things, I’d quit journalism and become a venture capitalist.) But I think it has promise, and I’m particularly intrigued by the way Reddy and Mascia have transcended simple media sharing, through design choices that make Kullect into something more like a tool for storytelling.
How is storytelling different from media sharing? Open up any of today’s top mobile media-sharing networks on your smartphone—like Instagram or Picplz for photos, Klip for videos, or Path for group sharing—and what you see is a random stream of disconnected items, stretching infinitely from today into last week, last month, and last year. Each individual item in a stream may represent somebody’s special moment or act of curation, but there are no mechanisms within these platforms for ordering things or imposing a theme. No pattern emerges. It’s just one damn thing after another.
Which is a little too much like real life, if you ask me. What’s missing is a sense of context. I’d get a lot more out these apps if I understood why people share the things they do, or how they fit into a larger story. That’s the whole point of Kullect.
As the name suggests, the app is all about building collections. (The company calls them “kullections,” but I’m going to be a spelling stalwart on that one.) As with other media sharing apps, Kullect lets you follow other users, and there’s an activity stream showing who is doing what, but the real action takes place in the collections. They’re like extended, multimedia blog posts.
Seemingly small design choices can make a big difference in the way a community uses a social application, and in the case of Kullect, Sasank and Mascia deliberately chose to make users think more about why they’re contributing content. In Kullect, you can’t create a post—which can consist of a photo, a 10-second video, a place (sort of like a check-in), or a written thought of up to 250 characters—without assigning it to a new or existing collection.
You can have as many collections as you want, and a collection can have any theme you want—I’ve seen Kullect users posting pictures from trips they’re taking, lists of their favorite bars or clubs, and varieties of roses in their gardens. But whatever the theme, a collection amounts to a kind of story about what you’re doing or what you’re passionate about.
In effect, you’re showing people a slice of your mind, rather than just a slice of time. “Instead of being this stream of consciousness, it’s better for things to be a little organized, so there’s more context associated with a post,” says Reddy. “By naming a collection, you give people much more insight into why you’re doing it.”
Reddy himself has a collection called “Everyday SF” that includes sights, sounds, and people he’s encountered around San Francisco. (He’s a recent transplant from Los Angeles, so it’s all new to him.) “Every time I find something where I think ‘this really represents San Francisco,’ I put it in there,” he says. This collection may be a long, unfinished story, but it’s … Next Page »