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Will Branch fit into crowded social networking world?

New conversation site wants users to share with social heavyweights - Facebook, Twitter

The social networking world may be a busy place with users loyal to their favorites, but a co-founder of start-up Branch says his new network should easily blend in.

"We absolutely see ourselves as being complimentary to everything else," said Josh Miller, who co-founded Branch, a new social discussion site. "We don't like the way that other companies point out negatives about other sites. We think Twitter is amazing. We think Facebook is amazing.... I think we'll fit right in."

Branch, which is in public beta with invitations only available by request, is a site focused on helping people have online conversations. On the site, users are able to pick who they want to talk with. Users also can try to be added to a conversation by clicking on an "Ask to Join" button.

"It's like putting people in a room together and having them talk," Miller told Computerworld. "They're swapping messages like they would in email or IM or around the table. It's all about talking to people you know."

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, agrees that there is room for Branch to fit into the social networking world.

"Branch fills a gap opened by Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Quora to enable high-quality conversations without the noise," he said. "It also takes advantage of the desire for more intimate, private conversations of self-selected groups.... Branch is trying to find a way to lower the signal-to-noise ratio of babblers to meaningful participants."

Even so, Jim McGregor, an analyst with TIRIAS Research, said that with so many social tools already available, Branch could find it difficult to get any traction.

"Conversations could be done with the tools that are available today, namely Facebook and Twitter," said McGregor. "I think this is more of a solution looking for a problem than the other way around. At this point, there are so many tools available that I think it is going to be difficult for any newcomer to standout from the crowd, not to mention finding a way to make money at it."

Branch, though, has a lot of support. The business is backed by Obvious Corp., the company piloted by Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams.

On Branch, conversations are open to the public, though, at this point, the site doesn't have a way to search for users or particular conversation topics. However, the main page on the site lists the day's hot topics, like Hiking the Grand Canyon, Berlin Trip Tips and Advice for Friends Who Feel Stuck in their Careers.

Miller noted that Branch conversations also are Google-able.

"Facebook and Twitter have said you cannot do that, but we are just the opposite," he said. "We see a lot of traffic from Google."

The co-founder also was quick to note that users are encouraged to share their conversations.

"Other platforms want you to have your conversations just on that platform," said Miller. "We take a completely different approach. You can invite people by email or Twitter. When you're done, you can embed it on your blog, or share it on Facebook or Twitter. We want to be intertwined with the rest of the Web."

Being able to have conversations with people invited into the discussion, along with the ability to then share that conversation, is a good combination -- one that could help Branch stand out, said Brad Shimmin, an analyst with CurrentAnalysis.

"My take is that most conversations that take place on social networking platforms are nothing more than an initial announcement followed by a series of approving or disproving comments," said Shimmin. "In that atmosphere, ideas aren't taken apart, analyzed and put back together, forming new ideas or bettering initial thoughts. That's why so many of these social conversations end in drivel or in anger."

But to make all of this happen, Branch will need to work well in conjunction with other social sites, he added.

"It will need to connect with and take advantage of the circles of friends already in place within social platforms like Google+, Facebook, and Twitter," said Shimmin. "If it tries to go it alone, we're simply discussing yet another destination site here."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is [email protected].

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

Read more about social media in Computerworld's Social Media Topic Center.


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