Usually one doesn’t move into a dorm as a senior at Princeton… and then leave a couple of days later. But such is the logical next step of your life if you are Josh Miller, co-founder of Branch, an innovative social media tool that departs from the Twitter model by emphasizing discussion-based “roundtable” type conversation. Miler is not exactly a Mark Zuckerberg clone. I first saw his name on Forbes’s recent 30 Under 30 list.
Zuckerberg, as we all know, came up with Facebook as a student at Harvard. Perhaps he started the project as a public service for students, but he soon saw the commercial potential of social media. Miller is slightly different because he seems to be approaching social media from an ideological perspective. There is no contradiction here. Great entrepreneurs can be committed ideologues and vice versa.
Miller is no stranger to getting behind a cause. He organized a major scholarship as a teenager, and even addressed the Aspen Ideas Festival. Before founding Branch, Miller worked for Meetup. His patrons for Branch include Twitter’s co-founders, who run a tech incubator, the Obvious Corporation. Basically, Miller has solid backing and is supremely connected.
Miller wants to solve a serious problem plaguing social media: lack of civil conversation. Internet interaction can fast turn nasty. There’s even a special word – flaming – for escalating insults traded in comment sections and chatrooms. Twitter can be conversational, but it’s naturally designed as a platform to monologue. A tweet exchange does not a conversation make. Branch will change all that with an amped up version of a chatroom, curated conversations, and a platform that encourages participation on the one hand and reader interest on the other.
Branch has raised $2 million in seed funding, and looks very likely to take off. The idea of replicating a chat between friends at a cafe seems deceptively simple. But to pull it off apparently takes someone like Miller, with the right activist credentials, academic pedigree, and backing from social media gurus.