N3twork came out of nowhere in June of this year with some very impressive stats: veterans from Electronic Arts(s ea), Apple(s aapl), and DeNA, and a Series A round of $12 million from Google(s goog) Ventures, Kleiner Perkins and Floodgate. But for all of its hype, there wasn’t really any product to show for it — other than a promise that it would be an app that would reinvent the Internet.
Now, as the company releases its app for iPhone and iPad on Thursday, there’s more context surrounding CEO Neil Young’s cryptic explanation of an “interest-centric network.”
“If you think about the way that the internet has developed, we’re in the twilight of its second iteration. The first iteration of the internet, from inception, was the Web. Great companies were born out of HTML and domains, and the ability to find web pages,” Young explained. “The second iteration of the Internet is the social web, or the Internet of people. The real manifestation of that is the profile, and it functions with posts.”
And the third, Young hopes, will be N3twork. From the outset, the app draws a lot of familiarity from traditional social networks: there’s a steady stream of content from people you know, presented in a standard feed. But the difference is that instead of only following people, users of N3twork can also follow things: basketball, cars, business and religion. Young says that users are able to make so-called “Channels” of organized content, which are immediately searchable and trackable through N3twork’s system via the hashtag.
“Hashtags are the lowest real-estate on the internet in terms of the quality associated with it,” Young said. “One of the things we’re trying to do is raising the quality of content for those hashtags.”
Within channels, users can post a variety of media, including entire web pages, photos and video. However, one glaring thing missing is social networks — N3twork users have the power to share their posts to Facebook(s fb) and Twitter(s twtr), but those posts can’t come in. Most of the time, Young noted, the value of the content is too low. This content value is an important aspect for Young — and it’s a big factor in contributing to the fact that the app requires an invitation.
N3twork is intuitive enough, but for those sick of the endless river of babies, puppies and engagement rings on Facebook, it’s hard to innately trust Young’s perfect vision of a clean, precise, informative network. While he assures that humans are simply “not wired” to fuss with channels on purpose, trolls on the internet exist. N3twork provides an interesting, novel way to browse and share the web, but it needs to do the same even without perfect use.
But for now, Young is just bracing for the growing pains. “I think at the end of the day, our focus is actually engagement, and how we take engagement metrics in the small test, where we have hundreds of people using, to thousands or millions of users,” Young said. “We want to make sure engagement metrics scale with audience metrics.”