Max Levchin’s latest: Homer, a creepily intimate look at what apps your friends use

9 Comments

My gchat pinged. “Why do you have Glow? Isn’t that the pregnancy app?” a Gigaom co-worker asked me.

Such was my introduction to the latest product to spring from Max Levchin’s R&D lab HVF: An app called Homer that just launched today. It connects to your contacts and lets you view their phone screens. That way you can see what apps your friends use and note which ones made the coveted homescreen cut.

The concept behind Homer isn’t revolutionary: Using social networks as an app discovery engine. For example, if you’re Max Levchin perhaps, you’d scope out your hardcore cycling friend’s screen for good bicycling apps. If you’re a foodie, maybe you check your chef friend’s screen. If you’re single, maybe you scope the dating apps of your crazy best friend.

It doesn’t appear to be a serious business endeavor for Levchin, who has his hands full with his new company Affirm and his data science lab HVF Labs, and tweeted that Homer was “for fun.” He worked on the app with his fellow co-founders Elliot Babchick and Jason Riggs. Homer appears to have snuck past the iOS store police, who once upon a time were tamping down on app discovery engines like Chomp and Tapjoy.

Homer offers a strangely intimate glimpse into another person’s life, and after signing up you could find yourself explaining to your friends and co-workers why, exactly, you have a pregnancy app downloaded on your phone (For those wondering, it’s because I’ve written about it).

Homer app: Adding your phone screens

The Homer app adds your phone screens during setup

The apps you use hint at who you are, what you care about and how you spend your time. With Homer, you put all that on display for the world, although you can hide certain apps from appearing after you set up your account or restrict who sees it to only people you approve.

What’s more unique than the premise of Homer is the execution.To set up your Homer account, you take screenshots of your phone screens and then connect your contact book and social media profiles. Levchin’s data-focused lab, HVF Labs, uses image recognition to analyze the app icons on your phone screen and pull up summaries of the actual apps themselves. That way you can click a friend’s app icon and get more information about what that app does, plus download it. It chooses what it believes are your “top four” apps and features them prominently in your profile.

Since the app just launched to the public today, it’s unlikely most of your friends will be using it. To keep you entertained in the meanwhile, there’s a trending section where you can stalk the likes of Max Levchin, Pulse’s Ankit Gupta and a bunch of random names you won’t recognize.

Although Homer certainly isn’t the first to tackle the app discovery problem, its social approach is intriguing. If you can get over the creep factor, it’s fun to stalk the screens of your fellow friends or public figures — the virtual version of poking around their living room and seeing what they’re all about.

Left: None of my contacts are on Homer yet. Center: Homer's trending screen Right: Max Levchin's user profile

Left: None of my contacts are on Homer yet. Center: Homer’s trending screen Right: Max Levchin’s user profile

9 Comments

Rob the Quiet

I don’t see how this would be any more revealing than faceboook or twitter lurking. In fact, I would think that facebook offering the possibility of watching likes and comments of someone who has not tamped down their privacy settings would be even more invasive. The mutual consent aspect makes it pretty innocuous, as long you’re not being reckless about what you share.

snuggles

I can’t think of a single good reason why I’d want to share with my friends what apps I use (first of all, I’d tell them I the good porn apps I have, if there were such a thing.) Second, I’d struggle to find the utility of such an app, let alone get friends to install an app.

“Hey Om my twitter friend, install this app so I can see what apps you use.”
#block

The headline needs work and is a letdown. When I read the headline I thought holy crap better delete those apps featuring puppies so my friends can’t find out I’m weird only to find out that I’d have to opt in in order to determine this. Screw that, I thought. Who’s going to do that?

In conclusion:
1) Fix the headline.
2) This app is kind of worthless.
3) If I want to know what apps you use, I’ll ask.

Stijn

Why doesn’t Apple do this themselves? They’ve got the store. And they know your contacts. Seems too easy to add a menu for “popular amongst my contacts”.

Trey Peden

If you can’t see someone’s screens until they submit screens to the app, then how were you introduced to the app by someone asking you about an app you have?

The setup (and the headline) for this piece seems to suggest that you’re seeing your friends’ apps without them giving you (and others) permission to see it. In reality, it seems like a pretty innocuous (almost to the point of lameness) way for you and your contacts to compare what apps you have.

Trey Peden

OK. I’ve read it twice and I still don’t get it. What is creepy about people actually looking at what you shared with them?

Carmel DeAmicis

Hey Trey, to me, the app felt “creepily intimate” because by using it I was peering into the lives of other people. It didn’t matter that they had voluntarily shared their information — it still felt as though I was inappropriately perusing something personal and private. When my coworker asked about my use of the Glow app, something I had downloaded ages ago and completely forgotten about, it further amplified that feeling.

Like with any product assessment, everyone will have their own subjective take.

Trey Peden

I’m not buying that.

Your headline and your setup for the story clearly suggests that you were somehow unwitting in offering the information out to your contacts.

You weren’t unwitting in this at all and, as a matter of fact, your friend’s gchat message was not at all your introduction to the app. Your introduction came when you downloaded it and subsequently provided your contacts with screen caps of the apps you downloaded. And at that point I have to believe you at least had some idea about what you were getting into there.

I simply can’t believe anyone actively reporting on tech has such a fundamental misapprehension about what it means to share information with a network of contacts. It seems more likely that you were trying to lead in with something that played off the current zeitgeist of privacy concerns with technology.

This is unfortunate on a couple of levels.

First of all, you’re doing so at the expense of someone else’s creation that is — if we’re being frank — is really pretty innocuous. (Although, I think there’s a legitimate use case for users to suppress which apps are shown to their contacts. Maybe you could make an enhancement request!)

Secondly, I think you skimmed right over a more interesting (to me, at least) aspect to this app release which is that is possibly reflects a change in Apple’s police regarding app discovery apps. Are they? Do you know or could you find any other discovery apps out there? Why does the creator of the app think it won’t get zapped under that policy?

I like your description of the differentiating aspect of this particular app from other discovery apps, but the attempt to paint it as creepy, voyeuristic, stalkery, or whatever strikes me as disingenuous or — at the very best — overemphasized.

Alistair Williams

You go Trey. I read that and thought the same.

Nothing unwitting about downloading and sharing from an app designed to do so.

alecmilius

I get it, it’s hard to complete with all the other tech sites, but come on. It seems like you had a link bait headline in mind from the start and wrote an article to support it, filled with made-up sensationalism.

The concept “isn’t revolutionary”, yet “strangely” intimate. How is this any different than sharing anything on social media with others? Like your location? Or things in the background of an Instagram picture? Is there something to be said that people should be careful about what they share, because some could be considered intimate? Sure, but write about it in another post. Don’t mix it in with an app review trying to portray the app like something it’s clearly not. That has nothing to do with your subjective take, you’re only trying to mislead readers into thinking something nefarious is going on.

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