One of the biggest problems as social networking has gotten to scale is the “social” part. No amount of code can describe the nuances of people’s relationships, and nothing that companies have thrown at the wall to solve that problem – lists, algorithms, circles — has stuck.
And when many in tech are in doubt, they just drop another app.
That’s the general trend that has led to new iOS app Beehive. The premise is simple: You can connect your Facebook (s fb), Instagram, and Twitter (s twtr) accounts and select six users from each to be in your “beehive.”
The app pulls your chosen users’ updates into a standardized feed that is your very own curated selection of favorite social updates. It’s an attempt to stymie the information overflow that is today’s social networking world, where it isn’t out of the ordinary to have thousands of “friends” and people you follow.
Of course, it’s a problem that companies ranging from Google to Facebook have tried to solve before. After all, the big initial draw of Google+ was its easy way to sort new friends into “circles” so you could share different updates with different types of people. Too bad it turned out no one wanted to use Google+ or deal with the cognitive overload of sorting friends.
Facebook, hearing the clamoring of the masses, soon followed suit with its “smart list” functions, which sort some of your friends into acquaintances, family, and coworkers. “Lists” got a lot of fanfare when it first launched, but it has since been shuttled off into the recesses of the Facebook profile, a button that’s challenging to find and even harder to use, and a feature that’s not even offered on the mobile app anymore.
Once upon a time Facebook promised that its newsfeed algorithm would solve the overwhelming updates issue, automatically analyzing the importance of certain user relationships and surfacing the content of the most significant friends. But with changes to the newsfeed occurring all the time, Facebook appears to have deprioritized that feature in favor of focusing on content articles. Facebook is still the main dumping ground where many people go to update their loved — and less loved — ones, and anyone using it for that needs a way to filter out the noise.
Whether Beehive is the app that’s going to do that for people remains to be seen. Out the outset, it seems unlikely. For one thing, the founder Jack Kendall is a first time app creator based far away from any sources of venture capital or tech networking – near Birmingham, UK. For another, Beehive gets caught in the same trap Google Plus faced with circles. People don’t want to spend mental energy sorting through their list of Facebook friends, Twitter followees, and Instagram users to pick the most important ones.
Beehive would do better with an algorithmic approach that automatically generated the user’s closest friends’ feeds. A long-ago Beehive competitor, Katango, managed to build such technology back in 2011. It was geared for finding top Facebook friends then, but Google soon snapped up the company and integrated the Katango team into Google+.
Kendall doesn’t think the algorithm is the solution. “If Facebook can’t do this with their algorithm, I doubt a smaller [company] could, especially because Facebook has access to more data,” Kendall said Wednesday in an interview with Gigaom. “I would use that if it came along, but it’s not here.”
Beehive may not be the app to solve this particular problem, but perhaps it’s a predecessor to one that does. Like Kendall said: I’d use it.