Holiday dinners hosted by my wife’s family are bound to have three things: sugary desserts; copious amounts of wine; and heated discussions about politics. The exact mix changes depending on the holiday, but each of those things is bound to be there, just as sure as there will be a smorgasbord of different foods.
A new messaging app called Breaker wants to encourage people to have those conversations without requiring them to gorge themselves on turkey or guzzle untold glasses of wine every time they want to discuss something in the news. Instead, it blends content discovery features with a dedicated message platform.
The app works by asking people to identify their interests. Once they do, it will recommend content it culls from hundreds of different sources to them. If they like what they read and want to discuss it with someone else, they can do so right from the app, instead of switching between services like Nuzzel and WhatsApp.
Breaker chief executive Shailo Rao says the app is supposed to facilitate private, meaningful conversations. “Instead of broadcasting to all your friends or all the people who follow you,” like you would via social networks like Facebook and Twitter, “it’s all about having a focused conversation with just a few friends.”
Those conversations are facilitated by a feature that allows people to send the same link to multiple people either as a group or as individual conversations. This makes it easier to talk about things with more than one person without forcing people to participate in hellish group messages they can never escape.
Rao says this feature rose from research he did as an intern at Google, when he found that Google Chat users would often send links to multiple people at the same time, but didn’t want to lump everyone into the same conversation. This seems small, but in day-to-day usage it could make life a lot easier for people.
That’s the thinking behind another feature that allows Breaker users to hold conversations through the platform even if their friends don’t use the app. If that’s the case, Breaker will send an SMS message to the non-user with a link to a Web view where they can see the article being discussed and talk about it.
That isn’t the most elegant process — who wants to tap a link to have a conversation through a mobile Web browser? — it could help Breaker sidestep the problem of consumers being overwhelmed by the sheer number of services they have to use if they want to be able to communicate with all their friends.
“People have enough messaging apps on their phones,” Rao says. “It’s okay because there’s a centralized inbox with the lockscreen, so people can manage multiple messaging apps because that’s the pathway into them, but it is tough to get all your friends to download another messaging app.” That’s understating it.
There’s also the problem of convincing people to use another content discovery platform. Many could already use something like Flipboard or Nuzzel, which have the benefits of being around longer and name recognition, and they might not be keen to switch to a different app just to make it easier to chat with friends.
Breaker has raised $375,000 from Tandem Capital and undisclosed angel investors. The app is currently available on iOS, and will debut on Android later. Right now it’s available for free, but Rao says eventually the app could utilize in-app purchases or advertising, once it has a large enough user base to do so.
Will that happen? It depends on how well the politically-charged conversations held around dinner tables across the country translate to a messaging app, how many people want to download another messaging app when they can send links via existing apps without too much hassle, or how often people really talk about their interests with friends and family with any sort of depth or meaningfulness.