A team of local developers are trying to carve out a space in the crowded social media landscape with a new app that they hope can set itself apart by focusing on a particular feature that has become a hot-button issue for many of the biggest social networks: privacy.
“Right now, I think everybody wants something that’s more privacy-focused,” said Vancouver resident Kody Gordon, who serves as the business development director on the app’s five-person team.
The social network is called Slyde, and the team officially launched it in December following a short beta testing phase. The app has managed to make an outsized splash in a relatively short time, which Gordon attributed in part to a pair of videos about the app that unexpectedly went viral on the video-sharing platform TikTok earlier this year, causing daily sign-ups to rise from about 1,000 to about 7,000.
The main pitch for the site is that it minimizes the amount of user data it collects, such as by scrubbing metadata (location information and timestamps) from user-uploaded photos.
The site also eschews targeted advertising — ads that are algorithmically chosen for individual users based on their online activity — with the goal of sustaining itself through a mix of general-purpose ads and an ad-free premium subscription option.
“I don’t think anybody has an issue with ads, per se,” Gordon said. “I think targeted ads are really what creep people out.”
Premium service subscriptions are an increasingly common online phenomenon, although Facebook and some other big social networks haven’t implemented them.
In a January post on the company’s blog, CEO Tony Bertolo said that Slyde’s founders think that a straight pay-for-service model would be a turn-off for too many potential users, so the team plans to take inspiration from the site Patreon by giving premium subscribers digital tokens that can be passed on to their favorite channels and creators on the site.
Recipients can exchange their tokens for money, Bertolo wrote, and the goal is for 70 percent of the premium subscription revenue to untimely go back to creators.
The app also bills itself as a platform that offers users more control over their online presence and the content that shows up on their own Slyde feeds, with a system of user communities that Gordon described as “more like a Reddit than a Facebook” and anonymous upvoting and downvoting tools for individual posts.
But despite drawing inspiration from Reddit, Gordon said that Slyde is aimed first and foremost at a different target.
“Our goal is to replace Facebook,” he said.
Bertolo’s recent blog posts discussed what he described as general user dissatisfaction with Facebook and a lack of viable alternative platforms.
Gordon, 31, has been a social media user since the days of MySpace and Digg, and he said his dissatisfaction with Facebook took root around the time the company acquired then-competitor Instagram in 2012.
“I think you become your own worst enemy when you get that big and you start trying to buy out the competition,” he said.
The team consists of Gordon, Bertolo and three others, all of whom live in the Portland area: chief communications officer Taylor Ybarra, head of entertainment partnerships Tanner Dingman and chief technology officer Pat Slocum.
The group began discussing the idea about three years ago, Gordon said, after Bertolo told Gordon and some other friends about a social media concept that he and Dingman had started to develop years earlier, back in the era when MySpace and Facebook were competing for social media dominance.
Their project didn’t go anywhere at the time, but the group began to discuss how they might go about reviving the effort, and what a modern version of the network would look like.
The group began to seriously pursue the idea in late 2019, Gordon said, and development was able to proceed quickly last year while most of the team was stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gordon said Slyde is still more of a hobby than a full-time job for the team members, although that could change as soon as this summer once the site hits a critical mass of users and starts generating enough revenue to support the team.
The next step after that will probably be to expand the team, he said, starting with staff to run a help desk. More programmers and marketing personnel will probably follow eventually, he said, although that’s further down the road.
“Right now, we have moderation tools but no actual people, it’s just us moderating,” he said.
Moderation is another area where the creators hope Slyde can set itself apart. The group doesn’t want the site to become a haven for misinformation — Gordon cited anti-mask and anti-vaccine content as two examples of things that the team doesn’t want to see going viral on Slyde, especially during the pandemic — but he criticized some of the recent moderation strategies on Facebook and Twitter that have involved directly blocking or flagging objectionable content, describing them as a slippery slope.