At first blush, HalloApp is just WhatsApp with a newsfeed slung alongside. No great revolution here, you’d think. But I’d urge you to consider that this could actually be something quite major. Why? The newsfeed. Now the concept of a newsfeed in 2022 has something of a bad rep. If you were a news channel editor, looking for a stock background image to go with your section ‘teenage mental health problems go through the roof’, you’d probably reach for the one of a young person fixated on their phone, in the dark, scrolling.
Newsfeeds are addictive, they’re full of junk content, they create impossible standards of comparison that stoke everyone’s egos into over-drive. They’re bad news. But — this wasn’t how they were supposed to be. Remember the original Facebook Newsfeed? That was just your friends and family, posting innocuous, mundane, unpolished titbits from their daily lives.
And we should remember just what an astounding breakthrough the concept was. The basic idea is: we will pull together into one place all the day-to-day goings-on from everyone you know. Your old school friend you’ve not seen in years, your cousin who lives on another continent, all these people who you know but have no day-to-day (or perhaps even year-to-year) contact with. You’ll stay plugged into what they’re up to, this circle of several hundred people you would otherwise have mostly lost contact with, and it will help you keep a heartbeat of social connection going with them. At best this will act as a kind of by-chance springboard for creating deeper connections with people in your existing network — messaging them directly or actually meeting up offline.
Both Instagram and Facebook (and to some extent Linkedin) are sort of like this. But then they’re also not, because people have taken to using them for self-advancement (entire businesses are built off Instagram), which promotes a polished, performative style of posting — difficult standards for the ordinary person to live up to — and others have realised that they are fantastic places to garner attention. This in turn puts many people off posting, meaning the ‘coverage’ across your social network is patchy. And all that is to say nothing of the ‘outside content’, the click-baity links and videos, or reshares, that are nothing to do with people you know.
And then, in comes HalloApp. Here, the newsfeed is only made up of people in your phonebook. There are no ads, no links to outside sites or videos. There is not even a like button. The aim here is to create a naturalistic feed of unremarkable content populated entirely by people that you actually know. At best this might serve like the digital content equivalent of just what it would be like if you randomly bumped into someone you know for five minutes in the street — just enough to share what you’ve both been up to lately, but writ large, across your entire real-life network.
It was released around six months ago (by two ex-Whatsapp veterans), in July 2021. Alas, for me this app has not yet reached my social group (as defined by my phonebook), however there are a number of ‘once-removed’ connections so it feels like it is getting close. Getting a new social network off the ground is a tall order indeed, especially one that at first glance seems a lot like one already out there. But give it time, and even if nothing comes of it see this as a welcome pointer to what the newsfeed could be like, what — if we were to properly value authenticity, natural expression and human-centered experiences — it should be like.