The idea for Pop was born far from its San Francisco headquarters. Founder and CEO Joshua Nguyen was traversing the highlands in Burma with a guide, some 20 miles from a hot guerilla zone. A former product executive at Flickr and Tumblr, he’d come to this place to clear his head and decide on his next professional move.
Josh’s guide proposed they make a stop in his home village for a peek at what a native Palaung tribal community looks like. As Josh made his way into the village and put his pack down, he was swarmed by children excited to have a visitor. He patted his pockets to find something to entertain the kids. All he had was his iPhone.
After trying and failing to pique their interest with various apps and games, he landed on the phone’s front-facing camera. It was a hit. The kids threw their heads back and laughed hysterically as they mugged for the camera and then for each other. They snapped shots and reacted to seeing their faces on screen for the first time. Looking back, this was an inflection point for Josh. Some 8,000 miles from home, he was witnessing a human condition in its rawest form. These kids, who’d grown up together here and were as close as can be, reminded him of the expressive power of our faces to delight, surprise and connect to one another in a most authentic way.
It all gave Josh an idea. He wrote his technical cofounder, Alaric Cole, and the two got to work on Pop.
Social networking fatigue, and creating meaningful connections with video
According to eMarketer, one in every four people around the world uses a social networking service. But despite this figure, Josh argues that the connections we forge through mainstream social networking aren’t meaningful.
“I find that we end up chatting the most with the people who are the most active, the people who are posting the most, commenting on our posts the most,” said Josh. “Not necessarily the people we want to chat and connect with.”
Josh and Alaric took this trend to heart when they designed the Pop experience. Their primary goal: enable people to create authentic, material connections with the people they care about the most. Cut through the noise of mainstream social media and find the signal. After much consideration, the cofounders determined short video chat snippets, or walkie-talkie chat, to be an excellent way to foster this. It’s through video that we’re able to see nuance in expression and connect more authentically, says Josh. So why hasn’t video chat yet seen more widespread adoption?
“The first thing people think when they know they’re going to do a Google Hangout or a video Skype call with someone is, ‘how does my hair, how do I look?’” said Josh. “They want to make sure they’re presentable because as a culture we’ve created this veneer where everything looks perfect online. It’s not like that in real life.”
To address this and alleviate some of that anxiety, says Josh, Pop defaults to a filter over the video that helps people get past the angst of, ‘do I look ok?’
“Think of Pop as an escape valve for the pent up pressure that we face with our online interactions,” said Josh. “We all need that, and it’s where we feel we can take video chat mainstream.”
“The behavior pattern is already there,” he continued. “On our mobile devices, both iOS and Android, only 21 percent of all people have participated in a video chat. 41 percent of us are already watching videos, but not using them to communicate. We’re using video passively, not actively. What if we got that number to 80 percent, the share of people who are texting on their devices?”
Integrating asynchronous video chat with Layer, and freedom to focus on user experience
The Pop team was able to integrate Layer easily and Josh can now reflect on what using Layer has enabled them to accomplish.
“At a really high level, Layer has allowed me to really focus on the human interactions happening in the app,” said Josh. “And allowed Alaric to focus on the technical parts of the app he’s most stoked about — graphics compression, video manipulation. These are the things he loves.”
Josh says using Layer has not only allowed them more space to focus on the user experience, but they’ve also accomplished more than they would have without Layer.
“To do this on our own, we’d have to devote lots of resources, which is in stark conflict with our desire to move fast, “ said Josh. “Layer has our back. Building a system for sending messages reliably is really hard. We built and rebuilt this many times. Being able to send messages to you — and knowing you’ll receive them — is huge for us.”
Download Pop for iOS today and start forming authentic connections through video chat.