What is Branch?
Another new launch from the company behind Twitter, Branch is a conversation platform. Each branch is a conversation. An invited group of individuals discussing a specific topic, like a conversation or discussion on twitter, but without character restriction, and with a curated list of members.
Released in January to the public, the platform was available to a limited number of users. demonstrating a dedication to listening to its early adopters and involving them in the discussion of new functionality, paired with rapidly rolling out new features, the branch.com platform has already become a really valuable mine of discussion and tool for facilitating conversation where twitter is simply too brief.
How is it used today?
Three key features really stand out.
Invite only branches – I was initially sceptical about the idea of allowing only those who you hand-pick to be part of a branch, but after continued use, I’ve realised its strength is in holding a salon, rather than a free-for-all shouting match. The ability to ask to be added allows outside voices if the moderator approves the input, based upon their ‘pitch’ to join in.
Highlighting – taking ‘likes’ or ‘favourites’ on to the next level, rather than liking an entire post, you can highlight specific comments or statements within a post, to really zero in on aspects of the conversation you appreciated. This gets around the ‘Curate’s Egg’ of many blog posts or random musings.
Branches – the eponymous feature, being able to fork off a conversation into a separate branch allows you to take discussions off at a tangent without diluting the main flow. This directly supports the disparate thinking that often leads to really interesting debate and thought, without leading others away from the theme at hand.
How could it be used?
At its simplest, it’s a glorified thread of comments, but at its most interesting, it’s a salon to host debate. It can be easily embedded in to other sites, continuing twitter’s relentless march on ‘owning the experience’ of their products. Conversations and branches can be grouped to build up rich collections of discussion around topics or themes.
For publishers, the immediate value and opportunity will be around offering discussion salon content quickly and easily, almost like a written panel debate, easily instigated and rolling, and will no doubt offer new forms of content and structured debate beyond its current format.
For brands, the opportunities are less clear yet – perhaps the facilitation of conversations, inviting key figures or remarkable minds to talk around topics close their heart, perhaps open consumer panels around product development, perhaps collaborative democracy tools to make decisions in the open.
From a data perspective, being able to see which users are commonly highlighted and respected against particular topics will offer some real insight and quantifiable metric of authority and respect, which goes way beyond tools like Klout to identify and understand influencers.
Branch list of a handful of interesting applications in a recent blog post on their first year in beta: http://bulletin.branch.com/post/39326984196/2012
The future of Branch
Branch are actively talking to publishers and media companies who wanted to utilise Branch functionality on their platforms. It is another example of ‘quality over quantity’ type platforms (like SVBTLE and Medium) where the aim is to improve the signal to noise ratio of content. The invite mechanic means it is less about free form conversation, but rather like inviting a group of people around to your house for dinner.
How to think about Branch:
A virtual dinner party / salon, where your guests are invited, rather than an open door policy.
They’re being tight-lipped about data right now, but its currently a fairly small but passionate audience, however is open to anyone to use with a twitter account. Think of it as a platform or tool to use, rather than a mechanism for reach. We’ll update the post when we have more data.
Every week in 2013, we’re posting a crib sheet on a particular technology, from AR to Zeebox. If you’d like to have a particular technology featured, leave a note in the comments below