Telepath Wants to Be the Kinder, Gentler Twitter. Will It Succeed?

A new social network aims to be a safer place for marginalized communities

Image source: Telepath

When is the last time you truly had a fun and delightful experience on a social network? I asked myself that same question after being invited to join Telepath, a new social network focused on conversation and providing spaces where people can find community with folks who share their interests. Telepath is trying to bring the fun from the early internet back to social networks as well as prevent the hate and abuse that run rampant on platforms like Twitter and Reddit. Founded by two former Quora employees, Richard Henry and Marc Bodnick, Telepath opened sign-ups for its private beta in late September for iOS only.

To be honest, I had low expectations when I was initially invited to check it out. New social apps have come and gone; I remember years ago when the Peach app launched and seemed exciting at first but quickly petered out. What surprised me when I made my Telepath account was the quality of the conversations being had. Conversations happen in what they call “Networks,” which look like hashtags but are actually communities where you can share and discuss based on a particular topic. Some of the first ones I joined were #iOS, #PelotonUsers, #Books, and #ScienceFiction. There’s no character limit on posts or comments, so you can engage in conversation naturally without feeling restricted. When you make a post in a network, there is a “Rules” button that explicitly states that you should be kind and not attack people based on identity, that there’s no harassment or fake news, and more. For a new app, they’re taking a serious stance on moderation I have not seen before. Co-founder Bodnick even tweeted this:

My ambition is for Telepath to build a community (1) which is great for women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ writers, (2) where disinformation doesn’t proliferate, and (3) where the overall tone is very kind.

Seeing that made me enthusiastic to continue to try the platform. The bar is sadly low when it comes to moderation, as we’ve seen with popular new apps like Clubhouse — it’s usually a forgotten “feature” instead of being considered a necessity. Telepath is ensuring safety features are at the forefront: The “Mute” and “Block” buttons are right next to the “Follow” button on someone’s profile instead of being hidden behind a menu like on Twitter.

The bar is sadly low when it comes to moderation, as we’ve seen with popular new apps like Clubhouse.

Telepath has also implemented post expirations, meaning that all posts expire after 30 days, but you can view your expired posts in an archive. For every post, you can see how many hours or days ago it was posted as well as a progress circle that lets you know how close it is to expiring. Post expiration is a great privacy feature, but I can see how it can make it hard to build a community with folks because there could be a lot of redundancy or newcomers who don’t have context on what was posted previously. I was a bit nervous about this when I made my first post in #ScienceFiction, but everyone was very kind, which is on brand with Telepath’s goal.

There was some controversy and conversation on Twitter and in the #Telepath network in Telepath (very meta) regarding Telepath’s real-name requirement. In the app’s Rules page, it states, “Use your full and real name. No fake names or pretending to be someone you’re not. We think real names are an important part of an authentic and kind community. We will make an expectation if you are better known by a name other than your legal name e.g. for transgender people who choose to go by a different name.” Folks who do not have access to the platform would not be able to see this, so there were many valid concerns on Twitter about the real-name policy being exclusionary to the trans community. Another concern was from women who may want to go under a different name to avoid stalking or abuse. I hope Telepath will use the feedback positively. Its head of community and safety, Tatianna Estévez, wrote an inspiring thread about Telepath’s goals and plans for making it a space women love and feel comfortable in. Unlike a platform like Reddit, which seems full of anonymous trolls, they want to create space for people to build real connections with one another via conversation. Brands and companies aren’t allowed to make accounts; you have to be a person with a phone-carrier number, which aims to prevent bots from joining.

Brands and companies aren’t allowed to make accounts; you have to be a person with a phone-carrier number, which aims to prevent bots from joining.

As an app developer myself, I couldn’t help but notice that the app is very well-made. The UX is smooth and delightful, from the profile photo animation with a sticky header to the clear color annotation on comments from users you follow. The infinite continuous threads make following a conversation much easier than if you were trying to read through a Twitter thread and all its replies. There are some bugs here and there of course, but there’s even a network to discuss them: #TelepathBugReport.

As it’s still in private beta, the user base is in the low thousands, but there aren’t only engineers and VCs on the platform (although there are a lot of those). I have come across authors, doctors, professors, athletes, and more. There are hundreds of networks already, and if a network doesn’t exist, anyone on the platform can create their own. Although the future of Telepath is unknown, I am looking forward to seeing where it goes and continuing to start and participate in some great conversations.

iOS Engineer at Calm

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