Just Another Social Media Network or the Next Twitter?

Pheed Hompage
Pheed Homepage

By Sonia Su

BOSTON – Social media users will soon determine whether a new Los Angeles-based social media network will soar over Twitter or flunk like Google+.

So far, the BU community is leaning toward the latter.

Pheed, a digital content platform with paywall and pay-per-view options, launched two weeks ago and has already attracted one million users and the attention of celebrities like Ashley Tisdale, Paris Hilton and Cheryl Burke.

“We believe that Facebook is for sharing with your friends, Twitter is for following textual information and Pheed is about expressing yourself – in all digital mediums.,” O.D. Kobo, Pheed’s CEO and co-founder, said.

Billed as “the next Twitter,” Pheed offers the standard sharing features of text, photos and videos, but also includes voice-notes, audio clips and live-broadcasting.

Users may share for free or at a premium, either by applying a monthly subscription fee to their channel, or by setting up a pay-per-view live-broadcast event, according to the company statement. In both cases, the user decides how much they charge and earns directly.

Responses so far, however, have been mixed.

“The problem is, people are established on Facebook [and] people are established on Twitter,” Tammy Vigil, associate dean of the College of Communication and assistant professor in communication, said. “Then to move for similar features doesn’t seem very appealing. It’d have to be something dramatic and new enough for them to actually take the time to move.”

As with Google+, the time, effort and energy to switch over is part of the problem, Vigil said.

COM senior and digital strategist Kevin Wang, who has earned a considerable following on Twitter with more than 1,300 followers, said that despite its endless potential, the idea that he would pay for content that could be found elsewhere is “preposterous.”

“People are accustomed to getting all that information free,” Wang said. “Even if celebrities make something exclusive, everything still has a way of getting out.”

Both Vigil and Wang cited successful models prior to Pheed.

Video-sharing site Vimeo, for example, introduced a virtual tip jar last month that allows viewers to send money to an artist they like.

“I think it was NPR who made the comparison of seeing a street performer, where you can then tip the street performer,” Vigil said. “This is a little different, because you don’t know what you’re getting until after you’ve already paid for it.”

The problem that arises with a paywall becomes the possible technological difficulties in live streaming, Vigil said. Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly’s mock debates, where they sold online subscriptions, had so much difficulty with the actual streaming that they issued a large number of refunds, she noted.

However, Pheed’s seven founding members “all have tech backgrounds, having been in the industry and working together as a team for the last eight years,” Kobo said, and adds that they have built platforms in Asia that reached close to 90 million unique users a month, thus learning “from the ground up how to build scalable systems.”

Pheed also works with leaders in the tech sector to provide a strong, long-term streaming service, Kobo said.

In another example, Wang said that the comedian Louis C.K. understood that this videos and movies were popular, so instead of having his fans try to torrent or download them from friends, he offered them for free – not without asking for donations, of course.

Pheed App Icon
The Pheed app icon. / CREDIT: Apple iTunes

“He actually made more money than he would have if he had worked with a record label to distribute his content,” Wang said. “So I think it’s not so much about paywalling it, but it’s about creating value and motivating people to give.”

Nevertheless, people are “fanatics” and love every detail about celebrities, Wang said, adding that he agrees with the problem Pheed is trying solve but disagrees with how they’re trying to solve it.

“The problem they say is that there’s too much noise – the quality of content is poor,” Wang said. “Pheed is the solution, but they’re not focused on creating good content – they’re focused on making money.”

However, both Vigil and Wang said they do see potential in the site.

Pheed is “by no means a solely premium service, but we believe offering this ability to users is fair,” Kobo said, adding that users “can truly own all of their content and monetize it now or down the road, if they wish to do so.”

Pheed will be releasing its iPhone app either this week or next, Kobo said, and will be compatible with all iOS systems and fourth generation iPads.

“As for the future, all features and product rollouts will be built with the theme of creating unique abilities for content providers,” Kobo said, “and to create a fair playground with the aspect of monetization.”