Can A Messaging App Beat Standalone Social Networking? Khosla-Backed Stealth Startup Just.me Gears Up For Launch With iOS Beta

Just.me, the new project from Keith Teare, co-founder of TechCrunch and partner at incubator Archimedes Labs, has launched in beta as an app for iOS. An Android app is coming soon — due this quarter, according to Teare. We’ve covered just.me before, when Teare previewed it last year at the South by Southwest Startup Accelerator but the startup has generally been in stealth mode. Today the iOS app is landing on the phones of a select few beta testers — ahead of a public release on the App Store, likely in about a month.

Just what is it?

So what is just.me? It’s a messaging app that can replace email, MMS and SMS. It’s also a public broadcasting platform — a bit like Twitter but without any posting limits and with multimedia content baked in. And it’s a personal journal stored in the cloud — à la Evernote. It offers all three forms of communication — shared, public and private — in one interface. When a just.me user creates a message, they choose whether it’s for their eyes only, for selected friends and contacts in their phone’s address book, or for sharing publicly with anyone.
The app interface offers three tabs: ‘only me’ (below left), which will send a private message to a user’s personal just.me cloud so they can save content for viewing later; the ‘shared’ tab (below middle) is a bit like email or SMS, enabling the user to create one-to-one or group messaging threads; and ‘public’ (below right) which posts the message to just.me’s public cloud — aka its Twitter-esque broadcasting platform, on which you have a profile and can follow and be followed by other users, and which also includes the Facebook-esque ability to like/comment on content. If those social networky features aren’t enough for you, just.me users can also cross-post a public message to Twitter and Facebook within the app interface.
Just.me offers a range of media choices for sending messages — with text, photos, video and audio options all offered in the same interface. Messages can be built using a combination of media elements, to create a rich multimedia ‘filmstrip’ that the viewer can play back. Combining different components into one rich message reminded me a little of Google Wave but Teare rejects the comparison — saying the now defunct Wave was “too complicated and too geeky”, and that just.me is “closer in spirit to a mobile Facebook”.
While there’s technically nothing here that sending an email-plus-an-attachment can’t already achieve just.me is aiming to simplify rich media sharing, streamline everything for convenience and speed within a single app and converge the functionality of a journal app, email client and social network in one.

Unified mobile messaging vs web 2.0 walls

“We’re combining something that you would have to use a lot of different apps to achieve today,” says Teare. “It’s really a unified message creation platform or publishing platform or private journal platform for that matter. But it’s a unified message creation platform where you can publish to everywhere you want to publish from a single app and get the benefit of a record in the cloud, really of your life as you do it, without having to think about doing it.”
If Facebook was built for mobile and it decided to centre on the address book it would probably have a lot of [just.me's] features,” he adds. “If you really try hard on Facebook you care share with friends or save it for yourself or be public but it takes a lot of effort because it isn’t built to facilitate that really. It’s all built around this centralised architecture. If Facebook was built today it probably wouldn’t be centralised — it would be built for mobile.”
One thing to note: there’s no crossing just.me’s distinct communications streams; you can’t privately reply to a public message (short of copying and pasting the contents into a new message) and vice versa. Group threads are a little more flexible: the person who started the thread can add/remove participants but there’s no ability to forward a thread. The aim, says Teare, is to “stay true to the intention” of the person who originally published the message — whether it was private, public or shared.
The original idea for just.me — which Teare says first came to him back in 2008 — was to create a “post-PC social network”. But since then the concept has evolved, and is now better described as “an upgraded messaging app”. In an age of mass smartphone ownership designing a new messaging system makes more sense than building a walled garden social network, argues Teare, noting how “trillions” of messages are sent smartphone-to-smartphone, via SMS, email and so on — far more than are sent within walled off social networks — meaning it’s simply a much bigger opportunity.
His view is that centralised social networks are unnecessary when you can build a decentralised network by utilising the information in people’s smartphone address books. He argues that this decentralised network has advantages for the privacy-conscious since users keep hold of their own data — being as it’s not uploaded to a central repository (Teare has written before how the address book was stolen by web 2.0) — although the just.me system does encrypt and store a copy of users’ email and phone numbers in order to identify when a user’s contact signs up for the service so it can alert them that their friend has joined.

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