Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.

Commodifying Good Vibes: The Rise of the ‘Nice’ Social Media Apps

This is the web version of dot.LA’s daily newsletter. Sign up to get the latest news on Southern California’s tech, startup and venture capital scene.

The instant messaging and social networking platform Discord acquired Gas, a popular mobile app with around 1 million daily active users, for an undisclosed amount this week. It’s the growing platform’s latest attempt to reach beyond the gamers that have come to rely on it as an essential daily communication tool, a goal for which it secured $100 million in new funding back in 2020.

What is Gas?

Gas encourages users to share anonymous compliments and positive affirmations about their friends. (In Gen Z parlance, to “gas someone up” is to praise them and make them feel good, you see.) Users respond to polls about people they know with prompts like “Best Smile” or “Classmate Who Isn’t Afraid of Getting Into Trouble,” and then the app notifies people when they’ve been selected.

Gas’ teenaged userbase soared back in late 2022, with 30,000 new users joining each hour in October. In a blog post announcing the acquisition, Discord said it plans to maintain Gas as a standalone app while also collaborating on new projects with the app’s four-person team.

Unlike flashy marquee apps like TikTok, which promise users the chance to become famous by latching on to viral trends, upstarts like Gas appeal primarily to younger users through the promise of more authentic interactions. Here’s a fun new way to curate your own real-life community, rather than join an ongoing global conversation.

Why did Discord purchase the company?

The news of this acquisition comes at a time when “authentic” apps are having a breakthrough moment. BeReal, a social media app that asks users to post unfiltered photos of themselves once a day, by simultaneously taking photos from their phone’s front and back-facing cameras. This is not just a trend story observation, but an explicit part of BeReal’s specific pitch to users. Promotional materials advertise that “BeReal won’t make you famous. If you want to be an influencer, you can stay on TikTok and Instagram.”

Despite some general skepticism about just HOW authentic these apps REALLY are, especially if you’re determined to “BeFake,” the pitch seems to be working. BeReal was among 2022’s hottest apps, with over 72 million downloads last year alone; a Series B funding round in the fall valued the company at $630 million.

It was enough for the big players in social networking to begin taking notice. Meta’s Instagram introduced a notably BeReal-esque feature – “Candid Stories” – back in December, which also prompts users to take a share a once-daily impromptu selfie. Snapchat’s “Director Mode” – introduced in October 2022 – also makes use of iOS’ Dual Camera functionality, just like BeReal, while the experimental feature TikTok Now also centers around daily photos or brief videos that are only available to your followers for a limited time before expiring.

Clearly, growing real-world communities based on shared content that’s directly relevant to a user’s life – as opposed to more purposeful content designed to reach a vast global audience – has become increasingly important to social media users, particularly on the younger end of the spectrum.

But it isn’t just authenticity that defines the new generation of social apps like Gas, but harder-to-define qualities like kindness or relatability.The German app “Slay” – which bills itself as a “positive social media network for teenagers” – has found a similar path to success, and now claims over 250,000 registered users. (It recently expanded beyond its native Germany into the UK.) Slay’s interface resembles Gas, with only superficial changes; users can select up to four answers for each poll, for example. But the focus on positive interactions that make users feel better about themselves, and move away from the traditional negativity of some forms of social sharing, is also baked in to every aspect of the experience.

What does this mean for the greater social media landscape?

On a competitive level, establishing kindness and an inviting social environment as a brand helps to distinguish a new upstart app from massively popular and established rivals like Facebook, TikTok, Instagram and Twitter. Nonetheless, there are some indications that these apps are responding to a real desire among social media users to get away from the more chaotic, hyper-competitive, and even unpleasant environments that have grown up around some of the more established players. TikTok has become increasingly dominated by global trends. Instagram’s blend of influencer and lifestyle content notoriously makes people feel self-conscious and even depressed. Elon Musk’s Twitter is a non-stop political battleground.

Even social media superstars Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner have grown exhausted with social media’s relentless pace. Last summer, the sisters publicly pleaded with Meta to “Make Instagram Instagram Again,” focusing less on its TikTok clone Reels and more on its meat and potatoes original pitch: “I just want to see cute photos of my friends.”

Of course, there are dozens of formerly “hot social media apps” that once seemed poised to overtake Instagram, but have long-since folded or faded into obscurity. (The creators of Gas even had one of their own, a similar teen-focused app called TBH that was acquired and shut down by Facebook back in 2018!) Plus, TikTok just keeps growing and driving more and more pop culture, while its youth-focused content has proven significantly less vulnerable to the turndown in the digital ad market than many competitors. So, though the new positivity is an interesting development, it’s far too soon to begin writing obituaries for the old guard. - Lon Harris

Meet the Glassdoor for Influencers 

F*ck You Pay Me (FYPM) aims to be a Glassdoor for influencers, allowing content creators to share their experience working with a brand: how much they were paid, if said payment was made on time and an overall rating of the collaboration.

The LAPD Is Using Free Trials of Surveillance Tech

The LAPD is facing criticism from privacy groups after SweepWizard — an app it used to conduct multi-agency raids last fall — exposed the personal data of thousands of suspects and details of police operations.

Reed Hastings Steps Down as Netflix Co-CEO

Netflix’s earnings report contained a few surprises this fourth quarter, including the news that its founder and leader for 25 years Reed Hastings would step down.

Mullen Approves Reverse Stock Split 

Mullen Automotive approved a reverse stock split in an investor relations call today. The ratio of the reverse split is yet to be determined, but could ultimately help the company raise its share price above $1 and thus avoid delisting on the New York Stock Exchange.

What We’re Reading...

- Boston Dynamic made an adorable version of ED-209 and gave it KNEES, having learned nothing from “Robocop.”

- Amazon will wind down its charity donation program AmazonSmile, which has contributed nearly $500 million to non-profits since launching in 2013.

- Meta announced plans to centralize more user settings across all of its various apps, including Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger.

- Gaming and lifestyle brand FaZe announced a new multi-year promotional partnership with Porsche.

- -

How Are We Doing? We're working to make the newsletter more informative, with deeper analysis and more news about L.A.'s tech and startup scene. Let us know what you think in our survey, or email us!

© dot.LA All rights reserved.