It’s been a good while since there’s been a fresh face in the social media world. We’ve been so complacent with the current Instagram-Twitter-Snapchat-Facebook ecosystem, any newcomer is laughed at. Look at Periscope and Vine; these video apps were acquired by Twitter before they could pose any sizeable threat, and anyway, competitors (Instagram, for example) copied their main caveat rather successfully. Facebook purchased Instagram in 2012 for $1 million, and several social aspects (direct chat, sharing) were added to the latter. It seems like there’s no real competition for these social monoliths. But that could change.
Amazon has, for some time now, been teasing the launch of a direct Twitter competitor. And today, the teasing is over. Twitch, the live video game streaming site Amazon bought in 2014, announced the release of Pulse. Pulse will be a community where “streamers” can post and engage with all of their followers from the Twitch front page, akin to a dashboard.
Pulse is rolling out to all Twitch users over the next few weeks, and streamers will be able to post to their followers and friends with a Twitter-like mix of text, links, videos, and images. These will appear to followers’ Twitch homepage in a reverse-chronological stream. Streamers now have an easy way to share highlights with fans who missed their last live-stream, as well as promote their next stream, give a shout-out to sponsors, and really anything they desire. The feature will also be integrated into the Twitch mobile app, but not at launch.
Will it be a hit? Will Twitter feel the burn? Maybe. The most popular Twitch streamers have over a million followers each, and it’s easy to imagine them turning to an integrated app like Pulse to keep their growing audiences entertained even when they’re not broadcasting. Twitch put some thought into about how to moderate on comments on Pulse. If a streamer wishes, they can limit responses to only the poster’s friends, or only people who subscribe to their channel. Streamers are also able to delete comments and block abusers. On the downside, Pulse will be (for now) missing several core Twitter features, like hashtags and @ mentions. But it’s odd to assume that these features won’t appear later.
It’s easy to think that, barring any major glitches, Pulse will eventually become the default way that Twitch users interact with streamers and other users. It’s true that Pulse might not ever amount to anything more than free advertising for the top 5% of Twitch streamers, but if it’s successful, it means that the giants can be challenged. Focus on a large enough niche, give them an easier way to do what they’re already doing, and you’ve won. If a major social media company can be shaken up, this is what we’d imagine it would look like at the very beginning. Twitch has been slowly but surely expanding beyond video games, and Pulse will expand with it. With Amazon’s cash and long-term outlook behind them, this might be the disruption the social media world needs. As an anonymous Twitter user once wisely stated, “Twitter is a Friendster whose Facebook hasn’t appeared yet.”