Are humane-tech apps non-starters?

I was pitching a new messenger app with several psychological advantages compared to existing apps like WhatsApp, Telegram, etc… to a potential user… (call it market research)…

(It’s still in development and I can’t disclose any more details, so please bear with me… my point here is not about the app or its advantages.)

So this guy bluntly told me that he won’t switch because everyone he knows is on WhatsApp.

My question to this group is - are humane-tech apps non-starters because of entrenched non-humane apps? For example, are all new messenger apps doomed? Are all new social networks doomed? Are all new search apps doomed?

Please provide reasons for your answer… this thing is hurting me!


No they are not necessarily doomed, though you’d definitively have to take those large entrenched companies into account in your own business model.

If your model relies on advertising and attaining a large user base, then it would be really hard to become profitable. You’d be in for a for a long uphill battle.

Compare to Signal messenger - the privacy respecting competitor to Whatsapp, advertised by Snowden. I’d like to use Signal, but apart of some of my friends and acquaintances (working e.g. for the government) who are prohibited from using Whatsapp, I have a hard time convincing people… same experience as you have. That’s while installing Signal is as easy as installing Whatsapp.

You will need strong arguments at least, a clear incentive to switch. With Signal the USP’s are privacy and open-source.
For their business model they are asking donations among others.

With regards to search there is an uptake in users switching to DuckDuckGo. I am using it now on my mobile and am really happy with it. Privacy, non-tracking, no filter bubble are USP’s


One problem you’ll always run into is that we don’t need Twitter But With One Key Difference. We already have Twitter, and the only people who will jump ship or adopt the new app will be people for whom that One Key Difference is a make-or-break value proposition. For the majority of users who don’t care about that One Key Difference, it won’t be worth it to adopt the new platform over the old one, especially with the lack of a large, established audience/user base and various app and system integrations.


Thanks for confirming that you are also seeing the same behavior while trying to convince others. The harsh fact is people really don’t care about the negative impact of technology on their lives. It is one thing to try and educate people about it and another to solve the problem with a new product. No wonder the big entrenched apps go about saying “We give people what they want”…

Any case, I do agree that a simple advertising model with a large user base won’t work for people like us trying to solve these big problems. We’re mostly selling premium products at a price.


Very true… even though the One Key Difference will save them from mental health issues… :slight_smile:

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The perceived benefit needs to greatly outweigh the cost of switching. The #1 feature of social / communication apps will always be “Are my [friends] there?”. I recommend scaling a single dense community (ideally underserved) rapidly. Focus on serving them 10x better first, then move into adjacent verticals. Hope that makes sense. Consider a compelling hook that can gain WoM growth even if its not the core value of your application. Happy to help more, but am interested and would need to know more about your app.


Thanks for your response, @dan! I will surely come back with more info about our app as time goes on. We’re right now in stealth mode, so unfortunately I can’t disclose much. This much is for sure: we want to solve relationship issues created by over-enthusiastic messengers like WhatsApp… I’ve suffered from relationship issues created by WhatsApp in both personal and professional circles.

I’ve thought about what you suggest: serving a single dense and underserved community first. But everyone and their grandmother has WhatsApp, so I’m not sure if there’s anyone underserved :slight_smile: by it. Badly served? Yes. Negatively impacted? Hell yeah!

Am I making sense?

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The Lightphone 2 just passed $1 million in crowdfunding, four times their original goal. I would say there is definitely demand for it! It may be condemned to forever be a niche demand, but I think there will always be a community of people who want simpler, attention-friendly tech. The awareness has picked up too much steam for it to ever fully go away now.


I think I agree with others’ experience. I want to use alternatives, but friends won’t, so I either use some of the same platforms and apps, or just go without. I usually do the latter. I am happy to pay for a service, and prefer open-source, but unlike choosing say an OS like Linux, it depends on taking people with you. Or, having a way to use a more human-tech app to access another platform.

That said, I think things have their moment in the sun, and even though some of the platforms and apps around look dominant, things do change, giants do fall. I wonder what others think about the impact of the current Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal will have on wider data harvesting consciousness in users and trust with these services?

So perhaps what is needed is something waiting in the wings for when another dominant app is on the wane and people are looking for alternatives that give them what the first wanted, but has something better to get the best out of it without breaking their trust, leaving them feeling they have no control over it and doesn’t try to compel them to use it. So not like for like. People are always feeding back in surveys about how they wish they could reduce data-stress, time spent on apps/web, improving wellbeing, so there must be a market out there. I guess the difficulty is in that transition. People have a lot ‘invested’ in the apps or platforms they use and can’t normally port it across.

@jaski I’ve actually just started a private roundtable for founders like us. Intent is for it to serve as a digital think tank for collaboration among founders, developers and executive members of start-ups that are producing alternative media platforms and realize that there is more strength in working together than there is in fighting alone.

Let me know if you’d like to learn more or join in a monthly GoogleHangout video call.


That is the biggest challenge of new apps especially those who would want to attract users from established competitors. Its usually gradual process but if the people know you are the real thing that is the opposite of those consider today as having negative impact to people lives that is the biggest draw I think.

It seems like there are two general strategies one can choose when creating a new product. You can either compete directly with incumbent companies or you can compete indirectly.

Direct competition entails building a “better” version of a product that already exists. Many people try this strategy by making [Existing Product] But With One Key Difference. However, this approach is prone to failure because consumers won’t switch to a new product unless it is 10 times better than an old product. It is unlikely that One Key Difference is enough to make the new product an order of magnitude better.

Indirect competition involves creating a product which satisfies the demand for an old product in a completely new way. For example, lets say an inventor wants to help businesspeople have meetings with colleagues in other countries. (Lets also say this example takes place in the 1990s or early 2000s.) The inventor considers creating a special airline for business travelers, but realizes that this approach involves direct competition with existing airlines. Instead, the inventor builds a videoconferencing product that lets people conduct meetings virtually. At first glance, videoconferencing software and airlines appear to be unrelated. Yet they actually serve the same need, making them indirect competitors.

Humane tech products will be more successful if they compete with incumbents indirectly. We must figure out what needs are satisfied by addictive tech, and then build non-addictive products that serve those needs in new ways.

We shouldn’t be building Twitter But With Humane Design. We should be creating a new kind of humane product that seems unrelated to Twitter but makes it irrelevant.


Thanks, I really do hope so!

Thanks Josh, I just PM’d you.