Houseparty’s founder launches Cities, an open supply group chat net app and protocol

After launching a pair of well-loved however finally star-crossed social apps, Ben Rubin goes all-in on decentralization.

Rubin beforehand based Meerkat and Houseparty — apps that pioneered cell livestreaming and group video chat, respectively — shaping large social developments of their earliest phases. After engaged on Slashtalk, an “anti-meeting software” for the office, Rubin is now again to engaged on shopper apps, albeit in a roundabout method.

Nowadays, Rubin’s imaginative and prescient for social media bears little resemblance with the colourful, user-friendly apps he’s identified for popularizing. He’s clearly internalized the teachings of Meerkat’s unfortunate demise and Houseparty’s premature pre-pandemic death-by-acquisition through Epic Video games. Rubin is one thing of a Web3 true believer now, pleased to climate the frenzied speculative funding cycles and Sam Bankman-Frieds whereas holding out hope that the underlying applied sciences can nonetheless unlock a greater future for some points of the online.

Rubin is at the moment operating Right here Not There Labs — “a staff of web3 creators dropping initiatives as we go.” Brian Meek, a longtime former Microsoft worker who labored on Skype’s cell app, serves as the corporate’s co-founder and CTO.

Their new venture is Towns, a protocol and a web-based chat app designed to facilitate self-owned, self-governed on-line communities. As a result of web3, there’s additionally a crypto part, so Cities will doubtless initially attraction rather more to fans in that group than the common app store-goer like his previous initiatives.

Out of the gate, Right here Not There Labs has picked up a $25.5 million Collection A spherical from a16z Crypto, which joins its present backers Benchmark and Framework Ventures. It’s additionally picked up the area (for the low, low worth of a pair hundred thousand {dollars}), a degree of satisfaction for Rubin and a mark of his plans for a protracted recreation.

“This isn’t only a crypto venture — it is a new mind-set about social networking as a community that’s owned and operated by its constituents,” Rubin informed TechCrunch. “And I feel that’s very thrilling to me, particularly coming from the expertise I had with Meerkat after which Houseparty, the place a whole lot of us didn’t wish to promote… However we didn’t govern our personal product at [that] level and that’s a product that bought to 150 million customers.”

The Cities protocol will supply customers an Ethereum-based sensible contracts system (suppose miniature packages that reside on and are executed via the blockchain) and end-to-end encrypted chat. Right here Not There Labs says Cities’ sensible contracts which might be “extensible, composable, and upgradeable” and can finally empower communities to draft their very own guidelines for who will get to take part, what’s allowed and the way and in the event that they’ll monetize. The Cities backend will run on a comparatively centralized proof-of-authority algorithm initially whereas the staff builds out the protocol and can then transfer to a proof-of-stake system à la Ethereum 2.0 in time.

Towns web app interface

If the interface seems acquainted, it’s not simply you. Picture Credit: Cities

For customers much less within the wonkier crypto points however nonetheless intrigued by the promise of decentralization, Cities may also manifest as a set of apps, beginning with an invite-only alpha net app that’s reside at the moment. As the corporate explains it, “The Cities app takes all of the technical issues the protocol implements and makes them obtainable in an open-source, end-to-end encrypted pleasant chat expertise” — an expertise extra interesting for customers whose eyes glaze over on the point out of NFTs and DAOs.

A broader beta launch that may let anybody create their very own group with the protocol is slated for September with a cell net app on the best way within the coming months and native apps thereafter. Down the street, Rubin expects there to be many user-created Cities apps constructed utilizing the venture’s protocol.

For now, the earliest customers should log in to city with their crypto pockets — a touchdown web page that your common non-crypto individual is prone to discover complicated at finest — however Cities plans so as to add help for Passkeys, Apple’s next-generation login expertise.

Cities desires communities to “really personal their city squares,” although notably the venture plans to take a lower of the crypto that will get traded round in these communities to maintain itself. These specifics will likely be ironed out because the governance construction will get arrange, in accordance with Rubin. Right here Not There Labs says it’ll solely run the present to start with and decentralize over time, handing the reins over to a Cities-specific DAO (decentralized autonomous group) that may oversee its governance and make selections.

“It’s type of humorous, there’s one one who’s controlling one platform that everyone makes use of, which is Fb, after which now there’s one other one who’s controlling the opposite platform that everyone makes use of, which is Twitter,” Rubin mentioned, noting his unease with consolidation in different industries, like Nestlé’s big bottled water play in North America.

The person expertise of the Cities net app bears a placing resemblance to Discord and it appears apparent that the venture plans to lure disenchanted members of that extra conventional chat app’s crypto group. Cities is perhaps impressed by Discord’s design and utility, however if you happen to ask Rubin, Discord isn’t a group mannequin that ought to encourage its customers. “They hire — they’ve a landlord known as Discord and so they hire from them,” he mentioned.

What’s much less clear is that if Cities may have extra mainstream attraction to the type of people that’ve grown uncomfortable with Twitter’s Elon Musk period and are keen to decamp for decentralized however nonetheless fairly user-friendly social areas like Mastodon. Mastodon takes extra after Twitter — Cities may be very a lot a chat software — however the ethos is comparable, even when the emphasis on crypto isn’t shared.

Because the venture remains to be in its early days and does have a heavy crypto tie-in, Cities appears designed to attraction strongly to Rubin’s fellow web3 true believers for now. If that may change in time stays to be seen, however there’s actually a rising urge for food for on-line social experiences that aren’t topic to the whims of the mercurial billionaire du jour.

“I feel there’s one thing actually thrilling about securing that the flexibility of people to coordinate and collaborate,” Rubin mentioned. “The concept that it’s censorship-resistant, that it’s encrypted and is owned and operated by the customers.”

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