Branch tries to re-think the social network

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If you can picture a restaurant filled with mostly intelligent people, all hunched over their respective tables and engaged in mostly interesting conversation on culture and technology, you would have the building blocks of Branch.

While still in invitation-only public beta, Branch is shaping up to be an interesting contender in the social media space, something that can be partially attributed to how it has been designed to cut out the noise. Unlike traditional social networks, Branch won't let you say anything to anyone at any given time—you'll have to get permission first.

Co-founder Josh Miller likened Branch to a dining table conversation mixed with "the power of the Internet." If the host at the metaphorical eating space deems you worthy, you'll be allowed to participate. If not, well, you'll only get to watch.

Content curation is not only the domain of the person leading a conversation. The company behind the Branch also has a hand in ensuring that the most intriguing and relevant discussion threads (known as "branches") get the attention they deserve by giving them a spot on the front page. The landing page is a repository for these featured branches, all of which fall under one of three categories: new and notable, just started, and hand-picked.

What makes this all work so well is the fact that Branch's curators are actually good at their jobs. At any given time, you'll see things like discussions about Kickstarter projects, the Singaporean identity, questions about what the next step for startup accelerators might be, and which cafe serves the best coffee in New York.

An example of a conversation thread on Branch.

As an added bonus, Branch is also outrageously easy to use. To start a Branch, all you have to do is hit the big green "Compose" button (or the smaller white one, but that's entirely up to you) on your screen. After that, you'll be taken to a very short form. There are only three things to do here. First, you'll have to figure out who you want to invite to the branch (you can choose to enter names, email, Twitter handles or a combination of all three). Once you're done with that, you'll have to enter a subject line and a possible message before deciding if you want to add a link or tweet your new branch.

If you want to get creative, there's another option: You can choose to make a new topic by "branching" off from an existing one—it's sort of like building a sub-thread, except with greater exclusivity and no risk of derailing the original. Finally, if you're willing to install the service's bookmarklet, you'll also be able to import just about anything from Twitter conversations to random URLs into the system to form a new branch.

Assuming your request for entry is approved, participation in a branch is equally simple. In any given branch, you'll be able to write out responses (be forewarned, you will not be able to edit or delete any of your submissions—it's something that the company has done to ensure that users put sufficient forethought into their answers), share them on Twitter, embed the branch in a separate website or even subscribe to it. Additionally, you'll also be able to conveniently click on a name and be immediately directed to that person's Twitter account.

Praise aside, Branch is not without its problems. Though you'll be able to leaf through selected branches, there is neither a search function nor any actual sort of indexing. Nonetheless, given that Branch is still in beta, this might someday change. Overall, Branch is an intriguing alternative to existing social media and I'm eager to see if it will grow up to overshadow its roots.

This story, "Branch tries to re-think the social network" was originally published by TechHive.

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