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‘Personal media’ startup Incogo wants to disrupt our obsession with meaningless social media chatter

- November 18, 2014 7 MIN READ

We’ve seen a surge in the number of ‘social networks’ emerging in the marketplace since the advent of Facebook. There’s no denying that more and more entrepreneurs want to capitalise on our obsession with online social networking. In fact, going by theories presented by German philosopher Martin Heidegger, social networks point to something essential about our way of ‘being-in-the-world’.

Heidegger noticed early on that humans were becoming chained to technology, arguing that the more technology advances itself the more “it threatens to slip from human control”. He believed that technology was contaminating a person’s authentic sense of being, and that primary meaning has been lost and forgotten in technological modernity. His theory has relevance today when you consider how often we use social media (or more accurately, how often we don’t use it) as well as the ephemeral nature of our messages. Status updates are now impromptu, short-lived activity, which immediately get lost in the sea of digital clutter. If the first phase of social media was all about building and sharing our online identities, the current phase is all about fleeting encounters.

Although Melbourne-based entrepreneur and former lawyer Daniel Millin didn’t mention Heidegger, his view that social media isn’t offering any long-lasting personal meaning to our lives despite how glued we are to it, is eerily reminiscent of the theories presented by the German philosopher. In fact, it’s why Millin created what he claims is ‘the world’s first personal media platform’ Incogo. In an interview with Startup Daily, Millin explained that scrolling through his news feeds on Facebook and Twitter left him feeling ‘empty’ – there was nothing that was personally relevant or impactful.

“I see social media as the modern day telephone. I’ve tried to switch off from it and tried to do the detox, but I always come back because everyone uses it and it’s sometimes the easiest way to communicate with people … But I do feel a yearning for something more. There’s meaninglessness in all this never-ending news feed of links and data and what people are posting. I just scroll through it and I feel quite empty after it,” he said.

Whether or not we admit it, we do tend to present a digital front on social media, making sure it aligns with what is expected of us socially and professionally. But Millin believes we are more than our social and professional selves – we are a product, an embodiment of all our experiences, past and present. Yet, discussing intimate details about our private lives isn’t always welcomed on social media – nor is it safe to do so given the public nature of social media platforms and its puzzling privacy settings. This is where Incogo comes in as a safe platform for users to document and share their journeys in life.

“Incogo is not just about your social life or your professional life, it’s about your whole life including your personal and private life. It’s built for everything we are doing – our everyday personal journeys like finding a new job, growing an organic vegetable patch, overcoming a serious illness or planting 100 trees in our local neighbourhood,” Millin explained.

Ironically, if meaning has been lost and forgotten in technology, technology may also be the key to bringing it back. Millin believes Incogo will achieve this.

“We as human beings are deep and meaningful at our core … In an over-connected world, this has dissipated and declined so fast on social networks,” he said.

“I see Incogo as representing the next evolution of social media towards personal media, because it channels our addiction to being online, being on our phones, but in a way that makes it personally relevant to our lives – and that’s what’s missing out there today. It’s all about your social life and your professional life, but we are more than that. We have a lot going on in our personal lives that is just as much a part of our identity … Incogo is a platform that captures who we are [wholly].”

On Incogo, users can submit a ‘journey’ which defaults as private unless specified as public. The journey requires a snappy 23-character title and a short ‘story’ explaining what the journey is all about. Each journey has a page of its own where users can post towards it, updating supporters on the progress of the journey. Users can invite people into their personal networks and ask them to ‘support’ a specific journey. If it’s a public journey, other Incogo users can find it through the ‘discover’ tab and choose whether or not to support the journey.

“We can invite different people to share our different journeys – just like we do in real life. Those people can post tips and encouragement and become a mini support team on our journey. Incogo has a bold mission, and that’s to usher in a new era of personal and purposeful interactions online. Incogo is a return to meaningful relationships, but in a digital setting. It’s the perfect mix of the old and the new!” said Millin.

“When you start to create new journeys on Incogo that reflect the different aspects of what matters to you and what you’re doing in your life, you can look back at it and see that it’s a beautiful reflection of who you are.”

Users can also discover other people’s public journeys by clicking through to their ‘This is [Name]’ page and find out about the journeys they’re supporting.

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This is me, Incogo

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Discover, Incogo

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Journey, Incogo

Private journeys will only appear if the user has been specifically invited to support the journey. In fact, ensuring privacy was of utmost importance to Incogo. Millin said he asked his lawyers to take the privacy policies of existing social media platforms and “turn them on their head”.

“Our privacy stance is something we are very passionate about.”

This is also reflected in the monetisation model that Incogo plans on implementing when the time is right. Millin was adamant when he explained that he wants the commercialisation model to be different to other social and professional media platforms, which tend to display targeted advertisements.

“For me to trust using Incogo, it has to be private. It has to respect the sanctity of my personal data otherwise I wouldn’t use it. We’ve got a really strong privacy policy that protects the sanctity of people’s personal information upfront,” said Millin.

Given how significant Big Data is today and the fact that many businesses depend heavily on this data to deliver highly-targeted advertising, this may seem like an unusual move. It’s clear however that, although Millin didn’t create Incogo with money in mind, he knows that its prosperity depends on implementing a sustainable business model. He’s given a lot of thought into how he will commercialise Incogo and believes the best model would be to allow corporations to ‘promote’ journeys that are relevant to their brands. Promoted journeys will appear as ‘possible’ journeys users might want to support.

For instance, a brand might embark on an environmental journey where they plant 1,000 trees across New South Wales. Users can then choose to support that journey if it aligns with their interests. But unlike typical ads, where there would be a one-pager briefly describing the activity the company is engaging in, on Incogo, corporations can update supporters via written posts and images. As Millin explained, Incogo is all about storytelling, which has a higher chance of attracting an engaged audience. That said, Millin is less concerned about generating revenue at the moment than acquiring users, given Incogo only soft launched very recently.

The idea for a personal media platform like Incogo was conceived in 2012, by Millin who is also the Founder of Mediaverse, an award-winning media evaluation agency which creates methodologies, indicators, reports and software to assist with corporate communications. Incogo was officially founded a year later, after Millin roped in his former accountant and PwC partner, Karen Crawford who instantly fell in love with the idea; his comrade, design and signage entrepreneur, Marty Jonas, who is also the Founder of Snap Media and responsible for the design of Incogo; and private investor Edward Wittenberg of Melbourne-based EGW Investments who provided Incogo with seed capital in March this year. Millin admits that founding Mediaverse was a ‘lonely experience’, and he knew right from that start that with Incogo, he would need a founding team to share the journey with.

One of the biggest strategic decisions Millin and his team made when it came to development was to optimise Incogo for all devices – that is, desktop, mobile and tablet. He said the biggest dilemma when creating a digital platform is choosing which devices to establish a presence on first.

“So we made the strategic decision to hit all platforms from day one. We used HTML5 and that made it harder for us, because a lot of startups will start by creating an iOS or Android app or a web-only application. We thought the most annoying thing about a new startup is when you can’t use the technology because you don’t have X device. So we decided to hit all platforms which was tough, but I’m really happy with that decision because users can access Incogo on any device,” Millin said.

Although Incogo is, as Millin insisted, part of a new category called ‘personal media’, in many ways Incogo can be considered, particularly from a UX perspective, a hybrid of online blogs and social media. It combines the personal nature of blogs that were often considered the digital version of paper-based diaries – especially during the LiveJournal days – with aspects of modern social media like hashtags, ‘discover’ tabs and notification layouts.

Millin clarified that Incogo doesn’t aim to be an alternative to social media. Instead, it is designed to complement existing platforms and gratify our intellectual yearning for meaning in our digital lives.

He believes stories like that of Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, who survived a shot in the head by Pakistani Taliban gunmen because she campaigned for women’s right to education, would be ideal for Incogo. Yousafzai has gone on to become one of the most respected and influential women of our time fighting for the right for women to access education in places where it is frowned upon.

“The beauty of public journeys is that we can learn more about people who are doing amazing things. Not only can we explore a particular journey, but we can also start to see the many different things they’re doing in their lives. Malala is probably doing many things, and Incogo would be able to open up many different aspects about who she is,” said Millin.

It’s clear that Millin has a very strong vision and just as strong a track record, having built a successful company from scratch. The challenge now is to build up the Incogo community, which requires other people to also believe in the vision and the value in Incogo’s offering. Millin admitted that this has been a huge challenge for him.

“It takes a bit of time to fully comprehend what the potential for Incogo is. It’s quite deep and significant,” he said.

Another major challenge has been prioritisation. Millin said that as a technologically-savvy society, we have become accustomed to established networks like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and their advanced functionality built over many years with millions of dollars and big teams.

“[We] at Incogo have had to carefully choose what functionality to go live with to get us started and get us going. So I think that’s the biggest challenge in founding Incogo – trying to make a platform that meets the demands of our digital requirements in such a short period of time!”

That said, Millin acknowledges that the biggest challenge he will face is in the future. But based on his determination, it’s clear he’s ready for whatever that challenge may be.

Incogo will be on iTunes in the upcoming weeks, and is available on Google Play and on desktop via incogo.com.