Before social media came into prominence, messages would travel one way – from A to B, or sender to recipient. As such, achieving cut-through was a challenge. But social media has made ‘the ripple effect’ possible in a digital environment. When businesses or individuals broadcast their messages to their immediate networks on social media, those messages can then snowball across second, third, fourth, fifth networks and beyond, achieving virality. Unfortunately, the mechanics of virality isn’t entirely understood because a message could easily be either a hit or miss. But when messages do go viral, it can be a force for good.
The ALS ice bucket challenge is a prime example of how far and wide a message can travel. An incurable and debilitating disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis was very much unknown to the masses until the ice bucket challenge became a social media phenomenon. Seattle-based entrepreneur Paul Stavropoulos decided to make this ripple effect the sole focus of his latest tech venture, appropriately named Ripple.
As a social technology, Ripple facilitates activities where information can be passed from community to community to broad its impact. You start ‘ripples’ (equivalent to ‘tweets’ or ‘posts’) which appear in the feeds of people who are geographically close to you. If they like any of the ripples in their feed, they can then re-share to people who are geographically close to them.
The overarching idea is ‘how far will your ripples go?’ And users can actually track where and how far their ripples have travelled, in which locations those ripples were popular or unpopular, and what commentary people added along the way.
“Being able to visualise the impact of one’s message is something that ripplers find unique and captivating,” says Stavropoulos.
On Ripple, you can’t friend or follow anyone. Stavropoulos explains the beauty of this approach is that a message’s reach and exposure isn’t dependent on the popularity of the sender; it’s based on how engaging or important the message is to nearby recipients.
“Ripples that are relevant to a location generally stay within that location; they are dismissed by people once they reach users who don’t find them relevant. These include ripples sharing local music events and new nearby bars,” says Stavropoulos.
“Ripples that are globally engaging, like a funny observation or a beautiful image, can spread beyond any community and to the entire world. Social media has not found a good way to spread information with any location-based relevance. Ripple makes that the heart of its experience.”
Although Ripple can be used to spread positive messages or even warn people of traffic accidents on certain streets, Stavropoulos envisions the app to be a platform for locals to find out what’s happening in the community, as well as a space for locals to share thoughts, ideas and jokes.
If the source of information or ‘ripples’ being propagated is people, then this could extend to businesses. Although Ripple is yet to be monetised, Stavropoulos and his team are eyeing opportunities. For instance, local restaurants, cafes, and other retailers can post deals and promotions to people nearby. This would work in similar fashion to other hyper-local apps in market that allow SMBs to boost traffic, sales, turnover and profit by targeting customers through GPS-linked app alerts that direct them to special deals and discounts the minute they are within close proximity to a particular store.
Stavropoulos says Ripple also serves as a geo-based sentiment tracker for brands: “clients can gauge where in a community, nation, or in the world a brand is engaging. We want to make it easy for those interested to plug into the Ripple community and get this information.”
If Ripple becomes ‘sticky’, the same way Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is, then more monetisation opportunities will open up. The key to unlocking opportunities, however, may lie in the metrics that the app measures and displays. Businesses can apply those metrics in key decision-making processes or pursue opportunities that would have otherwise gone unrecognised.
At the moment, though, growing its user base needs to be the Ripple’s top priority, as Stavropoulos acknowledges.
By posting on forums like Reddit and HackerNews and showcasing their work at conferences, Ripple has been able to gain 1,000 users in two months. Stavropoulos says the startup will be using other social media platforms to increase brand awareness, but is satisfied with the response they’ve received to date.
“We have delighted ripplers letting them connect with people near and far, and showing them how their ripples spread. It brings us joy building and molding an ecosystem that allows people to share in this manner. More than a third of our users visit the app every day, and over half of them visit it every week,” says Stavropoulos.
Stavropoulos is fully cognisant of the fact that Ripple isn’t an entirely new concept. He acknowledges Plague as a competitor, another app which also allows information to be passed on from one place to another or ‘to spread like the plague’. One of the biggest differences between Ripple and Plague, according to Stavropoulos, is the former’s focus. He says they want Ripple to be used for local community updates – like bands coming to perform in venues nearby, new bars opening up in town, cafes that makes the best coffees, and so on.
“This idea of spreading local information for a community doesn’t exist in Plague,” says Stavropoulos.
“We have also taken a different approach in implementing our user experience. For example, while plague shows you one piece of content at a time and forces users to take action to see more content, we present your ripples as a list so you spread or dismiss only the ripples you want to.”
Stavropoulos also identifies Yik Yak as a big competitor. Founded by Stephen Brooks Buffington and Tyler Steven Droll, Yik Yak is an ‘anonymous’ messaging app (users can choose a username and identify themselves if they want to) that marries the concept of Twitter (sending out short form messages) with the mechanics of Reddit or Hacker News (where users upvote content they like). Yik Yak also focuses on geography in that it only shows users updates that have been made within a 1.5 to 10 mile radius. Like Yik Yak, Ripple also wants to target college campuses in the US as a growth strategy. Doing this will creates silos of communities on the platform, making the content more applicable to users.
The biggest differences between Ripple and Yik Yak, according to Stavropoulos, is that the former allows users to share images and links along with text posts, imposes no limits as to how far content can travel, and it is not an anonymous app which means people are accountable for what they share. Stavropoulos believes accountability has contributed to the overall positivity of the content being shared on the app.
Ripple will be available on Android phones in the upcoming months. The startup will be focusing on growing its user base, listening to and implementing user feedback, and most interestingly, the team wants the next big comedian to be discovered on Ripple.