So what is Conversful?
The story of Conversful starts with the blog WaitButWhy. WaitButWhy (WBW) is a long-form blog run by a guy named Tim Urban. He writes these multi-thousand word articles on a wide-range of topics from how to pick the right career, to brain-computer interfaces and the history of Iraq. He covers each topic in immense detail and tons of hand-drawn illustrations to help convey the concepts. I’ve been reading WBW since college. At that time I would beg my roommates to read articles that were coming out and discuss them with me. One of them got pretty into it too and we talked about the blog posts frequently.
After college, I moved to Santa Barbara, CA for a job and where I knew very few people. I kept reading WBW, but I had no one to discuss it with. I would text new posts to my friends & get 👍back. It was hardly fulfilling.
I would look at the comments section below each article, but I never thought seriously about getting involved there. To me commenting just felt unnatural. What I was looking for was someone to share my thoughts freely with & commenting felt like the opposite of that. Commenting is public, permanent and not interactive. It’s mostly one-dimensional from reader to author. I didn’t feel the need to praise what I had read, I just wanted to talk to someone about it.
And while you probably didn’t know about WBW until now, there are millions of sites that people read and are left feeling the same way as me. Sites for every niche, every interest, every passion. Sites people are reading, making people think, but leaving people with no way to share those thoughts. Conversful is for people who have something to say, but no one to say it too.
Moving from V2 → V3
Conversful V1 took six months to build in 2019 and we piloted it on sites for four months waiting for it to work. It was in every way a true minimum-viable product (MVP). We wanted to build the simplest thing that got people into a conversation. Conversful V1 only connected people on the exact same articles. If we were in a conversation & you went to a new article the conversation would end. There was also no common ground. You simply went into Pandora’s Box of anyone on the other side of that article at that time. As you can imagine, it didn’t work. Limiting things to every article was too narrow & people were too scared to submit their name blindly to anyone on the other end of it.
Conversful V2 is the product I’ve been speaking about in these updates thus far. It was built in one month and has been piloted on sites for the past six weeks. Again an MVP. This time we focused on topics as the common ground and opened up conversations across the site. While we had some success with this product creating a few conversations, we have not seen this behavior repeatedly. In fact, we are seeing less engagement as more people are trying to use the app, but not getting connected to anyone. As one reader put it best, “It says [your app] has ‘261 members online’ but then ‘No conversations to join’… Sounds like some bars I used to go to.”
The good news is that V2 has proved that we are onto something with the product altogether. People are emailing us with ideas. Telling us they want to use it. That they need new ways to connect with like-minded people on these sites. We’re close, but the product in its current state is not working.
So, after some soul searching we’ve decided to iterate again, to a product we’re referring to as V3. V3 takes the best of V2 (topics, cross-site conversations) while solving for the big question everyone is asking, “why does everything have to be real-time”.
Conversful V3 starts with account creation. Everything is now driven through an account you have with us, on behalf of the website. With an account you can now submit or respond to questions (formally topics), that create 1-on-1 conversations between you and another reader. Questions are no longer real-time, but have a one week shelf life. This time allows conversations to start between people who would have a great conversation, but just aren’t on the site at the exact same time.
We’re really excited about this next evolution of the product & have a lot of excitement from readers we’ve shown the direction to as well.
I like it, and I think having a batch of questions up to a week old is a great idea. That gives more than enough time for folks interested in a question to get the real conversation going... Once market distinction concern: The model you just described is pretty close to StackExchange, except more conversational and without voting... hmm, I think I just answered my own question: Your model is more, um, Conversful... :)" - Terry B.
We’re hard at work getting this new product ready by the end of the month. We’ll be bringing it live on at least three sites at that time: BackRe(action), History Is Now as well as a third site The Full Toss. We ended up parting ways with Hollywood In Toto since my last update due to some conflicting interests with the site owner’s advertising policies.
Thanks again to my team (Vince, Ethan & Nick) for all of the amazing work behind these updates.
Outside thanks to Ben Rubin, the co-founder of Houseparty (100M+ user social app), for sharing his story in this podcast that helped me understand many iterations of consumer products are the norm & the worst thing you can do is complicate it before it works.