In the software world, everyone wants to be "the next big thing." In fact, when pitching investors, it is apparently recommended that you compare yourself to another company, related or not. For example, if you are a fitness company in the gig economy space, refer to yourself as "the Uber of fitness." If you're a new social network, you're supposed to say you're "the next Facebook."
This week, "the next Facebook" got some decent press: Webtalk. In fact, my Facebook feed seems to be filled with mentions of the new site because of a feature on Good Morning Tampa Bay, the local version of Good Morning America. But, like any good fluff piece, the feature does not actually look at the details of the site and its business. Webtalk does everything that every "next Facebook" tries to do: tries to not be Facebook. It enhances privacy and puts it front and center, but unfortunately doesn't do it to the same granularity as Facebook does.
It also claims to integrate some features of LinkedIn, without seemingly offering any of the features of LinkedIn. Yes, you can group contacts as personal and business, and share posts based on those groups. However, Facebook has the ability to create custom groups and share content based on those groups, so you could create your own personal and business contact groups. It does feature a more detailed Experience capability than Facebook, but that is trivial. I created a profile just to see what was possible.
None of this really matters, though, as the business structure of Webtalk is the thing that is going to cause problems for growth. The site has leaned-in completely to the current general acceptance of multi-level marketing and pyramid schemes as a get rich quick scheme. We have all experienced it on social media: friends selling "travel experiences," cheap jewelry, and even off-brand leggings, plus the long-running annoyances of Amway, Pampered Chef, and Herbalife. All of them promise lots of money on a minimal investment. In reality, the cost is often your closest friends.
Webtalk works the same way. Like Facebook and Gmail were in the beginning, the system is private and, like Gmail, requires an invitation from an existing member to get in. In theory, this idea drives users to want access to the system and ask friends for referral codes. However, this system pays people for claimed referrals on a tree structure, giving payouts for the referrals of their referrals, going 5 layers deep. They even have a handy calculator to show how the pyramid structure works.
Pyramid schemes are clearly popular today, with everyone knowing people who have gotten involved looking for a quick buck. Normally, a failed attempt costs tons of money in licensing fees and product purchases that sit in garages and cars for ages. In this case, there isn't really a financial cost, but there is for sure the icky feeling that a normal person gets when their friend pitches a pyramid. When it comes to pyramids, privacy is almost never at the forefront.
The company did not respond to a request for comment.
Does the idea of an MLM-based social network sound appealing to you, or is it something to avoid? If you want to try it out for yourself, invites are available. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.