March 21, 2013 — -- As Facebook slowly rolls out its updated News Feed design, featuring content-sorted feeds dedicated to photos and music, a popular social networking alternative has emerged. Pheed, a small start-up out of Los Angeles, is not only capitalizing on dedicated photo and audio streams, but it also offers feeds for text, video and live broadcasts, not to mention an in-your-face homepage … tattooed hands interlaced behind a young man's head boldly announce this is not your grandma's social network.
In February, Pheed became the No. 1 free social networking app in Apple's App Store, ruling the charts ahead of competitors like Twitter and Facebook for more than a week. The audience driving Pheed's spike in downloads? Young adults in their late teens, a demographic often said to be losing interest in Facebook. Eighty-four percent of Pheed's users are ranking in at between the ages of 15 and 24.
Pheed's self-funded website and iOS app launched in late 2012, claiming a few notable celebrities as early adopters. ABCNews.com spoke to Pheed's team CEO (and seed-round funder of $2.5 million) O.D. Kobo, who chalked up the involvement of stars like Miley Cyrus, The Game and Nas to a few lucky meetings with music industry managers who were interested in supporting a "little underdog trying to give it a shot against the big giants" of social media. Kobo said that celebrity participants were not paid to promote the service.
Part of the celebrity draw has been Pheed's copyright system, which allows content creators to watermark the photos and videos they share on the social network. Watermarks create a line of gray text with the username on the photo itself. If someone were to download the photo, the text would remain. Pheed also offers copyright disclaimers around audio and text updates and allows users to set prices for access to content and live-streams on Pheed pages. The copyright feature serves as a declaration or 'stamp' of ownership from the content creator, Pheed says.
In December 2012, Pheed's copyright features attracted a number of photographers to the service. As Pheed's initial audience grew, the network's founders decided to enact a 30-day "lock down" on registration and app downloads. The service was unavailable through all of January and on Feb. 1, pent-up demand for the app was released. Without any advertising and completely through word-of-mouth, Pheed grew by 450%. The company, however, will not release exact download numbers.
Kobo credits timing, product and community for the network's early success, as well as Pheed's image as the "bad boy of social media," a vibe that emerged from the network's "modern, contemporary" look, which includes the photo of a man covered in tattoos that users see when logging in. The type of content you'll see posted to Pheed is similar in nature to Tumblr, with artsy photography and quotes being "heart-ed" and "remixed" ("liked" and "shared") more often than personal photos.
New Features on the Way
Pheed is still in need of some critical updates to compete directly with Facebook, but Kobo says the updates are coming fast, with plans to release photo, video and even audio filters over the next few weeks. Those are all a part of the effort to compete with and surpass the content modification tools of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Pheed's upcoming audio filters may serve to filter out background noise or even add light jazz to the background of voice recordings.
Updates are also on the way this month to offer link previews, improve user interface for searches (searching content will be made available) and add privacy settings for posts (current posts are by default public and searchable by Google). Pheed is also in the final stages of development for their Android app.
While live-streaming video, filtered photos and text updates are all currently split into a number of popular apps and services, Kobo's goal is to have one app that rolls together all types of social media content. While that could become confusing, his plan is to slowly introduce more and more ways for Pheeders to express themselves and let the existing audience educate new users on the tool's intricacies rather than strip the app of features.
Pheed is based out of a Los Angeles mansion turned office. When it comes to competing with Facebook and Twitter, Kobo admits, "I've never been to Silicon Valley in my life." Yet another thing setting Pheed apart from all those other social networking feeds.