Hundreds of thousands are swapping Twitter for a new social network that shares posts with whoever is closest to them.
Between Facebook, Twitter and Instagram you might not think there was any space left in the market for a new social media network.
Now there’s a new kid on the block. A new social network from Lithuania is exploding in popularity with users hooked across Europe.
Plag gleaned 100,000 users in its first six week, and 12% of its users access the app more than 10 times a day.
Launched in November 2014 by founders Ilya Zudin and Pavel Panov, the so-called ‘information network’ has a unique way of spreading information: It passes your post, gif or picture on to whichever online user happens to be closest to you.
The more popular your post is (this is measured by Tinder-like swipes up or down), the wider the posts reach.
“We call each post a ‘card’,” explains Laura Inamedinova, Marketing & Business Development Manager at Plag.
“In that card, you can write any text you want to, you can post an article, you can post video, you can ask a survey, basically anything you want to.
“You open a card, you see one text, one picture. If you like it, you spread, if you don’t like it, you skip it.”
“If people like something they are going spread it further. So it’s more about the information itself then how much friends you have.”
This unusual way of sharing information is “like a virus”, says Inamedinova.
Plag defies the convention idea of hierarchical ‘influencer’-led social media.
In every other mainstream network you choose who you connect with – on Facebook that might be your friends and family. On Instagram it might be celebrities.
On something like Twitter, a post can go viral because it’s passed between popular Twitter accounts with thousands of followers.
But with Plag, the only way for a post to gain momentum is because the general population care enough to spread it themselves, leading to more accurate – and random – reflection of what’s popular.
“Being just on Facebook or Twitter you get the information that you sign up for,” Inamedinova told The Memo.
“Here, you don’t know what you’re going to get. Anyone can share something and if the majority of the community think it’s interesting, they’re going to share it.”
The nature of Plag is also shaping the kind of content that is shared.
“You can ask for an opinion about a birthday present for a girlfriend,” says Inamedinova. “Maybe you just want to know what people in other countries are thinking about.”
While one post might help a young gay man come out, another gives a 22-year-old Iraqi a global voice.
“Here you are connected with everyone, with each of our users who might be from different countries or even continents,” says Inamedinova. “You don’t have the same boundaries or rules, that you have on Facebook, Twitter and every other social network.”
For Inamedinova, Plag is about levelling the playing field.
“Right now all social networks, and the news are controlled by big giant corporates, people who have already established some big audience, they decide what you’re going to see and what you’re not going to see.”
“Even if I don’t follow Kim Kardashian, I am still going to see it, because everyone is going to write about it and I can’t escape it,” she says.
“Here at Plag we decided we’d help people make information first and then let the majority of people decide what they like it, not someone who has all the leverage because they have the money or the audience.”
While the idea behind Plag is that users get a more surprising mix of content, the network won’t be totally random forever.
Its founders are busy working on algorithms to help prioritise the content you might be most interested in.
“Our algorithm understands what you’re swiping up and what you’re swiping down,” explains Inamedinova.
“So if you, for example, speak Russian, but you don’t understand French, you’re going to down swipe all the information in French, and afterwards you won’t get articles in French again.”
“We’re also slowly understanding what is that post about – is it about kitties or cars?,” she says.
“We’re working on making sure that the person will get what he or she likes, and not just any old information: The application is learning.”
Plag also features an expanding range of group functions, which allow you to subscribe to certain areas, like London, or groups, like gaming.
“We have groups that we call ‘areas’,” says Inamedinova. “We have an area for London, an area for Manchester, for New York. If something very local happening, you can post it there, so everyone in that city will get it.”
This was prominently used in the aftermath of the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, France.
The groups function will be like Reddit, but far clearer, adds Inamedinova.
“Reddit and Plag are similar because in Reddit it’s also the information that matters the most, but Reddit is too complex; when I first logged into Reddit, I didn’t understand what to do there.”
“Right now our main goal is to develop the app itself, develop the algorithm,” says Inamedinova.
Most of Plag’s users are in Europe, but the apps two places where adoption has been hottest has been in Germany and – Japan.
When asked about the company’s plans for the future, Inamedinova told us: “We aim to create an even bigger user base.”
Watch out world: This virus is spreading.
Kitty Knowles is a Senior Features Writer at The Memo. Kitty previously worked as an online journalist for GQ. She can be found tweeting @KittyGKnowles.