Two years ago, Oliver Cameron had a hit on his hands. He built an app called Voices, which turned your incoherent mumbles into Darth Vader's brooding baritone, and it became the #1 app in the App Store. His app Postman was featured by Apple in a "there's an app for that" iPhone commercial. Life was good, but Cameron was stuck at a university in England and thought it was time to move on to something bigger. He spent six months packing his bags and filing Visa paperwork, dropped out of school, and was off to the United States, destined for the same Summer 2011 YCombinator class that graduated Codecademy.
Cameron, now 23 and backed by $1.5 million in funding from venture capital firms like Andreesen Horowitz, SV Angel, and Crunch Fund, has just launched the first app of his adult life called Everyme. What started as an idyllic auto-updating address book is now a full-fledged social network competing with the likes of Path, Google+, and Facebook. Or is it?
At first glance Everyme seems to grab the Circles concept from Google+, a user interface and philosophy from Path, and the Lists feature from Facebook. But it's a lot more than that. Everyme creates groups of people to share with more accurately than any social network I've ever used. It does so by combing your LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter accounts in combination with your address book to create Circles to share with — but only from your iPhone.
So does it all add up to anything substantial, a new social network you'll want to spend precious minutes of every day using, or is Everyme just a feature Facebook will clone and add to its repertoire sometime next year? Read on to find out.
Don't call it a social network
"A circle is a completely private news feed for you and a group of friends," founder Oliver Cameron told me. But unlike with Google+, friends and family will receive your posts even if they don't actively check for them. Even if group members don't have the app, they'll receive updates via email (first choice) or via text message (second choice), which they can respond to and easily participate in a threaded conversation. It just works, but will non-adopters want yet another email in their inbox?
This method sounds annoying, but it's not any more annoying than emailing or texting those people the ordinary way. You do have all of these phone numbers and email addresses in your contacts list, after all. Everyme only hopes to streamline the experience of communicating with a group in a social network-agnostic way. Everyme's second goal is to push out updates to your friends and family "magically" based on what's new with you, whether it be a job change update on LinkedIn or a relationships status change on Facebook.
So Everyme isn't much like Path or Facebook or Google+ in its actual execution. There's nobody to friend, and you won't be able to find profiles, walls, tagged pictures, or location check-ins. Everyme is about creating one place where a group of people can share pictures and text, even if every member of the group isn't an Everyme user. All you need is one person with the app to get the thread going.
Design / functionality
Everyme is a beautiful app, but it isn't at all original in the way it presents itself (besides its sea foam header). The app is essentially a list of Circles, where each contains updates from the people inside that Circle. Tap a Circle and you're brought into a Path-esque group profile page with a cover photo, refresh button, and list of past updates. This page contains photos and messages Everyme users have shared. These stories can receive comments from Circle members who don't have the app, via email and text message.
Effectively, the app becomes a neat way for you to share a picture or message with a group of people. Unless others get the app, they can only comment on your stories and not post stories of their own. Once the comments start streaming in on a story you post, people who don't have the app receive "comment digests" that group together comments on a single thread. If a bunch of comments come in simultaneously, Everyme waits a few minutes to compile all the comments into the aforementioned email digest — since nobody wants an email notification for each comment on a thread.
The cement underneath the feet of Everyme is the Magic Circles engine, a duo of Amazon's most expensive supercomputers designed to parse data from your address book, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter in mere seconds and construct Circles of people you might want to share with. The trick here is that Circles only get created using people in your address book — the social networks are only there to tell the app how you know these people and how to group them inside Circles like hometown, high school, college, workplace, and current city. There's also the auto-created "Sweetheart" space which includes just the person you've denoted as your significant other on Facebook.
"We built a technology that tries to figure out and analyze what groups are in your address book"
Magic Circles works almost flawlessly in most cases to build Circles like "University of Michigan" (which contains everyone in my address book that attended U of M), but how is that Circle remotely useful? There is no scenario where I'd want to share a photo or message with the 240 Wolverines in my iPhone address book via email (or worse, via an obnoxious text message)? Everyme makes the mistake of assuming that categorizing people into groups effectively implies a utility to communicating with any of those groups.
"We do it best, and we do it using the ultimate data source for you, which is your address book. I think that's a game-changer personally," Cameron told me. But, I keep in frequent touch with less than 20 percent of the people contained in the Michigan group, even though they're in my address book. The address book is not a be-all end-all indication of who I want to get in touch with as Cameron hopes.
The "New York" Circle Everyme created, on the other hand, is far more useful. If I were planning a party, for example, it would be easy to ping them all about it simultaneously. But wait! Facebook already does that — in the right sidebar of Facebook is an automatically generated Smart List called "New York Area" that contains people I know that live within ten miles of New York. The only difference is that Everyme uses my address book to see who I might really want to talk to, while Facebook looks at my Friends list. I can post to my New York area list from either Facebook (pictured at right) or Everyme for iPhone, but with Everyme, I can only do it from my iPhone.
Cameron told me, "We built a technology that tries to figure out and analyze what groups are in your address book. It will figure out who's your family, who your coworkers are, and who your girlfriend is." The app does a great job figuring out Circles, but it missed perhaps one of my most critical Circles: my coworkers at The Verge. Yes, I've only been at The Verge for a month, but I've updated by LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to say where I'm working currently. Everyme also missed a few members of my family, so I had to spend some time curating my Family list like I already have on Facebook.
One of Everyme's unique features is the "Magic Story," an important update about your life that gets automatically pushed out to your circles. Since Everyme is always checking up on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, it decides which things might be relevant to people in your circles. One story might be a relationship status change on Facebook, and another might be a job change on LinkedIn. Everyme even checks to see which of your tweets have gotten retweeted, and might turn those important tweets into Magic Stories too. So in essence, Magic Stories update your friends and family, but only if they use the app.
The technology behind Magic Stories is brilliant — it's a system that discerns what's important and what's not from updates in a person's life, but it's not perfect. "If I post a tweet and it gets ten retweets, there's a good chance that's an announcement in my life," Cameron told me. Except if you have a hundred thousand followers, ten retweets is common and probably doesn't denote a big change in your life — so Everyme employs a "retweet threshold" that decides how many retweets it takes to warrant creating a Magic Story [based on how many followers you have]. "It's not that smart right now, but we're really working on that," Cameron said. "One of the things I'd really like to do is look at machine learning so we could say this tweet is not really applicable to my family circle, so don't push it there."
Magic Stories as a feature has nothing to do with the core of Everyme, which revolves around getting in touch with people in a platform-agnostic way. It's a side project, a "killer feature" that's perhaps more scary than it is useful. For example, if you tweet a bunch of curse words and get retweeted by a handful of followers, a Magic Story will likely be created and pushed out to your Circles. Fortunately, Magic Stories can be enabled or disabled for any Circle you've created.
A novel take on social networking
The point of Everyme is to be able to share photos and messages with anyone, regardless of what social network they belong to, and that goal is a noble one — but Everyme has a bit of an identity crisis on its hands. It looks just like Path, but functions similarly to the cross-platform group texting app GroupMe (albeit with with emails added, and since when is email cool?). Also, it stakes its reputation on the idea of "sharing using Circles just like in real life," a paradigm Google has been preaching but which has fallen on deaf ears. Hardly anybody even uses Facebook's Lists feature that has been revamped over and over again to no avail.
Another issue with Everyme is that if you're on a computer all day there's no way to create new Stories on the service. If the company really takes its "get in touch with friends no matter what" motto seriously, it should've launched with a web interface to supplement its mobile one. We hear that a web version of the app is coming, but for now, this means that if you want to share using Everyme, you'll have to do it from your iPhone. This is very limiting for a social network that hopes to engage with desktop users via email. Path, in contrast, only hopes to engage with other mobile users.
If I'm on a computer and want to send a picture to family members, I'm just going to email it to them and let apps like Sparrow for Mac make the email thread look pretty. That's what Everyme is, after all — a glorified email thread that lives on your iPhone — because you've had your friends' email addresses all along. The app's real strength is its amazing ability to parse data and put your contacts into Circles, but in most cases, the Circles you'll end up communicating with the most are small enough (<10 people) that you could've made them yourself anyway (in Everyme or in your computer's address book), so the excellent Magic Circles engine largely goes to waste.
The engine behind Everyme is undeniably impressive. It judges what events in your life are important, then pushes them out to family members; it uses a combination of sources to throw together the most accurate "Circles" I've seen based on how you know people; and, it stitches together comments made on a post via text message, email, and within the app, and smashes them all together into one thread. This much works like a dream. Unfortunately, these features don't add up to yet another iPhone app I want to use every day, but instead add up to a bunch of small things I wish Facebook was doing. Everyme built excellent Circle-building technology and conversation-threading tools, but not a better social networking app.
Magic Circles creation engine parses data from all your social networks
Easy to communicate with groups via email and SMS inside one thread
Beautiful, yet unoriginal design
Silky smooth performance and animations
It's a glorified email thread that adds SMS recipients
Web version not available yet, which means you can only create Stories from your iPhone
Magic Circles don't always put people in the right places
Magic Stories end up being scary instead of convenient
No ability to share with multiple Circles