Social media is increasingly the internet: Facebook was founded in 2004, and it ate the web as we knew it then — a collection of microsites and curiosities run by so many individual proprietors, individually. It used to be that personalization was what you did to your site; now it’s found in the ads you’re served. Peach — the microblogging platform— was seemingly designed against those circumscribed possibilities, as an antidote to the weird world-eating dominion of the Twitters and Facebooks and Instagrams of the universe. Its whole purpose was to bring people back to the early days of online, when the only limits were in what you could code. To describe it in a line: Peach is an online diary that you can share with your friends, like LiveJournal and Tumblr before it.
Peach went down last week. It took a few days before the developers addressed the situation online, and in that time its users were distraught because it wasn’t clear if the app was ever coming back. (As of this writing, it’s still not back up.) It is a special place: Warm, inviting, and private, a port hidden from the chaotic storm of posts that make up the contemporary internet. I got in touch with some of those people to see what Peach meant to them, and what it felt like to face down the possibility that this safe, beautiful place might disappear.
“To say I’m bereft would be an understatement,” wrote my friend Alison, who owns an aerial gym and who was a prolific, early blogger.
For the past several years, Peach has been my favorite place on the internet. Despite its clunky interface and tendency to crash, I and others have found it to be a place where we could allow ourselves to be vulnerable in a way we couldn’t anywhere else. I’ve used it to talk about my father’s declining health, my travails as a brand new business owner and aging aerialist, and my evolving sexuality. Today I mentioned to a friend that my internet support network had been down for two days and I actually cried.
If it’s really and truly gone, I don’t know how I’ll fill the enormous, peach-sized hole in my life.
Many people felt the same way. “I’m holding out hope that I’ll wake up tomorrow and check Peach and everything will load like nothing ever happened, but the app has been on borrowed time for so long that anything besides accepting its death feels foolish,” said Peter McCracken.
“Peach felt like a refreshing breeze after being jammed into a hot and crowded subway car for two hours.”
“When I first joined, Peach felt like a refreshing breeze after being jammed into a hot and crowded subway car for two hours. It was antithetical to the numbers game of accumulating followers and posting nonstop that plagued my Tumblr and Twitter circles at the time. Here was a charmingly simple app that let you curate your own space and peek in on friends.” McCracken went on, saying Peach is more of a web of interconnected diaries than it is a social network. There, he posted about the major shifts that occurred in his life — career shifts, the relationships, and the like. It was, he wrote, decidedly uncool. “I probably won’t be able to unlearn the muscle memory that made me open it in vain to check notifications on posts that are no longer there,” he wrote. “It happened five times while I was writing this.”
A person who went by Crow sent me an email, where they said Peach was a place where they went to interact with other people. “I’m autistic and really have no idea to interact with people in real life & it’s a lot easier online especially on Peach,” they said. “Without Peach I wouldn’t have met my ex who is still one of my closest friends today, my art wouldn’t have improved as much, and I think I would be a lot less happy if I’m being honest.”
A person named Michael wrote me, saying that they used Peach because it was isolated from the wider internet, which meant it was easier to post without consequence — unlike somewhere larger, like Facebook. “I go on there and clear the drafts for my brain, and I keep up with a few internet friends, and it’s just nice,” they said. “And like it feels trite to call something a safe space, but Peach is a motherfucking safe space!! In all the ways that twitter is not and refuses to be.”
For most people, Peach seemed to be a place to mature, in the realest sense: It’s a place where the wider world doesn’t interfere, somewhere away from the seriousness of the internet at large. A woman named Helena wrote: “My time on peach roughly matches up to my first serious adult relationship (I’ve been with peach slightly longer than my partner, which is wild to think about) and I think in both my relationship with them and my relationship with my Peach friends I’ve realised how much real intimacy is based on those two things — being able to be honest about the hard stuff, and being able to be listened to on the things you don’t think are worth mentioning.”
“People are (half-)joking a lot about Peach being a therapist but the time I had access to actual therapy I struggled so much with the idea of telling the truth about how I felt to a stranger, whereas I had a handful of friends I made on Peach (we had mutual friends, not total randos) who I immediately felt like there was this bond of trust with because we were both in the same boat, being honest with each other on a dusty abandoned mobile app,” she went on.
That was the magic. There aren’t many open spaces left online, and there aren’t too many playgrounds left. Peach is a 1.0 app in a web 2.0 world; its architecture is nostalgic for a time we’ve left behind. Though not irrevocably, at least not yet, because it’s still around.