- Upon Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, several users are leaving the platform.
- Somewhere Good is a social media app focused on fostering community and cultivating connection.
- The platform was created as a safe space specifically for POC and queer communities, and goes against social media norms – no profile, no feed, no likes, and no followers.
Under Elon Musk’s leadership, Twitter – one of the most popular social media platforms in America – could look a lot different in the coming weeks. A monthly subscription of $8 for verified accounts, an uptick in hate speech, and the return of banned accounts are among several of the changes that already have and could occur under new guidelines. Many users have shared their concerns online, while some celebrities, like Sara Bareilles and Shonda Rhimes, have already left the app. In the midst of what some see as a chaotic storm, some social media users are finding calm on Somewhere Good.
Somewhere Good feels fresh and different from other social media platforms. When you first download the app, you’re welcomed by a screen of moving clouds that reads, “Take a deep breath,” creating a whimsical and relaxing feeling upon entry. There are no likes, no followers, and no profiles beyond the very basic identifiers: name, pronouns, location, and a photo. There also isn’t a feed to scroll through. “It was an intentional product and design decision to remove that from our platform,” says Annika Hansteen-Izora, Head of Design at Somewhere Good. “We found that those numbers, which have become the standardized way of navigating the internet, don’t lend themselves to supporting people in creating meaningful connections in their lives.”
Launched in April for iOS, with plans to expand to Android soon, Somewhere Good is a voice note platform for community conversations – the key word being community. The app consists of worlds, or essentially voice note chat rooms, where a new prompt is released daily. Users can respond to these topics through recording voice notes.
“We’ve seen a huge uptick of notable people who’ve expressed not wanting to be on Twitter anymore and wanting to be intentional about how they commune and connect with their community online. Somewhere Good has offered them a space for that,” said Naj Austin, founder and CEO of the platform. To date, the app has received over 10,000 downloads.
A community playground
A need for a community playground, as Austin describes the app, was apparent before Musk’s takeover. “On most apps, you have to be very singular, and I think people are multifaceted and have many different things that bring them joy that they want to talk about,” Austin said. “There really wasn’t a place to have intentional, thoughtful conversations in which a person listens and responds on the internet,” she said.
Most importantly, Austin wanted to create a platform where people of minority communities could thrive and just be. “I think being a Black person, a person of color, online, usually is a tragic experience. So we are rethinking how we can build a digital place that makes being online and being in your full identity affirming.” During the app’s initial user research, Austin found that Black participants expressed feeling like they needed to move defensively in online spaces. “Not in a verbal way, but in how they show who they are because they are worried that they’ll be found by the white supremacists lurking in the corners and their experience will be tainted.” In the 12 hours immediately after Musk’s purchase of Twitter, hate speech tweets were fired off in high numbers, with the use of the N-word spiking by nearly 500% on the platform. Sexist and anti-LGBTQ posts also increased.
Austin and her team took measures to ensure that Somewhere Good would be a safe space, including intentional early invite codes to lay a foundation of behavior of how people talk on the platform, a limit on how often users can post a voice note to ensure no one can go on a heated rant, and an automatic removal policy when a harmful voice note is reported. “We always take the side of the person who feels harm has occurred and then we investigate, but we don’t let it kind of sit and fester and allow more people to feel harmed, which I think is a very specific choice as you get into how other platforms do it. Twitter specifically,” said Austin.
User research respondents also reported being choosy about where they spend their time and preferring private spaces and private group chats with friends as opposed to public spheres that aren’t very insulated or protected. “Most platforms think about safety last or definitely not first. We were thinking about it before we ever wrote a line of code or designed what the platform would even look like,” said Austin. The app is also invite code-protected, meaning users are likely to join by word-of-mouth. “This is to ensure that we’re growing with intention and not just for scale, not just getting to a million users, but being thoughtful about who those users are,” Austin said, noting that there is an invite code clue on the app and Somewhere Good will provide the invite codes to anyone who asks.
The most visited “worlds” within Somewhere Good include Griot Galaxy, where users indulge in conversations about the power of storytelling, Don’t Get Me Ta Lyin, which is comparable to the comedy series “Wild ‘N Out” but for book discussions, and Invisibilia NPR, a space where folks can discuss the hidden forces of life. Anyone can create a world, and set the world to “away” whenever they want to spend time offline, which Austin says is to allow users a break from their phone. Because there is no algorithm that pushes highly-visited accounts (or worlds) to the top, no one is popular or unpopular on Somewhere Good – no one takes the main stage. Instead, everyone can engage in conversation, or worlds, equally.
Rethinking our relationship with social media
“Somewhere Good merges compassion with social media in a way that I haven’t really seen done before and really just illuminates how we can build community in a way that is productive and centered with love,” said Jasmine Lewis, a 20-year-old college student in Tuscaloosa, Alabama who joined the waitlist upon the app’s launch. Lewis is among the first 10 world builders on Somewhere Good and the creator of Griot Galaxy. “What sets it apart from Twitter and other social media platforms is that instead of just doom scrolling and going through what’s happening in the world, the devastation, the gossip, and all the detriments of social media that really stray us away from harnessing that compassion as human beings, Somewhere Good gravitates towards compassion and conversation that is profound,” she said.
She mimics the sentiments of Brianne Patrice, creator of Twenty Nine Thirty, a world focused on connecting the dots between sensuality, sexuality, healing and wellness. “Anytime I get off Instagram or Twitter, I feel worse than I did before I logged on, whereas Somewhere Good has the opposite effect. I leave a conversation feeling fed.” Patrice is not alone in that feeling. Studies have found that social media use can lead to negative mental health consequences like lower life satisfaction, social comparison, and poor self-esteem. Additionally, research has linked social media use to sleep deprivation, anxiety, and depression. As Lewis said: “Stepping into this new dynamic of where a lot of us are rethinking our relationship with social media platforms, we definitely need to embrace more platforms that are centered within solidarity instead of so much division and provoking us to be more thoughtful human beings.”