Everything about Peach, a mobile social network for the iPhone that was introduced at January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, seemed hip, down to the URL: peach.cool. Part Twitter, part Facebook, part Snapchat, it combines everything people like in an app. A popular emoji even inspired its name.
The weekend after its debut, Peach breached the top 10 in iOS networking apps. The feat, requiring tens of thousands of downloads per day, was fueled by media infatuation (Wired: Peach “is so hot right now”; Mashable: “WTF is this app everyone’s talking about?”). And then, like a fruit at the peak of ripeness, interest in Peach softened. By the end of the month, it was obvious: “Peach is a turkey,” proclaimed mobile news site BGR.
It was a whiplash-inducing hype cycle, the likes of which seem to occur more and more frequently. Ello, a social network free of advertising, saw hysteria turn to snark as it failed to make a dent in Facebook’s user numbers. Path, a photo-sharing social network vaunted for its design and pedigree (its founder is a former Facebooker) raised $77 million only to fade into oblivion last year after it was quietly acquired by an obscure South Korean company.
Before cratering, each of these apps boasted a new mode of digital interaction that might have been better than current favorites, if only they’d been given more of a chance. But there’s no air for alternatives to breathe—not with Facebook to keep tabs on friends (and frenemies), Twitter for news (and self-promotion), and Instagram for sharing photos (and humble brags). Then there’s LinkedIn for professional development, WhatsApp for messaging, and Snapchat for anything else we wouldn’t want published to posterity. We’ve settled into a world where we’re good with the apps we have, thank you very much. Which is too bad: Just because an app can’t take away market share from Facebook—a suicide mission from the start—doesn’t mean it can’t add value. “I always love seeing new experiments,” says famed investor Marc Andreessen, who won’t say if he has money in Peach.
How might a fresh app stand a chance? “It needs to be more sustainable than just a new thing to play with,” says Hunter Walk, a seed-stage venture capitalist. “There needs to be some creation, communication, or consumption hook, maybe all three, that causes you to return.” And even this may not be enough. Peach has at least two of those qualities. For one, it excels at creation. Its unique “magic word” system offers users a shortcut to making different kinds of posts: Type “shout” to generate a simple message in large text on a monochrome or photo background; “rating” to append a star to your post; or “mood” to leave a LiveJournal-like confession. The app is good at communication, too. Friendships are mutual—no public follower numbers means less status anxiety. Consumption is harder to judge. The space is so intimate that brand accounts feel strange. Peach content is personal, not for broadcast.
Peach hasn’t been totally devoured yet. There’s still a core group of users, but if the app pivots in an attempt to reclaim lost buzz and “no one’s sure what they do anymore,” says Ello creator Paul Budnitz, they’ll lose that constituency. Choire Sicha, co-founder of the Awl media network and an early and avid Peacher, says he still likes the service: “I had a really nice day on Peach today. It was probably eight minutes of my life, but it was meaningful.”