A ‘vessel for content’: Former Waze CEO builds Twitter alternative with a16z funding
Noam Bardin’s Post News social media platform launches for select users, has over 350,000 people on its waitlist
Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.
After thinking about what’s next for more than a year, former Waze CEO Noam Bardin is vowing to create a social platform “for real people, real news and civil conversations.”
The upheaval at Twitter since Elon Musk’s $44 billion takeover last month has triggered ample interest in alternative social networks. Rising up to the challenge, Bardin earlier this month announced the beta launch of Post News site which he described as a platform that seeks to connect the space between news and social media and wants to eventually become a “civil place to debate ideas; learn from experts, journalists, individual creators and each other; converse freely; and have some fun.”
What differentiates Bardin’s social platform from alternative sites is that it will be run on a model that does not rely on advertising or subscription. Similar to the features on Twitter, Post members will be able to write posts but with unlimited lengths, and like, re-post and comment on content.
“I believe the future newspaper is the feed and want to make it more civil for users, profitable for publishers and better for society,” Bardin wrote in a tweet. “Many of today’s ad-based platforms rely on capturing attention at any cost — sowing chaos in our society, amplifying the extremes and muting the moderates.”
At the leadership of Tesla CEO Musk, a self-described “free speech absolutist,” Twitter already cut over half the staff, pushing others to resign, and spooked advertisers by tweeting conspiracy theories, while also reinstating previously banned accounts including that of former US president Donald Trump.
Musk also let go of some contractors worldwide dealing with content moderation. Meanwhile, civil rights groups allege that since Musk’s takeover, hate speech and antisemitic speech have spiked on the platform.
As of Monday, there were 350,000 people on a waitlist to join Bardin’s ambitious site, which launched in beta for select users amid the turmoil at Twitter, while 67,000 have activated accounts. As the site is still in the test phase, its interface and feed are visible only to account holders.
“Our number one focus is letting in the 300K+ users on our waitlist and opening up to everyone,” Bardin wrote in a post this week. “We are focused on moderation and operational tools, hiring and training people, flagging posts, blocking, muting, tuning the comment moderation keywords.”
“This is the biggest constraint on letting more people in faster,” he explained.
Within six days of launching the site, Bardin reported the first content takedown and account suspension.
“If you are publishing swastikas, confederate flags or other symbols as part of a historical, social or even humorist context — we will not interfere,” Bardin said. “But these symbols represent something; we are not the place for supporters of slavery or antisemitism — there are more than enough places for that on other platforms.”
“If you refuse to explain the context of using such symbols, we will remove them,” he warned.
During the testing phase, the Post team is still working on fixing bugs, email issues, adding safety and other features, and installing moderation systems, according to Bardin.
“Our design goal is to be able to support 50 million DAU’s [daily active users] in a year,” Bardin announced. “That is ambitious both as a number of users and as infrastructure to support them.”
Bardin, who quit Waze last year, after the crowdsourced navigation firm was bought by US tech giant Google in 2013, disclosed on Monday that his new venture secured funding from Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, also known as a16z, which has $35 billion in assets under management and describes itself as backing “bold entrepreneurs building the future through technology.”
“When I decided to raise money, I spoke to three of the top VCs and a16z was the fastest in making a decision,” Bardin said. “Within seven days we had money in the bank.”
The VC firm, which has been involved in controversial US-based crypto deals, is also one of the investors backing Musk’s acquisition of Twitter.
“This does not mean that I am a Crypto fan, that I think they should have funded some of the personalities they funded lately, or that I agree with every statement of theirs,” Bardin emphasized. “We did discuss the Twitter investment at the highest level and I can assure you that it is not a problem. Post is separated from the people involved with Twitter and a clear line has been set.”
Another investor and adviser cited by Bardin is Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing at New York University and co-host of tech podcast Pivot.
“The only other money invested is mine,” Bardin said.
Bardin envisages the Post site as a “vessel for content” with personalized feeds, search features, hashtags, and notifications.
“Long term, algorithms will help but for now, we want to quickly launch with semi-manual options to buy us time to work on machine learning,” he asserted.
Instead of advertising, part of Post’s business model relies on digital publishers charging users per individual article or micropayments, rather than for a subscription, to enable readers to access news from multiple sources.
“We want to be able to bring the right content to the right user at the right price,” Bardin said in a recent interview on the Pivot podcast.
“Our incentives are aligned with content creators, whether it’s publishers or individual content creators,” Bardin explained. “We both make money or we don’t make money, unlike today where the platforms make a lot of money, but the publishers and the creators make nothing.”