Miniapps: Future of Social Networks

For the first time in a decade, consumer social is about to turn a new corner. I remember going to my first company hackathon as a Facebook intern, and discovering the secret Messenger soccer game (to unlock it, you had to send your friend an emoji soccer ball, ⚽️, and then long press it). For that hackathon, we remixed the game to create a rocket ship 🚀 Flappy-bird-like game, and it immediately became a hit in our intern groupchat. It never shipped to production to hit the light of day, but that joy of remixing a game stuck with me: it’s the dream of miniapps to create small experiences and then share them with your friends.

While Messenger wasn’t about to open itself up to user created miniapps in my summer of 2016, the conditions are finally right to usher in the next era of social. The confluence of AI (making it easier to code) and crypto (making new monetization marketplace models possible) is breathing new life into a space that hasn’t seen a long-lasting social app since TikTok launched in September 2016. I believe the shift will be exemplified in the next social primitive: the miniapp.

Miniapps are the New Social Primitive

Eras of Social Primitives
Eras of Social Primitives

We’ve had the social app for each era of media; the eras being text, photos, then video. The next era is the era of miniapps. We’ve been able to share text, photos, and then videos with our friends for a decade — next, we’ll build into platforms to craft our own post types. User generated apps are already winning in gaming (Roblox), now they’re coming to social.

What are miniapps and what do they do allow you to do?

Miniapps make posts. Users play with miniapps to create new art, music, or games, which then can be experienced by your friends. Miniapps live inside a super app, which acts as a constant contact book and platform for the feeds and groupchats that miniapps live inside of. Miniapps are creative tools that render their end product to a feed.

A miniapp fundamentally has two steps. They start with the singleplayer mode, where someone enters their data, plays the game, or interacts with the app. The second mode is how it shows up in a feed, which is a typically the finished product of the creative process: the finished song, GIF, or highscore. Some quick examples:

  • Artistic miniapps first allow artists to draw on a canvas, and then post their watercolor. Yes, Microsoft Paint is basically a miniapp.

  • Commerce miniapps first allow a seller to decide what to sell and how to make the post look, and then allows users to buy with one tap.

  • Game miniapps first allow friends to play the game, and then allows them to compete by posting their highscores.

  • Utility miniapps take the most arcane 3D image filetypes, and then render them properly in the feed.

Miniapps empower everyone to be Josh Wardle, the guy who created Wordle. He built a word game for his partner, and managed to bring a daily spark of joy into millions of people’s lives by leveraging social feeds for the ubiquitous pass/fail emoji blocks. For a moment in time, Wordle exemplified the promise of a fun, open internet. From that spark spawned a universe of remixes: Worldle, a game for guessing the outline of a country, Heardle, a game for guessing the music, and the list goes on. It was a whimsical time for discovering tiny, new games. Yet there was no central hub for these essentially miniapps. A social platform powered by miniapps has all the memetic potential of inspiring the next Wordle creators.

Why Miniapps Win

Miniapps move the agency of innovation to the end user, and therefore to individual communities. When I worked at Facebook, we did research trips, like the time I went to Indonesia in 2018 to study if TikTok was going to breakthrough to the United States. We used these learnings to power our Creative Tools team — the ones responsible for building new ways to share photos & videos, the most popular one being Boomerang. We were often just guessing at what users wanted out of their social sharing experiences, and validating our hunches with data gathered from releasing the feature to 1% of the population.

But ultimately, if a photographer wants to show off their photos in a particular way, why is a larger company the one to tell them how it’s going to show up in a little box? If a 3D artist wants to have their object spin in space, they should have the ability to make it happen. Social platforms that embrace miniapps as their feed post primitive will outcompete traditional social platforms, because they will innovate so much faster by incorporating talent from the community. Just like how crowdsourced YouTube videos have started to supplant Netflix watch time, so too will crowdsourced miniapps beat static post types on Instagram. Crowdsourced content always beats centralized content.

“No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.” — Joy’s Law

The medium is no longer the message. When we hang out with our friends online, it’s the content of what we’re talking about, not the medium, that matters. A group chat makes this easy: we drop voice notes next to photo memes next to videos we took of the squad trip. Yet outside of heavily walled gardens like iMessage apps, there’s no way for individuals to build new experiences inside of these group chats. We download new apps to try new types of sharing with our friends, but the process of populating a new social graph is cumbersome.

Empowering individuals and communities to quickly build for their own usecases sparks more innovation than constraining ideation to company insiders.

Miniapps are Memetic

Miniapps are inherently viral. What Tiktok did for videos, miniapps will do to social feeds. When your friend creates a post using a miniapp, you’ll be able to immediately do so as well for instant mimicry, spreading it to your own group of friends. In the Worldle example, you’d be able to immediately go from the score post directly into playing the game yourself. This turbocharges growth and discovery for new miniapps, making it a desirable place for miniapp developers looking for distribution, and consumers looking for new experiences.

Miniapps will naturally explode in popularity and then fade quickly, but that’s okay and intentional: the building blocks for the next viral miniapp will be open source and ready to be remixed. Like how brush fires in forests allow for new plant growth, miniapps will blaze into and out of popularity with a constant set of friends underneath.

The miniapp marketplace has a two sided network effect: as the marketplace of miniapps grows, the super app solves more problems for users, making them more likely to stay.

Miniapps are fast to make

Speeding the innovation process along is that miniapps are faster to build than entire social apps. Rather than becoming a full software engineer, building a backend database, and figuring out authentication flows, miniapps focus on the frontend of the experience (ie, sharing photos in a novel way). All the lower levels of the stack, the database, authentication, user session tokens, are handled by the super app. Developers create these miniapps like software Legos: piecing together components into fun new ways to connect. This means it’s much easier to learn to code a miniapp. At Seam, we chose to use Javascript and React components, which already power most of the web, making it easy for anyone with the foundations of coding to contribute.

Miniapps lower the barrier of entry required to create new software, and in turn, open it up to an entirely new demographic of creators. Just like the early internet had folks experimenting changing the code on their MySpace profiles, Geocities sites, and even their Neopets stores, miniapps are an invitation to non-coders to learn how to manipulate software for the first time. Even better, one person’s work can be the springboard for someone else — standing on the shoulders of giants.

Compounding this trend is that AI is making coding easier overall. Code can now be generated from natural language, and if there is a corpus of existing miniapps, AI can even write the code in the required style and format. Miniapps will become the AI killer usecase: if software is eating the world, we’re making it possible for everyone to feast.

Miniapps: The Future Creative Renaissance

So, what are the first miniapps going to be? Like the advent of all newly disruptive technology, the first era will be one of skeuomorphism: miniapps that copy the features of existing social apps. At the beginning, most of these miniapps will “feel like toys”: I’m imaging ephemeral photo miniapps, like Snapchat, meme creation miniapps, like Mematic, or daily word games, like NYT Connections. After reading this article, you’ll start seeing entire existing social apps as miniapps waiting to be built.

Further down the line, people will iterate on and remix miniapps such that entirely new ways of creating, socializing, and sharing come to life. Inevitably, as there was an Uber for the mobile era, a new app that harnessed the full capability of the new technology to build a huge business, there will be a miniapp that fully leverages the capabilities of living in a social feed.

At Seam, we’re building the first community developed social network, powered by miniapps. We already have our miniapp builder live, and our crowdsourced list of ideas for miniapps exists as a repository to record everyone’s creativity.

The future is bright with the Cambrian explosion of creativity on the horizon because Miniapps are ushering a new renaissance of online expression. Join us!

Subscribe to Seam Social
Receive the latest updates directly to your inbox.
Mint this entry as an NFT to add it to your collection.
This entry has been permanently stored onchain and signed by its creator.