At USV, we have always been interested in communities. They are, in some ways, the iconic representation of our “large networks thesis”. We have been impressed by communities like Reddit, 4chan, and Hacker News. We love what our portfolio company Disqus has done to turn blogs like this one into vibrant communities. And we have turned our own website at USV into community, using Disqus and Twitter and link sharing.

We’ve long wondered what a native mobile community looks like. A few months ago we saw one when the two founders of Amino came into our office. They have built an app constellation of native mobile apps, each focused on a niche topic (like a subreddit). Examples are Minecraft, K-Pop, and Anime.

My partner Andy wrote a short post on about our investment in Amino yesterday. If you want to see what the future of communities might look like check out Amino. We are intrigued and excited to see how this plays out.


Comments (Archived):

  1. JimHirshfield

    Slicing it down to niche communities is key. And making those communities around things young people are passionate about is another smart move.As regards app constellations, this is a little different than your original definition of a constellation (one community with the apps each providing a different FEATURE). Here, each app has generally the same features, but is built on a different TOPIC. Not saying that doesn’t make it a constellation (esp if users participate across communities). Just saying it expands the definition.

    1. LE

      young people are passionate aboutAol keyword: fickleWould need to have planned obsolescence by coming up with the next thing before fickled get tired of the current thing and it is replace by someone else’s new boss.

      1. JimHirshfield

        Their platform seems ready to accommodate that: new passion arises, Amino creates a new community and transitions the user over. Same way Lego Company gets toddlers on the Duplo blocks and that leads them over to the traditional Lego blocks as they age. Or sumpin’ like that.

        1. LE

          Same way Lego Company gets toddlers on the Duplo blocks and that leads them over to the traditional Lego blocks as they ageWhich is great for Lego that they have pulled that off.I wonder why lego hasn’t sequed their user base into something more grown up when they outgrow lego? (Or have they? [1]) In other words a separate brand.[1] (And a disqus idea. I mention lego, and I wonder if there would be a way, Quora-esq, where disqus could alert someone in another forum that someone has a question or thought about lego that might pay to answer..)

          1. Nick Devane

            I loved playing the Lego video games when I was in high school. They were fun games and based around popular culture that resonated with me (Batman, Indiana Jones, Star Wars). They’ve always been masters of licensing product, but they constantly came up with funny references or connections to classic lego bricks (animations of legos breaking apart from an explosion, building vehicles, or finding pieces to achieve different goals). The age range for those probably starts at the same as classic legos, but still fun at a later stage.I guess I still play with old fashioned legos though from time to time though, so perhaps I am less than average.I wonder if the disqus alert idea could work in the same fashion as following stories on Circa… which I guess is similar to tracking something trending… keeping you posted on discussions as they develop. Like you just agreed to follow Lego and then get notified about everything Lego till you unfollow. Lego may be a bad example, but perhaps certain discussions based around something trending would be super interesting.

          2. JimHirshfield

            Lego doesn’t need to…the adult Lego marketplace is very mature (pun inteded, duh).

          3. JimHirshfield

            As regards the Disqus idea, we’ve played around with that – called it brand monitoring. We actually did a test with a major automotive brand. cc @disqus_oJCa7vYKH6:disqus

          4. leapy

            or just tweet every comment and let existing discovery tools do all the work

          5. JimHirshfield

            That would be voluminous and seen as spammy. And besides, most comments are longer than 140 characters. There are existing discovery tools that search comments. cc @domainregistry:disqus

          6. Dave W Baldwin

            @jimhirshfield is right plus the MindStorm in their robotics helps in that crossover .

          7. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            We call it engineering:) – it used to be meccano

          8. William Mougayar

            i loved meccano!

    2. fredwilson

      Yesssssssss it does

    3. aweissman

      expanding definitions orthogonally maybe a good thing? 😉

      1. JimHirshfield

        For sure

  2. Mike Dee

    Really interesting.Do you think that the mobile landscape (app stores, screen size, native apps being better than web apps, the home-screen real estate being so valuable) leads to fragmented communities being the final form, or does the Reddit model eventually win?I’m not saying that Reddit has beat specialized forums on the web in general, but for a certain type of person the convenience of having several interesting subreddits in one place is enough to win for them.I’m really trying to understand if there is something unique about mobile that makes the fragmented approach a better solution than the reddit approach, or if the same desktop story is playing out and Amino happens to be building the fragmented side of communities on mobile.As always thanks for the post!

  3. RichardF

    niche communities are great but I really wish there was a wholesale move away from apps. Web first is the way it needs to go whether that be mobile web or desktop. Apps just feel like AOL all over again

    1. JimHirshfield

      Aol keyword: Amino

  4. Russell

    Wondering what you think when/if communities go sour. Interesting blog post on someone who no longer contributes to Stack Overflow –…. The third story if you do a google search for SO.

    1. aweissman

      Ben can answer more here, but I think one idea is that communities may indeed go sour, and new ones might replace them. The approach they took allows for this. Even now, some of the communities are not as active as others.

    2. Drew Meyers

      Gamifying anything is a very, very dangerous game. I saw a point system lead to the downfall of an entire real estate community (Active Rain). Points based systems make people do things for the wrong reasons, and quality of content suffers. And then the sense of community is lost. The influencers leave. And then there is no one left.

  5. Brandon G. Donnelly

    UI makes it feel like it’s for kids

    1. JimHirshfield

      I think it mostly is. When’s the last time you played Minecraft?

    2. fredwilson

      It is, sort of

    3. leapy

      My kids get home from school and immediately log on their laptop/desktop to meet all their school friends within Minecraft. They play whilst discussing homework, football and “stuff”. This will allow them to meet their friends while on the bus home! Amazing.

  6. kirklove

    Smart move. Everything old is new again on mobile. This is for all intensive purposes old school forums and chat rooms, which became subreddits, which are now spilling into single purpose apps. Move to where you users want to engage. Again, smart move.

    1. awaldstein

      Ex BBS operator here. Ex obsessed entrepreneur developing single sign on identities across multiple communities. This one feels retro in a way that it just might work.No one has cracked mobile on communities. Maybe it needs a step backwards to really move forward.

      1. LE

        No one has cracked mobile on communities.Why do you think that is? Isn’t this like the 10th restaurant that opens in a space where 9 have already failed? Consequently not low hanging fruit and odds greatly stacked against success? (Lacking celebrity shock and awe which might float it…or some other change to circumstance (neighborhood improves etc.)Do we have examples of ideas that didn’t work until someone came along and executed and then it worked?Remember iphone was something that just worked better. Same with digital cameras. Same with fax machines. Same with VCR’s. Same with telephones. Same with airplanes. Same with the Internet. All things that became just a better way of doing something that people inherently needed or wanted to do.My personal feeling is communities would be hard on mobile because it’s more difficult to communicate on mobile and build a bond as a result of the small screen area.I never did any BBS because of the friction (dial up). Remove the friction and it becomes different. So what is the friction that can be removed from mobile on communities?

        1. aweissman

          I think, as kirk said above – “Move to where your users want to engage.”

        2. Benjamin Anderson

          It’s been incredible to see some people in the Amino communities writing long-form content completely through their phones. Also, I believe being able to enter a world for your passion anytime, anywhere is a pretty powerful thing.

        3. James Ferguson @kWIQly

          Manned flight

      2. fredwilson


      3. sigmaalgebra

        Communities? In particular, Internet communities, and, sure, via mobile. What the heck do we know about what a ‘community’ is? Is it that we have only examples, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo Groups, blogs tracked by Technorati, Disqus?What about actually thinking about communities, understanding them, and then designing some? This work might not be trivial: E.g., apparently Google tried with Google Groups or some such with a lot of ‘circles’ or some such. So, they thought and thought and thought and came up with now appears to be a flop. Not good.Was it that difficult for Google to understand and borrow from what made Facebook work? Heck, I can’t even use the Facebook user interface; I click and click and everything is slow, the screen jumps around; mostly the text on the screen I don’t understand; they send me e-mail about “notifications” and I can’t find them; I don’t have a clue about what is really going on; the movie claimed that Facebook was ‘addictive’, but I find it just frustrating; maybe I need a 400 page book on HOW TO Facebook; I don’t have a clue about why people like or even put up with Facebook.Why is the next effort at building a community not going to be a flop? We’ve had various attempts at on-line communities back to point to point via dial-up, with most effort being flops and the rest lasting only a few years. How to build a community that will last? Outside of on-line, some communities do last. Why not on-line? Or, maybe for a good on-line community, start with a strong off-line community and have the on-line one be just a supplement of the off-line one? To me, betting on communities looks like betting on vulnerable caterpillars hoping to get long lasting butterflies!We know what a hamburger, pizza, computer processor, battery, airplane, TV set, etc. are, but do we know what the heck a ‘community’ is?If you know, let me in on the secret — I’m trying to understand.In my project, I’ve deliberately avoided trying to know what a ‘community’ is or trying to have my work be based on ‘communities’. Why? I’m short on any good explanations for what the heck a ‘community’ is or how to have one be successful. My work could help some people form communities via, say, blogs, if this is possible and they know how, but mostly my work doesn’t much depend on communities.By now, it might be good to have a good Communities 101 lecture. How about from Lecturer Waldstein? Or some team teaching from Waldstein, Wilson, and Wenger?

    2. fredwilson


  7. William Mougayar

    I had a look and downloaded 2 of them – food and travel. There is a lot of great execution in these apps- it shows that the user experience has been really well thought out. Couple of thoughts:1/ Could they enable Twitter sign-in? (only Facebook was)2/ I didn’t see any of my 330 Facebook friends there – maybe none of them were on it, or maybe the app doesn’t sync them up. I couldn’t tell. What was unappealing to me is that I don’t want to start by following strangers who I have no clue about who they really are.3/ Will they allow private communities to be created and managed separately (public or private). That would be a huge revenue source I think.This definitely has a chance to replace the old online forums with something more exciting, spontaneous, mobile and friendly. Best of luck. I will be following.

    1. Drew Meyers

      I downloaded the travel one since it is actually a passion of mine, and I know this space really well given I’ve been working on a travel startup the last couple years. But I really struggle to figure out how Animo’s offering will ever get truly big in a vertical like this… there are major major brands focused exclusively on travel. Trover is a way better product offering for a travel community (disclosure: both co-founders are friends of mine). I think the only way Animo’s offering works…is if it segments way, way, way down. Such as for paragliding enthusiasts.

      1. William Mougayar

        Good points, but it also depends on the target user segmentation, no? For very large/broad topics like Food and Travel, there are various segments within these segments, which could be by age group, sophistication level, and other characteristics.So, what I’m saying is there could be several viable markets for Travel- Trover, Amino, etc… Same with food- there is Chowhound, eGullet, etc. and they are each different.

        1. Drew Meyers

          Right…needs to segment way way way down. “Travel” is massive, and even if someone likes “travel” – doesn’t make them that similar to me. There are too many different age segments and types of preferred travel experiences to have much common ground with others.Maybe Travel is just a really bad example of Animo’s offering. I think really specific topic based communities may work; travel isn’t one of them. Now, if they had an overlay of “travel” on top of all their communities…then that gets interesting. Travel + niche topic X. For me, I would LOVE a community of “travel + microfinance”, or “travel + social entrepreneurship”.

  8. Matt A. Myers

    So how does this affect what USV invest in?If Amino reaches into dozens-hundreads of communities, and USV doesn’t invest in companies in the same markets – then have you essentially said you’re not investing in community platforms/apps?

    1. fredwilson

      I guess we will cross that bridge when we get to that. It would be a nice problem to have

      1. Matt A. Myers

        Aren’t you already at or crossing that bridge? You’ve talked to me about I Live Yoga and I can imagine Amino will add fitness, yoga, etc. as communities. I imagine others building food and other communities/platforms/apps have talked to you / USV as well.

    2. aweissman

      this is a good question, i would assume offhand investing in two mobile Anime communities wouldn’t make the most sense, for us or either of those companies. But good question

      1. Matt A. Myers

        I am confused why you’d mention mobile as a differentiating factor as anyone with an online platform or “desktop” version will also have a mobile version.I would assume too that Amino will want to expand into all major or large enough niches – so did you landlock yourself?Should niche/community products/platforms and apps talk to you / USV still? Should they feel safe talking to you? I think you / USV need to be very clear about this.

  9. Robert Thuston

    Cool, so I see this working for 1) heavily soloist type activities and 2) where there aren’t many people interested in the activity around you.For example, mine craft is perfect. You do it alone for long hours… And your friends probably don’t understand or appreciate it completely. Sane for dr. Who, and anime movies… It’s the people who watch and think about this a lot, and don’t have friends who appreciate that will be attracted to the app.As for food, travel, movies in general, video games in general, and photography… I don’t think the pain point will ever be high enough to have a large level of engagement

    1. Benjamin Anderson

      Robert – totally agree regarding niche vs. general. The community is more valuable to the users when it’s more specific. You may have a bunch of friends who like music, but probably don’t know many people who love K-Pop. Future rollout of apps is better represented by our most recent apps: K-Pop, Minecraft & Doctor Who.

  10. Emeri Gent [Em]

    When I saw the name Amino my first reaction was amino acid and that made me think more in terms of the Apple “Strength” advert…Yet when I visited the site it was a bunch of apps for young kids, and so that was the first disconnect – how does a word like “Amino” which portrays strength, fit with a brand that is K12?The thing with apps is the same as venture capitalist picks, there are few that will be the breadwinners while the rest are loss-leaders. It is not for me to comment how a 10 year old kid see’s the world because I don’t know how kids that age see the world now through the digital lens – but I can’t associate Amino as a brand in my mind as Amino Apps – probably better to reverse the words and call it Onima or build around the strength connotations.In the app world this also looks like a point solution for a “kids safe” market rather than catalyst for app developers to capture a particular niche market for kids in general. I always thought apps were the sum and scale of its development community.My 2 Cents.[Em]

  11. LE

    I actually like this idea right off the bat. (Not the same as saying I think it will work investment wise haven’t really vetted it) but it definitely resonates.

  12. Drew Meyers

    Revenue model on this? In app advertising / sponsorships?

    1. Nick Devane

      I think niche communities present some interesting opportunities to generate revenue, outside of advertising/sponsorships…For instance, I love to surf and everyone I know who surfs regularly has downloaded the swellinfo or surfline app for several dollars. The specialization and catering to the community makes it worth investing several dollars. The market may be small, but it will commit more.They also have the best space for advertisement and sponsorship given the super focused demographics. Hurley and Quicksilver ads on surfline are effectively only hitting their core customers.So I guess all of this is to say Amino could be an advertising beast.

      1. Drew Meyers

        Any chance you have a few mins to chat/skype? Have a quick question about the surfer community..

  13. Joe Lazarus

    It will be interesting to see how Amino scales this concept and which topics they focus on. The low hanging fruit, in my opinion, are a) topics that already have engaged mobile fans, b) topics that people search the app store in meaningful numbers, and c) topics where fans aren’t likely to know many people in real life with the same interest.Take a mobile game like Clash of Clans for example. Millions of people play Clash of Clans on mobile. Millions of people search the app stores for “clash of clans” where the game ranks #1 and Amino could eventually rank #2, thereby acquiring hundreds of thousands of fans for free (SEO). Clash of Clans fans have lots of questions about the game, but it’s likely that they only know a few people in real life that share their interest in the game, that they know of. The potential community members are all on mobile, they could find Amino through app store SEO, and the highly engaged fans are likely to have better alternatives other than the web, which is less preferred when you’re on a mobile device.Not the most innovative business, but could be a winner in terms of rapidly growing an audience around thousands of big niche topics.

  14. obscurelyfamous

    “We found that humans in general are more complicated than just one identity. It’s actually really freeing from a self-expression standpoint to have an account for just this one slice of your life.”I love that!

  15. Ciaran

    So it’s an ad-network?

  16. James Ferguson @kWIQly

    Maybe track trending twitter memes and create twitter #tag forums on the fly. Follow twitter list and receive 1:1 the amino conversation stream with filtering options (and include less targetted tweets in a sidebar).

  17. James Ferguson @kWIQly

    I dont have any apple connectivity – this is first time I felt #fomo Fear Of Missing Out

  18. pointsnfigures

    Looks pretty cool. This fits another theme-lots of people making a network within one deep vertical. Plenty of websites do this, but no one on mobile that I can think of.

  19. awaldstein

    Fred–post idea.What you’ve learned from the USV community experiment and where you see it going.

    1. Drew Meyers

      I like it..