Today Lift, a product that Obvious co-founders Biz Stone, Evan Williams and Jason Goldman started talking up around a year ago, today made its official public debut via a release on Apple’s App Store. Lift is a goal-setting network, but one designed to encourage long-lasting habits, not just one-off personal achievements. Lift is designed to help foster aspirational desires in its users, and its founders talk earnestly about wanting to “change the world.” That goal is reminiscent of startups including 43 Things, but Lift is taking a unique approach that it’s hoping will attract more than just passing interest.
Lift offers users the ability to sign up and then add “Habits,” broad goals either chosen from the available community pool (right now users can search a database or view a list in order of popularity) or by creating their own. Each habit shows how many participants it has, and users can drill down to view activity by subscribed individuals, give props to others for taking part and post and view comments around activity.
Lift is all public, all the time. Someone craving anonymity could come up with a pseudonymous account if they wanted to maintain some level of privacy, but by design the app makes any goal public to others on the service. Co-founder and CEO Tony Stubblebine explained in an interview that the purpose of the network is sharing goals and related stories, after all, so it made sense not to limit that sharing up front.
“We’re launching with a very public nature, and I think that’s just how you have to build social software now,” he explained. “We want to see how people behave in public, and add in privacy features later.” For now, the public nature is what makes Lift engaging; setting goals and tracking their progress, along with receiving support from others as you progress, is a good motivator for engagement, but Lift’s secret weapon to get people coming back are the stories related to sharing.
“It was really awkward,” one Lift user reports about progress in the habit ‘Talk to at least one stranger.’ “He told me to go buy platform heels in [SF neighborhood] the Castro [because] I couldn’t reach a surplus item on the top shelf.” Each habit has similar stories, and the most popular ones already have considerable engagement thanks to a dedicated group of around 1,000 pre-launch beta testers, meaning users won’t be greeted with a sparsely-populated service on day one.
That pre-seeded content is an important ingredient for Lift, since Stubblebine admits that the key driver of activity so far has rested almost entirely with social interaction.
“What works is, there are three things,” he said. “There’s some spark of ambition when they see their progress and they want to do better than they’ve done before. And then we put you in a social situation where you just get motivated by your friends and other people doing it. We did a whole gamification thing before this, and the social support is just way more effective. The third thing is that sometimes you can read a book or an article, but there’s information that you need that you can’t get anywhere but from the community.”
Lift’s founders are focused on building the community and the product for the time-being, and are obviously backed by people who have taken that route and been successful with it in the past, so Stubblebine didn’t have anything to share regarding revenue plans at the moment. Growing a dedicated, engaged user base will be challenge enough; despite Lift’s support and attention within the world of tech and Silicon Valley, it still has to prove that there’s a strong appetite out there for goal-oriented social networking, something that has yet proved difficult for others to do. But with a smart, simple product as well as an active pre-launch community and influential supporters, it’s off to a good start.