OSAKA, Japan—Pepo, a Tencent-funded social media app that pays you when people upvote your 30-second videos, launched at Devcon 5 today. It’s live on Android devices, and is coming to iOS shortly.
Pepo has already attracted attention. In beta, over the last six days, 500 Devcon users have already made 11,500 transactions, using it to connect and collaborate. But it's set to attract a much wider audience.
The app is a kind of crossover between TikTok and Instagram, but enhanced by—and shockingly, not encumbered by—blockchain. You can send crypto (using Pepo tokens) to people you know on the app, you can use Pepo tokens to upvote other people’s videos, and they can upvote yours. Further, if you end up with enough money on the app, you can cash out with gift cards, such as Amazon vouchers.
And yet, you wouldn’t know there was a blockchain in sight.
Not only is the technology mostly hidden under the hood, but there are none of the traditional drawbacks you get when you use blockchain technology. The app is non-custodial, so you control your funds at all times, but you don’t have to write down a complicated mnemonic phrase (lists of words that represent your private key, a kind of password to a blockchain address). Instead, you just have a six-digit pin that’s used to recover your account if you lose your phone.
And the app allows for fast, cheap micropayments—even though it’s built on the sluggish Ethereum blockchain.
To make this possible, the team had to perfect a bit of wizardry. “We thought, ‘how could we use a currency to provide incentives, rewards, signalling, to determine who to follow?’ Jason Goldberg, cofounder of Pepo, told Decrypt. “How could we make micropayments in an app to influence and affect the experience?’ We had to build a ton of technology in order to make it possible.”
Though Pepo launched as a Web3 app today, its precursor launched as a Web 2 app in 2016 and was used by a few hundred thousand people. But the team wanted to create something bigger, something that would cut through the noise of social media. It wanted to do away with fake accounts (a menace on crypto Twitter) and provide better content.
Web3 technology seemed to provide the answer—as well as a funding mechanism—and the devs settled on the Ethereum platform. But they decided to design their own booster engines: They created the OST platform, with native token Simple Token (OST), and raised $20 million in an ICO in 2017. OST is essentially a blockchain platform that runs parallel to Ethereum and can interact with it. It allows Pepo—and other apps—to create their own tokens, run thousands of transactions and then batch them all in one go onto the Ethereum blockchain. This keeps everything secure without costing the earth.
It also makes it blazingly fast.
The app is smooth and easy to use, like any Web2 app. Videos play full screen and you simply swipe from one to the next. Then if you want to see someone’s profile, you click on their image. Even like buttons look and feel exactly the same.
“This is proudly built on Ethereum. We hope other folks will take our codebase, do their things with it and build other great things on Ethereum,” Goldberg said.
Pepo isn’t the only app leveraging the OST blockchain platform. Hornet—one of the most popular gay dating apps, with 25 million users—used it to create its LGBT token. Currently it only has a minor use within the app (anyone who creates content that is chosen to be featured on the feed will receive some tokens) but it has plans to ramp this up, according to Goldberg who works closely with the Hornet team. Despite having such a limited use case on the app, the LGBT token already has 5,000 active users—which will likely increase when the app rolls out more features.
Pepo has a broader mission, one that could change the way we interact with apps.
It’s not simply about providing a monetary incentive for people to use the app, but rather uses this incentive to create a better user experience. And this gives the app a broader range of applications, Goldberg said.
“We found a lot of people were making really interesting things, and we’ve heard from all of them that they’re looking for better ways to connect with people, to show what they’re working on,” he said. “And we’ve heard from audiences [that] they want to filter. The token is a form of signalling and bringing the two together.”
The big idea is that the free “price” of social media creates a problem. Since everyone is able to tweet or post as much as they like, it results in too much noise. When the platform decides to fix the situation—by using algorithms to sort content—that can be controversial., Goldberg said Pepo’s technology allows consumers to push better content, and puts a cost on creating and running junk.
Finding this sweet spot has been Goldberg’s ambition for twenty years. After working as a senior aide to the White House Chief of Staff for five years, he got a masters from Stanford, then joined AOL in 1998 to build community chatrooms. In 2008, he founded a company called Social Median—specifically targeted at filtering the noise on social media—and within the year, sold it to LinkedIn rival Xing, in 2008, for $7.5 million.
In fact, Goldberg hopes Pepo will become a LinkedIn competitor—which might sound odd, but it’s already happening at DevCon. Rather than sharing funny videos, developers have been introducing themselves, showing what they’re working on and saying what they’d like to collaborate on. All it would take, Goldberg said, is adding each person’s CV to their profile, and the app would be fit for purpose.
While that’s his hope for Pepo, he’s willing to see how consumers use it, “The professional world is ripe for using value and tokens for having impact. And I’m more bullish on that than pure consumer. But, we’ll lean in to whatever users want to use it for,” he said.
The app will evolve too, giving rise to other use cases. Pepo will soon introduce the ability to put a minimum requirement on new messages, so if someone wants to message you, they have to stump up how much you value your time. This idea is similar to Earn, where someone has to pay to email you. And this suggests new possibilities such as, dare to say it, dating apps.
But whatever it’s used for, it shows that blockchain is ready for primetime. And that’s about as exciting as it gets.