Jon-Paul Wheatley

Stopwatch


10 years after launching DailyBooth I decided to try and build another social network. This time called Stopwatch.


It didn’t work.


This post will go into detail about what Stopwatch was and some of the thinking behind it.


Maybe some of these ideas will resonate and see the light of day again in other forms and other products. I think we were onto something that may have worked in an alternate universe.

The MVP

After experimenting with a different ideas I stumbled on something that I thought had some legs.


What if scrolling didn’t move content on the screen, but instead controlled time?


This was the impetus for the first version of Stopwatch. I hired a freelance iOS developer to hack together a super rough MVP, and quite quickly it felt like we might be onto something.

Audio is from the left screen. These people don’t know each other. It’s a shared experience through time. Notice how people across the world explode in celebration at exactly the same moment.

This was enough to convince Simon to quit his job and join me as a co-founder, and some great investors to give us some money to attempt to bring this thing into the world.

A Time Network


Your timeline would be populated after you follow some accounts.


Everything posted to Stopwatch was normalized by time. This had some interesting implications.


1. Everything in the feed, by definition, is always in order of when things actually happened. No algorithm controlling what you see. Just updates from the people you follow.


2. Any time multiple perspectives overlapped the same period of time, the UI would adjust to show every perspective at once. Tapping on any perspective changes the focused moment.


3. As you scroll through time, eventually you’d “catch up” with real time. This would be a perfect place to surface recent popular content, or show real time activity from the people you’re following. When you closed the app it would save your place in the timeline. The next time you opened it you’d see everything you missed.

Notice how as soon as the record button is tapped, the UI adjusts to show the overlapping perspective.

This format facilitated some new kinds of social interactions.


In addition to the obvious benefit of being able to relive the same moment in time, in the same location, from different perspectives – you would also be able to see globally everything that was happening in a specific moment.


This made the world feel much smaller and more connected.

January 1/1/2020 00:00:01

These are the first few moments of 2020 in the GMT timezone.


You can see the people celebrating across the country. Some at home, some out at parties, and even see fireworks going off next to the London Eye on the River Thames.

Rehet and I playing keepie uppies across space and time.

Designed to capture genuine moments in time.


The best moments in time are natural, not forced or staged. The Stopwatch posting flow was optimized to capture moments like this.


Individual clips were limited to 15 seconds, but you could record indefinitely, then quickly scroll through time and crop out and share only the interesting parts.

You could “like” moments in time.


Seconds, specifically. When you received a like on something that you posted the app would generate a 1 second looping gif. This created a lot of shareable moments.

This is midnight, 1/1/2020.

SIIIIIIICK

The same moment in time, from a different part of the world.

This is midnight, 1/1/2020 from a different angle.

We designed the posting flow to optimize for capturing ambient moments.

Pretty sure this went in.

Testing overlapping perspectives was fun.

*dab*

Highfive.

If this loop was longer than 1 second it wouldn’t look nearly as impressive.

I had some fun with a waterproof iPhone case.

Lots of fleeting moments in time that would otherwise go unnoticed create awesome looping gifs.

Working on a new trick.

A WILD MOUSE!

This is me making a cameo appearance in the onboarding video.

He’s not happy about this.

Proud of this one.

The moment Rehat thought he’d broken something.

Synchronized dabbing.

What worked well?


Serendipitous overlapping moments in the timeline were amazing. Even when 2 totally unrelated posts overlapped. It was very interesting being able to see the same moment in time filmed from different locations on planet earth.


Watching and documenting events (both local and global) worked really well too. The timeline combined with the posting flow created a lot of organic moments that were worth reliving.

What didn’t work?


Having a timeline like this was conceptually interesting, but generally it didn’t lend itself very well to consumption.


Most narratives were spread out over multiple posts, making it hard to follow when scrolling through posts from multiple people.