The age of the one-size-fits-all social network seems to be steadily waning. There's Avocado, the social network for just two people in love. But what about when those lovebirds answer the call of their DNA and start a family? For that, there's Squarehub. When I first saw it, I rolled my eyes at the idea--just what families need, more excuses to be shackled to their little glass screens. But CEO Dave Cotter might be onto something.
As Cotter tells Co.Design, he started Squarehub when he discovered that, as a divorced dad of three teen and tween girls, it was a pain to "manage communication and logistics and maintain a 'virtual presence' with our daughters as they went back and forth between two houses. Social networks were too public for our kids and our family communication. The girls rarely used email, and filtering text messages was a pain." His kids were old enough, and he was tech-savvy enough, to want something that combined Facebook with a traditional family refrigerator calendar.
Cotter and his team had some unconventional design challenges to solve, since their social network had to be not just private, but also accessible and understandable to everyone in a family. He and his co-founder, Apple alumnus Giles Anquetil, spent six months iterating Squarehub's UI to arrive at a "leaner, more straightforward interface that could appeal to both teenagers and parents." Cotter concedes that apps like Path have a hipness factor that Squarehub might superficially lack, but he says that " simple but efficient navigation concepts" and "minimizing the number of taps" were more important to creating a fluid family-only social network. And as a family man myself (although our kids are still young), my gut agrees with him.
The other hurdle to any family-focused social network is buy-in. I ran into this problem when I tried to get my extended family onto Path, before remembering that none of the grandparents had smartphones. Squarehub, in constrast, is designed to be accessible to anyone in the family, even if they don't have an email address or a phone. "An 8-year-old with an iPod Touch or iPad but no email address can join and share photos," Cotter says. "Teens can text on a feature phone and an adult can receive email on a PC." And nobody has to download the app if they don't want or wish to.
Squarehub's combination of privacy and porousness means that Mom or Dad can also use it as "social media training wheels" for kids who are old enough to know that Facebook is cool, but young enough to get themselves into trouble online. But as a replacement (or augmentation) to the family fridge list, Squarehub's utility seems clear. My wife and I currently manage our household with a creaky combination of Google Calendar and Post-It notes. Something tells me that as our two kids get older, that system might fall apart at the seams. I'm in no hurry to rush our kids into using electronic devices, but if Squarehub is still around in five years, I might want to come back around.