The creators of Avocado--an iPhone app that functions like a digital toolkit for two people in a relationship--announced that they are launching a social network. Called Pears, it's like Pinterest for Internet power couples. While this might not be your cup of tea, Pears is still an intelligent attempt to fill a void in the digital landscape. It acknowledges that social media is more than just sharing with others who you are. It's also about exploring who you want to be, and gives couples a way to explore and promote their shared romantic identity without compromising their existing, individual social media profiles.
Avocado's intent is to let couples message each other, manage a joint calendar or joint shopping list, send each other virtual hugs, or even be alerted when a partner's iPhone is about to die. It is a great app, and while we've written fondly of Avocado, it was limited in one respect: everything that happened between a couple using Avocado was private.
"Avocado is often billed as a social network for two, but really, it was more of a utility app," explains Avocado co-founder Chris Wetherell.
Pears is the "obvious next step," according to Wetherell, allowing couples to create an outward facing social network and connect with other couples via a joint identity that they have constructed.
A web-only app for now (iPhone and Android clients are coming soon), Pears lets a couple build a profile that is presented as a mosaic grid of boxes, where each grid may be clicked for more detail. Embedded in these boxes can be any sort of media: a video of a wedding, a list of things the couple wants to do together, an animated GIF, etc. Once something is posted to Pears, it can be liked or commented upon by other couples. Pears will even help users find other couples nearby to "friend."
A week ago, Wetherell sent me a link to a sample profile that he and his team had created of me and my fiancée based off our Facebook profiles. You can see what he created here. My initial reaction might be best described as a profuse retching noise. Brittany was more articulate about what she saw: she flung her iPhone away and shrieked, "I hate it! I hate it! Kill it with fire!"
Although we are avid users of the Avocado app, Pears seemed to be everything Brittany and I hated about coupling in the Internet age. After five years together, we haven't even changed our Facebook relationship statuses. Given that, what are the chances that we would tag a picture of us kissing #powercouple (as had been done in our mock-up Pears profile) and share it with our friends? Everything we valued about Avocado's design for its intimacy, we detested about Pears for its spectacle.
Explaining our reaction to Wetherell, he was unfazed. He acknowledged that two-thirds of Avocado's existing users who had created Pears profiles had opted to make them private, so that only other couples they are friends with can see it. Even so, Wetherell views Pears as appealing to a potentially much bigger audience than Avocado does. Why? It all has to do with what we get out of social media: it gives us the opportunity to share our constructed identity with others.
"I like to describe social media as being reflective," says Wetherell. "It's like a huge mirror: you might use it to examine what's around you, but it's just as much about looking at yourself." Wetherell cites Pinterest as an example of this phenomenon. Most people use Pinterest as a form of identity construction, a showcase of their interests and their desires. What Pinterest is for the individual, Pears wants to be for a couple: a way for people in love to construct a mutual romantic identity that reflects not so much who they are, but who they want to be.
If it's true that social media is about exploring identity, it seems absurd there hasn't been a true social network for couples before now. Falling in love is one of the most transformative things you can do in regards to how you see yourself. A relationship is an inherent exploration of self-identity: not just your own, but the way it intertwines with the identity of someone else to become more than the sum of its parts.
No matter what you think of Pears, then--the schmoopiest social network, or the Pinterest of P.D.A.--you've got to admit that Wetherell and his team are onto something. Just don't friend me and Brittany if you join--and definitely don't ask us about that baby.