How do you reimagine something that everyone is using and has become an integral part of our lives? Kavin Bharti Mittal, the founder and CEO of Indian instant messaging platform Hike, is doing just that: reimagining social media for a mobile-first, maybe mobile-only, generation.
“There’s literally been no innovation in social whatsoever. And we’re sort of stuck with these experiences of the last decade that were built for the 2G world and in some cases built for PC first. We are finally in a place where we can change that, build experiences that are rich, that are joyful, that can potentially put relationships at the centre,” Mittal told indianexpress.com on a video call.
Mittal’s relook at what social media should be is called HikeLand, a tab that now rests inside the Hike app. Hikeland is a virtual space, for now limited to two elements called ‘Your Home’ and ‘Big Screen’, both with different social objectives. Your Home, as the name suggests, is your personal space which can be customised as per your taste and where you can invite a friend for a chat. Mittal said the feature to add more friends is coming soon, but for now this is a two-person conversation space. A big part of the HikeLand experience is shared viewing of videos — and maybe playing games together at a later stage. So, Your Home has a TV screen which you can click to search and find videos you want to watch with the friend.
Big Screen takes this viewing experience to a different level. “This is sort of a theatre with a twist. It’s a place that sort of brings people together around the content they love, paving the way for new friendships to blossom,” explained Mittal. Here you are watching pre-scheduled shows with strangers. You can try to start a conversation with them, but you get only one message in. The conversation starts only if the other person responds.
— Hike Sticker Chat (@hikeapp) June 15, 2020
This is where Mittal emphasises on his two keywords: magical and safe. “HikeLand is magical because it should be a place where people can do things in their imagination. Nothing should stop them from being who they want to be and do what they want to go to in the online. And they can only that only if it’s a safe place to hang out,” Mittal said, adding how his team spent a lot of time emphasising safety on the platform.
The concept for HikeLand stems from learnings gained on Hike, which at one time was a very popular messaging platform among Indian youth before they decided to scale down. The traffic always used to be high from 10 pm to midnight, suggesting that users were ”trying to find ways to hang out online, because they can’t offline”. Mittal added: “There are not many avenues in India to hang out offline and the market is conservative offline. So people find these avenues online and Hike has always been one of those places where you can express privately with your closest friends.”
Mittal emphasised that this is an “early preview”, available for all Hike users, because he just wanted to get HikeLand out there and study the feedback. So there are many new experiences and features planned for the not so distant future. Mittal said he’s already getting queries from those who want to plug into this experience, but it holding off for now.
Mittal said the reason he’s not not waiting one or two years to launch HikeLand is because his product philosophy is to launch what they call “minimum loveable products” so that they can “build HikeLand with the community”. “We feel the virtual world is a brand new paradigm shift in engineering thinking, design thinking and production and some of the technology that we’re using is this vision is different,” Mittal said, citing the example of Unity game engine which his team was using to create the virtual world experience.
“We believe we are building what we think is the world’s first mobile-first virtual world,” said Mittal whose company was once valued at a billion dollars with a 50 million user base before he decided to step off the pedal and make something new.
“In the virtual world you can be what you want to be. You can express yourself the way you want to and transcend the limitations of the offline world because it’s cheaper.”
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