[App Fridays] WhatsApp alumni Neeraj Arora and Michael Donohue are building the antithesis of social networks with HalloApp

Neeraj Arora and Michael Donohue spent several years at WhatsApp growing it from a little-known messaging app to a category-defining product. Now, they’re back with a new private social network that wants to solve “feed fatigue”.
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Last week, tech Twitter erupted when Neeraj Arora (ex-Chief Business Officer of WhatsApp) and Michael Donohue (ex-Engineering Director of WhatsApp) announced their new venture — HalloApp, an ad-free private social network. 

While the app has been live on Google Play Store and Apple App Store for the last 10 months, it is finally out of beta and open to the public.  

HalloApp claims to be the “first real relationship network” that connects you with people on your phone address book — simply, securely, and privately, sans the paraphernalia (likes, ads, bots, followers, filters, influencers, etc.) of legacy social media platforms. 

Photo: YS Design

In an official blog post, Neeraj wrote, “Treating people and relationships as ‘media’ has massive ramifications. It has turned social media into digital malls. Where you hoped to find your friends, instead you found ads, bots, likes, filters, influencers, followers, misinformation, and more. Where you hoped to have meaningful conversations, instead you found yourself falling down the rabbit hole of blinking red notifications and an algorithmic feed of meaningless content... from people you’ve never met before — the whole thing feeling invasive, even creepy.”

“Social media has become the 21st century cigarette. The more we inhale, the sicker we get,” he said.

How is it different?

Essentially, HalloApp wants to be the antithesis of everything that social media is today. It prioritises privacy over network effects and friend/follower counts, and facilitates safe conversations “with the people closest to you” in real life.

The platform wants to solve three main problems: a) the invasiveness of social media b) users being treated as products, and c) the dominance of algorithms.

So, instead of machines recommending new connections, HalloApp will let you take control of your network and grow it organically. The app aims to make “engagement metrics irrelevant” and “algorithms non-existent”. 

Neeraj Arora, Co-founder, HalloApp

“Imagine scrolling through meaningful moments and seeing what you wanted you to see—not what the algorithm wanted you to see,” Neeraj wrote in a tweet

 

HalloApp has crossed 50,000 downloads on Google Play Store and is rated 4 out of 5. Its early adopters include startup founders, VCs, and tech enthusiasts. 

Key features of HalloApp

HalloApp blends elements of WhatsApp (private messaging), Facebook (group posts), and Instagram (photo feed with user comments). 

The minimalistic app has four tabs: a) Home, which is a primary feed of posts from your friends and groups; b) a dedicated Groups tab displaying posts from groups you’ve joined by invite; c) Chats for 1:1 private messages; and d) Settings that allow you to tweak privacy options, notifications, and profile posts. 

 You can also ‘Invite Friends’ by adding users from your phone’s contact list.

HalloApp iOS version

All chats are encrypted end-to-end, and can take place only between people who know each other. By design, HalloApp restricts anonymous DMs. Every chat window gives you the option of adding images from your camera roll or clicking new ones using the in-app camera. 

 

Social posts disappear after 30 days. HalloApp claims it does not collect, store, or use personal information of users. 

In most cases, direct messages lived on social media networks that were still “listening”. Mention cameras or going fishing and suddenly the ads in your feed would change… We believe this is a massive problem — and it’s time to get real,” Neeraj stated on the blog. 

 HalloApp will remain free for all users. However, its monetisation roadmap includes subscriptions to unlock additional features. For now, its 12-member team in the Bay Area is running on undisclosed funds raised from investors. 

HalloApp has crossed 50,000 downloads on Google Play Store

Why HalloApp is worth a shoutout

There are many reasons to love HalloApp or at least, give it a shot. 

 

One, its founder cred.

Both Neeraj and Michael were instrumental in growing WhatsApp from a little known messaging app to a world-beating, category-defining product. Neeraj, in fact, is said to have played a key role in Facebook’s $22 billion acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014. 

Two, perhaps the time has come for private social networks to thrive. The likes of Path (which shut down in 2018) tried the concept but failed for being ahead of its time. But HalloApp is perfectly timed in an increasingly privacy-conscious world.

 Its launch also coincided with the Pegasus spyware exposé that shook the world, highlighting the compelling need for data security and privacy even more. HalloApp wants to solve “feed fatigue” by not treating you like the product.

Well, it’s high time someone did!

Edited by Megha Reddy