Social platform Spill launches new beta iOS app with a ‘meme-forward’ aesthetic

The header image shows an illustration of two women looking at their mobile phones.

Six months after its debut, Spill is releasing a new beta app for iOS users that will be accessible by invitation only. The new app, which arrives in Apple’s App Store today, follows Spill’s alpha launch earlier this year.

Founded in December by a Twitter employee laid off by Elon Musk, the original idea for Spill was to create a text-focused app. However, it’s now evolved into something that’s more a mix of both images and text, which has what co-founder and CEO Alphonzo Terrell described as a “meme-forward” aesthetic.

The features are full of tea references related to both leaves and gossip. When a user uploads a spill — the equivalent of a post — the app tells them it’s “brewing your tea,” and a “spill board” that features the “hottest 10 spills” based on engagement volume. There are also hashtag tickers, ways to comment and multiple color options that people can choose. Spills are shown in reverse chronological order — just like Twitter — but also have vertical and horizontal scroll tools.

The idea for Spill was brewed last fall the day after Terrell was among many Twitter employees laid off not long after Musk bought it. Having spent the past several years as Twitter’s global head of social and editorial, Terrell knows plenty when it comes to what works and what doesn’t on social media. His other past roles include years as director of digital and social at HBO and before that a senior marketing manager at Showtime.

“The biggest growth and social is actually happening in India, West Africa, and Asia, and like fan communities, K-pop, all of that,” Terrell said. “You need to think much more broadly. You know, there is no difference in West Africa between, like, brands and editorial and news. It all comes together for them so we’re catering to all of that.”

Spill is also trying to soak up something that other early social platforms don’t focus on: advertising dollars. This week, Lionsgate will be the first sponsor to try Spill’s new ad format called “First Spill” — which is the first ad that shows up on users’ timelines — to promote the upcoming film “The Blackening.” Other early partners include BET Networks, BET+, Variety, Horizon Media and UNCMMN, which are working with Spill to create “sponsored experiences,” exclusive content and partnerships with creators.

When asked why it’s adding advertising so early when many platforms usually wait for an audience to develop, Terrell said Spill wants to collaborate earlier than normal with creators and brands so they can build what the ecosystem wants. It’s also focusing on building communities for Black and queer users, as well as other diverse groups.

“Everybody talks about, ‘We want to get at creators and influencers,’ but they actually don’t build for them or talk to them or involve them in the process,” Terrell said. “We’ve actually just been really testing with a culturally high-density group of people for the past couple of weeks, and we’ve been really pleased with what’s happened. They’ve kind of taken ownership of the platform. We have all these little subgroups happening.”

Along with fostering diverse communities, Spill is also trying to set higher standards for protecting them from harassment. That includes using different types of data to fine-tune AI tools that can better detect hate speech and other harmful content — something other social platforms have sometimes struggled to control.

“We think one of our key unique value propositions is that we can train something with the people who get the most abuse,” Terrell said. “Because that’s not usually what’s happening, so that’s a big piece for us. We’re using every tool we possibly can, from how we write our guidelines to using human moderation on top of these tools. It’s not just going to be set it and forget it.”

It’s too soon to read the tea leaves for whether Spill can fill a hole for everyone disappointed by Twitter’s evolution since Musk took over last fall. It’s also not the only one in the space. Startups like Bluesky, Mastodon, Spoutible and Artifact have all competed for attention over the past few months. However, Terrell thinks “there will never be another Twitter” and doesn’t see Spill in the same “Twitter alternative bucket,” adding that some of Spill’s early adopters are coming from Instagram.

Although most people haven’t seen or used Spill yet, some see the appeal even in what it’s shown so far such as the various ways to interact with users and a plan to monetize creators via blockchain technology. People are also actively looking for new platforms in ways they haven’t before, noted Sara Wilson, founder of SW Projects, a digital consultancy. Having spent years at Facebook before working with brands on how they engage with various communities, Wilson said niche platforms like Spill and others are creating “digital campfires” that cater to specific communities.

“This is not trying to be for everyone,” Wilson said. “It’s really community-first, or at least it’s framing itself that way. That’s not only smart, but also very much of the moment. Trying to be for everyone is not working. You have a platform like TikTok that really does speak to everyone, but you have to have a lot of money in order to compete.”

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