On Monday, Luke Bozier’s new app, Babl, will launch on Android phones. It’s what Bozier, a well-known face in the U.K. start-up scene, describes as a “micro expression” app, allowing people to post messages of one word (maximum 20-characters) and a single photograph either to a single recipient, multiple recipients, or all of their friends.
Perhaps this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but in the small, bitchy London tech scene it is. You see, Bozier had a somewhat remarkable fall from grace last year, after a hacker revealed online posts allegedly written by the father of two that appeared to seek sex with “young girls” and “jailbait.” Bozier was investigated and ultimately arrested by the police over allegations that he possessed indecent photographs of children, though he was only cautioned in the end. His life, however, was in a shambles — he resigned from his high profile start-up Menschn, and a recent post on his personal website suggests his wife left him.
This isn’t the man you would expect to launch a Snapchat rival.
The British tech website the Kernel, run by Bozier’s old friend but recent enemy (he exposed the hack) Milo Yiannopoulos, has already called Babl a “sexting” app, and Bozier a “sex pest.”
So why would Bozier put himself back in the limelight? We reached out to the Babl founder to find out:
Business Insider: Where did the idea for Babl come from?
Luke Bozier: I was playing a word-association game via SMS with my girlfriend, and I just figured … May as well look into one-word messaging. It can be used in so many different ways. Yes it’s restrictive but it allows for creativity, and it taps into the modern trend of ever-more-rapid communication. We’re heading to a world where, if we want, we’ll all know what our friends are doing, thinking, feeling in one big simulcast. One-word messaging is part of that.
BI: On the surface of it, Babl sounds quite similar to Snapchat. What do you think is different about Babl?
LB: I’ve only used Snapchat a couple of times and I find the interface, and the flow, rather clumsy and fiddly. However I do like the idea of ‘ephemerality’ around messages; it encourages a more honest, relaxed sort of messaging, and I’ve been inspired by that. I wanted to create something that flows more naturally, and Babl has a stream at the heart of its interface. A stream of your friends’ posts that you can flick through, reply to, and like (which is now our second nature with technology). Babl messages disappear after a week, unless you choose to publish them to your profile, so it’s a bit longer-lasting than Snapchat.
BI: You labelled the app a “micro expression” app — why do you think people want to be limited when they have a whole world of different messaging platforms out there?
LB: I see it as a huge market with loads of room for different offerings. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp are the current leaders, but there is room for innovation. I have seen the reaction of the few handfuls of people who have tested Babl so far, and many of them have found it addictive. There is a playfulness to it, and I think that’s what people will come to like. The interface is also attractive, and, I hope, sticky. It’s the kind of thing you could use 10-20 times a day without too much thought or work. Whereas Instagram is for curated, pretty photos, Facebook is for family-friends broadcast and permanence, Twitter is like the world’s debating chamber, Whatsapp is a 21st century rendition of SMS, and Snapchat is a good idea badly executed.
People who’ve gotten used to Instagram and Snapchat will be interested in one-word messaging. Over the next couple of years I hope to build up a decent audience.
BI: The app has been described as a “sexting” app by the Kernel. Do you expect people, perhaps teenagers, to use it like that?
LB: It’s not designed as a sexting app. God knows how much sexual pleasure one can glean from one-word message exchanges. But if people want to use it that way, it’s up to them. It’s certainly not designed with that in mind though!
BI: The app also seems to allow a lot of anonymity. Why is that important to Babl and how would you avoid abuse?
LB: Babl has comprehensive blocking functionality — unlike Twitter with its recent controversy. When you block a Babl user you’ll never see them again, and they won’t be able to see your public profile either. It’s a very locked down sort of system. One major feature is that no personal information is requested of our users. You don’t have to enter a name, email or phone number to use Babl, you just need a phone or a tablet. You get your PIN and you can then use it. If you want to reset, at any point, you request a new PIN.
BI: Given the media scandal you were caught up in last year, were you concerned about publicity for the app?
LB: Yes, certainly concerned, but I had a good idea, I like the dot-com environment, and I didn’t want negative experiences from the past to hold me back. So I know there will be some criticism but I’m continuing anyway.
BI: How has your life been since the scandal broke?
LB: It’s been 53 weeks since that happened, and actually it’s been an amazing year. I’m completely out of politics, my social circles have realigned, I’ve had to rediscover what I like doing and what I wanna do with my life. Life has become a lot healthier, happier and less driven by blind ambition and ego! Launching Babl now is a very clear line in the sand. Those days are over, the scandal is done, and I’m getting on.
BI: Were you surprised by the Kernel article? Do you think Milo or any of the other editors are being unfair to you?
LB: Not surprised because Milo has his own agenda. He’s building a business off the back of neo-puritanical sensationalism. Good luck to him. I’ve come to refuse to be bothered by stuff written about me on the ‘net.
BI: Your last project, Menshn, attracted a lot of press, but ultimately failed and was forced to wind down. What do you think went wrong there, and what would you say you learned from the experience?
LB: Menshn was a good idea that failed for a variety of reasons, the most obvious being what happened with my personal life. But it was a project devised out of ego, and centered too much around a celebrity [ed. note — the project was launched with Louise Mensch, a high-profile U.K. politician]. It wasn’t executed as well as I’d have liked. We cut corners, it was rushed out, and so it didn’t provide the best experience. But I enjoyed it and learned a lot from it, and I’m applying those lessons: Be perfectionist about experience and design, have low expectations and expect to spend years building up your base, and don’t launch companies with celebrities!
Babl is currently in beta mode for Android phones, and will be launching in the play store Monday.