Today IRL, SoftBank-backed social app and the latest unicorn, announced its first acquisition. The company, for an undisclosed amount, is buying “digital nutrition” company AaBeZe Labs and its suite of IP products with the goal of making IRL a healthier, more ethical social networking app.
AaBeZe founders, Michael Phillips Moskovitz, former eBay “Chief Global Coordinator” and former head of mid-products Brad Artesenega, along with other members of the AeBeZe team, will now join IRL, where they will focus on building discovery systems and other product features.
Primarily used by younger people under the age of 25 who are not active on Facebook, IRL combines social calendar, group messaging, and events. While the company originally focused on helping users discover real-world events, it has shifted its focus to virtual events amid the pandemic. Today, it offers both, and it has also grown into a full-fledged social networking app thanks to the newer introductions of features such as group chat, user profiles, group calendars, and cross-platform support, among other things.
Prior to the acquisition, IRL had charted a monetization path that didn’t include ads, which it sees as a problem in building a healthier social app. Advertising-driven revenue requires companies to design addictive user experiences in order to increase the time they spend on their apps. IRL instead aims to make money by associating users with their interests – such as a paid subscription to a community or buying event tickets, for example, as it can take a portion of the revenue generated from that sale.
It now sees the potential to use AaBeZe technology to make smarter recommendations about the types of events and communities its users are interested in, while also being more transparent with users about why those recommendations are being made. This would set it apart from today’s social networks, where it is not always clear why users see content that appears in their feeds.
AaBeZe Labs has developed a range of intellectual property, including solutions aimed at consumers, US military personnel, and enterprise partners. This included digital products such as the consumer-facing app Moodrise, which tracks moods, a portable tool called Daybreak designed for the US Air Force, and MoodTube, which analyzes YouTube content and other things. The company has also filed for 16 patents, three of which have been granted and 13 of which are in various stages of approval. It owns the brand, ‘Certified Digital Nutrition’.
Much of her work has involved learning how she understands users’ “digital nutrition” and how this affects the psychology of our brain. This knowledge, in turn, can be used to treat and even prevent the habits that have led to problematic Internet use and other more risky behaviors.
This is in contrast to how modern social networks are built, to take advantage of the psychology of addiction – for example, the gesture of swiping to refresh or offering new content also delivers an addictive dose of dopamine. (You might remember the documentary The Social Dilemma, which detailed the many ways big tech designed products to manipulate their users.)
IRL was particularly interested in AaBeZee’s Daybreak Calendar, a mobile calendar in which users track their mood over time. They can then choose daily sessions designed to raise their profile by watching, listening or tapping in on specific doses of content.
“We are focused on bringing intimacy to the internet, essentially learning from our ancestors. Currently, social media is using these methods to understand dopamine release [and] The release of serotonin to essentially build habitual patterns around things that are unhealthy for us, explains IRL founder and CEO Abraham Chaffee. “We are very interested Not Being involved in it, but actually doing the literal opposite — which is what helps you build healthy habits, helps you build meaningful habits not just with yourself, but with your friends.”
Chaffee says IRL plans to integrate Daybeak technology into its app, so that one day users can launch the app and then match it to content based on how they feel that day. Users might launch the app and ask them to report their mood, for example, like Daybreak users did.
“It really only works with direct input – that’s going to be how we do it. So there is a clear understanding between the user and the content they are receiving,” Shafee says.
The company plans to roll out the first integrations of its AaBeZe technology sometime in the first half of next year.
AaBeZe Labs was just over two years old at the time of the acquisition and had raised just over $1 million from investors.