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B.J. Novak’s list-making startup is back with a new social media app

It’s called Kiyo, and it’s kind of like Pinterest.

B.J. Novak sits while watching the Billy Reid Autumn/Winter 2017 show in New York City in January 2017.
Actor B.J. Novak (left) and musician Winston Marshall 
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Billy Reid

When actor and writer B.J. Novak and his small startup first launched The List App back in 2015, an app for people who like making and reading lists, the company was already focused on connecting people.

“The way that we think about it primarily is the way that you’d think about a social network,” CEO Dev Flaherty told Recode at the time. “It starts first and foremost with the people you follow.”

But even after The List App failed to catch on — the company shut the app down last fall — the social network concept stuck around.

So now Novak, Flaherty and their small team are launching something new: Kiyo, pronounced “key-o,” an app for sharing themed collections of photos and videos, kind of like Pinterest.

A screen shot of B.J. Novak’s new app, Kiyo. Kiyo

Each collection, called a Kiyo, can have a different theme and be visible to a different audience. You could create a Kiyo full of pictures of your dog and share it with everyone, for example, or a Kiyo of your newborn baby and share it only with Grandma and Grandpa. When you sign up for the app, you’ll see suggestions for Kiyos, including categories like “Photo-A-Day” or “Internal Monologue.”

“You can think of each Kiyo as a different side of yourself,” explained Nicholas Kraft, the company’s head of marketing and audience development, in an interview.

Kraft hopes that Kiyo, which means “memoirs” in Japanese, will be different from other popular social networks because of the app’s features — or lack thereof.

Kiyo doesn’t have “Likes” or hearts, nor does it tell people how many views they get on their posts. If you want to comment on another user’s Kiyo post, you can only do so by sending that user a direct message. Kraft thinks this will create a more positive environment than other social media services out there.

“When you’re forced to direct message with someone, it feels much more meaningful,” Kraft explained, adding that you’re probably less likely to say something vile directly to another person. (And if you do, at least others won’t be able to see it.)

The idea is a noble one, but Kiyo is far from the first social network to crop up in an industry absolutely dominated by Facebook. There was Ello, the advertisement-free anti-Facebook that had its moment in 2014. A myriad of different anonymous networks, like YikYak and Secret, have come and gone. Shots, the selfie app backed by Justin Bieber, started with a similar mission to provide young teens with a safe social network and has since morphed into a content studio repping some popular internet stars.

Still, Kiyo has a famous founder and some financial backing — the company raised $3.2 million back when it started The List App from a handful of investors including SV Angel, the Chernin Group and Twitter founder Ev Williams.

Kiyo, which has been in private beta for about a month, is set to launch in the App Store on Monday.

Update: The app is now available.

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