Alumnus-founded startup releases new app designed for UC Berkeley community

Ariel Hayat/Senior Staff

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Five, a startup company founded by a UC Berkeley alumnus, released its eponymous social networking application Tuesday morning.

Five was founded by Nikita Bier, a UC Berkeley class of 2012 alumnus. This is the fourth major online product released by Bier and was created with the help of UC Berkeley’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, where Five was incubated soon after its inception. The application is available on iOS with an invite code, and there are plans for a invite-code-free release on Apple’s App Store in fall.

Bier and his team structured the application’s communities as different “worlds” — for example, a world catering to life in the residence halls, a world for discussing ASUC matters and a world designed specifically for the campus group Hackers at Berkeley.

For identification purposes, entry into each world requires users to post a GIF image — not necessarily of their own face — taken with their front-facing camera. This gives the user access to any of up to five rooms within the world. “Dorm Life,” for example, might contain rooms ranging from the “Crossroads Brunch Club” to “Who’s Your Favorite RA?” Each room is limited to five participants, and users can see only the messages that were posted in the room after they entered it.

“The idea is to imitate real-life social interaction,” Bier said. “You don’t walk into a bar or party with your description on display. You cannot scroll up to see an actual conversation’s history.”

Bier added that by not displaying an individual’s personal information, beyond a GIF and an optional bio, Five gives users a degree of anonymity within their own communities that “reduce(s) the anxiety of mixing with different social groups.” But Chris Hoofnagle, a director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, said that such a system is neither novel nor risk-averse.

“Typically what happens is that these systems are gamed and create outrage,” he said. “Platform providers soon learn that they are encouraging the worst kind of free speech.”

Bier said that multiple venture capitalists have invested a total of $2.5 million in the application.

In a press release, Five said it aims is for the application to be “a place to hang out for Berkeley students.” Since its release, the application has been downloaded by more than 500 individuals. Bier noted that Five’s initial growth rate is faster than that of Facebook during its first week.

In the upcoming months, Bier said his team will be devoted to maintaining the quality of the iOS application. He said that the app has no current plans for expansion to other platforms or communities, and that users who want to sign up will need to supply a valid UC Berkeley email address.

Contact Ishaan Srivastava at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ishaansriv.