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Jesse Stauffer (left), a sopomore, and Casey Stauffer (right), a junior, are studying Computer Science at UNT. Photo by William Snyder.
Bitzy is available on the Apple App store
Brothers Casey and Jesse Stauffer seek to reinvent social networking with their new app, Bitzy. Casey, a junior, and Jesse, a sophomore, are both studying computer science and with their fourth venture into social networking, the two are seeking to return social networking back to what it is imitating – actual human interaction.
“Our two main goals were to allow people to express themselves more freely and to make social networking more like human communication in real life, kind of like you have to be there to experience it. It’s the most real-life social network I’ve ever been on,” Casey said.
Bitzy is unique in that the status updates and pictures uploaded to a user’s profile expire within a set time, between 5 seconds and 5 weeks at the user’s discretion. This feature is what keeps all of the information on a profile new and relevant.
“We figured if the posts self-destruct it’s cleaner because you’re always coming back to new content. You don’t want future employers to see that you had a crazy night so we decided that expiring posts would be a way that you could say what you want and then it would go away so that it wouldn’t be traceable,” Jesse said.
The expiration of posts also gives users greater freedom of expression; posts intended for a specific audience have increased privacy due to the regular cleansing of the servers when a post expires. The impermanence means there is less worry about the consequences of a post.
“[Bitzy] makes sure that your posts aren’t always out there, they delete off the website, the app, the feed and our servers so you don’t have to worry about every fine detail,” Casey said. “You can just be yourself.”
The brothers have collaborated on social networks in the past, including one created while in high school and the site ClassChain which connects students only with others at their university, and serves 20 universities such as UNT and UT Austin, among others. Bitzy is their second mobile app, after Loco, a location based networking app. All of the projects created by the brothers share one theme between them: the two are always learning from the mistakes of other networks and reducing distractions along the way.
“I try to look at other apps that I see that are boring and change it into a way that I would want to use it. Looking at other apps and seeing what makes an app successful from one that flops, I think that skill’s important for a developer to have. It makes you multi-faceted,” Casey said. “It goes back to building stuff that’s unique and solves a problem,” Jesse said.
In addition to learning from their competition, the two watch interviews of current successful social networking moguls for advice.
“We’re pretty much programming until 2 or 3 am and then for an hour watching an interview. I like going back to their early days and looking at all the stuff they did to get them where they are today and trying to mimic that,” Jesse said. “In some of these interviews they tell what they would do differently, starting out, and we try to take all their examples and suggestions and incorporate that so we don’t make the same mistakes they made,” Casey said.
Some of their role models include Kevin Systrom, CEO of Instagram and Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snapchat as well as Mark Cuban, whom the brothers have contacted himself.
“One of our role models was Mark Cuban – he started with nothing a built an empire out of not a lot of cash,” Jesse said. “We reached out to Cuban, I send him a cold email [about Bitzy] and within 24 hours he responded back and was giving me some pointers on it,” Casey said.
Bitzy has a current user base of about 400 at press-time, and its success is owed to the great team the two make. While Jesse focuses on the actual coding, Casey concentrates on the user’s perspective. And building these apps allows the two to exercise what they are learning in class, too.
“It’s cool to see how you can take something from class and actually build onto that. In the early days of programming I thought it was kind of boring because I was in the basics. Some of the topics I learned last year were kind of vague and then once I go to iPhone programming I can see how it works in real code as opposed to theory,” Jesse said. “Every day you learn something new,” Casey added.
Currently they are working on refining their app by getting feedback from critics with the ultimate goal of having Bitzy featured on the Apple App Store, but the personal reward is what drives the pair the most.
“Every app that I make I always have it send me a text message every time someone signs up,” Jesse said. “There are not many things you get that feeling from. Seeing that your product is being used and that people are giving it good reviews,” Casey said.