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Public Chat App Hands-On: Communal Squander

Just when you thought you had downloaded every messaging app in the App Store, another one pops up. This week's darling is Public, an iOS app that lets you have conversations with others than anyone can watch. If that sounds familiar, it may be because you're already doing that on Twitter, or because the premise is very similar to Talkshow, another recent messaging app that was popular for about a week.

Unfortunately for Public, it doesn't do much to differentiate itself from competitors, and its limited user base (we know it's early) makes it hard to get involved.

I logged in with my Twitter account and immediately noticed that there was little to no curation besides highlighting popular threads hosted by lots of #influencers. The first thing I saw was the "Real Housewives Hangover!" chat, which is, for better or for worse, not one of my interests. Scrolling down revealed a Game of Thrones chat (spoilers abound, and one Tom's Guide editor was spoiled when he saw it in the top box), a bunch of comedians chatting (there was a similar popular thread on Talkshow) and a chat dedicated to the latest San Fransisco Giants game.

I used a search box to try to find chats, but found few of any interest to me. I'm sure there are some there, but Public really needs a way to get to know users and highlight the threads that they would enjoy participating in and reading.

Instead, I created my own Public chat about "Overwatch", a game the Tom's Guide team has been playing obsessively. I hadn't found a thread about the game through search, so it was my chance to shoot myself to Public superstardom. I created a room and chose a picture, and then realized I had no one to chat with.

I reluctantly let the app scan my contacts for friends who may be using Public, but not a single one of my contacts was using it. This meant there were a total of zero people to talk about how Overwatch's "Play of the Game" system needs to highlight more healers and blockers. Inviting strangers seemed like a bad idea.

The app showed that I drew in about 67 readers, but no one left any comments or asked to join the chat. After just a few messages, I was done.

Talkshow had a lot of the same issues, but its user base and its peak of popularity gave me more hope. Unless I want to watch others' chats (or watch them replay later, as some do when they aren't live), there's little participating to do.

In the meantime, I'm going back to an even more public social media app with a comparatively large user base: its called Twitter, and its much easier to tailor to your interests.

My prediction? No one will be talking about Public next week.