Big Human has a storied history of in-house experimentation. This playful, dynamic nature of building new products and technologies is so ingrained in our ethos, it’s become its own branch of the company. Big Human Labs is where we turn market opportunities, hunches about the future, and inside jokes into something real. Inspired by Clayton Christensen's concept of disruptive technologies, we call these experiments "Toys." No, not all of them become cultural sensations, receive Emmy nominations, or get acquired by Twitter, but some do. Check out the products born out of Big Human Labs below.
Literally Anything is an experimental AI tool that allows users to create any kind of app, game, widget, or digital service directly in their browser by entering text prompts. No coding experience is required. Users can prototype and quickly build apps they can instantly share without the need for copy-pasting code, deployment, or any other development practices.
Unhuman is an overarching brand for our artificial intelligence experiments, the first of which is Unhuman Autoblogger. Custom software that harnesses the power of AI to manage dynamic content hubs, Unhuman Autoblogger references third-party APIs — such as Google Trends and Google Search —to amplify the power of ChatGPT and create (and review) large content databases tailored to your specific needs.
In 2016 (the era of live video streaming), we found ourselves asking, “What’s next for interactive media?” Our answer was HQ Trivia, a mobile game show that blended interactive gameplay with live TV production. At its height, HQ had 35 million downloads and 2.4 million players on the app concurrently. The live interactive mobile format we invented impacted both design and technology on a global scale and has since been replicated many times over.
When we created Vine in the summer of 2012, there weren’t any video-sharing platforms that made it easy to create and share videos on mobile devices. We used Vine to design a new way of making videos that focused on artistic expression, and we pioneered the touch-and-hold-to-record interface. With 200 million users, the app was also the first platform post-YouTube that people used to cultivate their fame and following. After Vine was acquired by Twitter in its beta stage, we gave it proper branding and designed a UX for a larger scale. While Vine is no longer around, it brought autoplaying videos into existence and kickstarted the generation of mobile video.
Subdial was Big Human’s response to the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement. After we saw an increase in people curating and sharing Instagram posts with resources that served as alternatives to calling the police, we started to imagine a directory that encompassed an even larger network. Subdial now has more than 800 nationwide resources, providing people in all 50 states with the help they need to navigate personal situations.
Launched around 2011, Button Party was Big Human's first interactive media creation tool. It allowed people to create and share colorful buttons that played sound clips sourced from YouTube videos, creating a personal soundtrack for users. The element of surprise when the buttons were clicked, along with pop culture music and sound effects, made it a hit during the heyday of Tumblr and One Direction. Button Party went viral, with over 5,000 buttons created in the first week after its launch.
Prototyped in 2012, Pillar streamed premium web video content (like clips from your favorite TV shows) interspersed with generated video vignettes of status updates from your social sphere. We envisioned Pillar as something people could install on their TVs as its own separate channel, but we shelved the idea to focus on Vine.
After seeing a mindfulness trend in media tech, we were curious to see what a mashup with psychedelics would look like. With Yoga Fractals, we pulled yoga videos from YouTube and juxtaposed them on top of fractal animations (also sourced from YT) to create a calming vibe in our office. The videos the site remixed had a kaleidoscopic effect, fueling our fascination with geometry and symmetry.
With Table Chat, we wanted to eliminate the need for the “send” button and make communicating with our friends synchronous. Table Chat was a messaging app that gave users letter-by-letter play-by-plays, letting them see exactly what their friends were typing in real time. Table Chat never stored any chat history, but for good measure, users could delete messages instantly by tapping on them.
One day, we discovered an entire subculture on the internet that enjoyed creating art using an already expressive medium: emojis 😍. Opening a space for imaginations to run wild 🤪, Emoji Paint lets people use their fingertips 👉👈 to paint emoji artworks 🎨 in a grid. All artwork can be shared through text 📱💬 and other text-based media 📧🌐, and they’re stored in personal galleries 🖼️. Emoji Paint is still live on the App Store 📲👀.
In a time before Slack, we wanted to create a better way to initiate public online chat rooms. Roomchat gave users the ability to generate their own chat rooms with their own URLs using Roomchat’s root domain (i.e., roomchat.com/mycoolroom). The beauty of the website was its simplicity; all users had to do was share their room links and they could chat without having to create an account. Once in a chatroom, all guests could share images and embed other websites, and there was even a helpful chatbot named Igor that walked users through Roomchat’s various functions. While we can’t mention specific examples, let’s just say that Room Chat was used for some pretty interesting conversations.
Back in 2015, there were only a handful of vegan restaurants in NYC, making it difficult for vegan eaters to find restaurants that accommodated their diet. That’s when we came up with Friendly Vegan, a simple directory of vegan-friendly restaurants across the five boroughs. For restaurants that didn’t have a full vegan menu, Friendly Vegan showed users how to customize their orders to create a plant-based meal.
When people first started programming Google Alerts to send them updates about specific keywords or search engine queries, those notifications often happened at the end of the day. Instead, we wanted to live-monitor the internet and TV. Pop Alerts sent users news updates on their favorite topics and interests in real time. It sorted relevant data from credible sources that were checked every few minutes, delivering notifications faster and with less noise.
Our first iteration of Hangs was a product that allowed users to track how many times they hung out with their friends, encouraging them to get together in real life. Influenced by Snapchat Streaks and maximizing geolocation technology, Hangs could identify when two nearby phones were running the app. Once the phones detected each other, they would vibrate with a notification from Hangs and both friends’ hangout streak would go up, allowing them to keep track of how many times they met in person.
About a year after we built Hangs, v1, we pivoted slightly. On conventional social media platforms, you often share content with dozens of people you don’t typically talk to; they’re catch-alls for every person you’ve ever interacted with, even briefly. Instead, Hangs, v2 compiled a list of friends you’ve met up with in real life to create a new social group. Just like your Close Friends list on Instagram, users could share pictures, status updates, and texts with just those members. If you didn’t hang out with those friends in person within 30 days, you’d no longer be able to view their profiles. To regain access, all you’d have to do is hang out with them again.
The latest edition of Hangs is now a multi-player drawing game users can play with friends and family — on their own devices. Made for both kids and adults, Hangs uses Bluetooth and Location services to scan for nearby devices. Once synced, players can put their artistic skills to the test by sketching a word (picked by you or the Hangs app) while others guess what it is. Players win points for correct guesses and all points are tracked on a leaderboard.
Ham Radio was a music player app that helped people discover new music. Users could listen to pre-programmed radio channels (ones we named and built ourselves) and add songs they liked to a saved playlist. Ham Radio also recreated the experience of retro radios, with virtual dials that hissed and provided haptic feedback as they were adjusted.
Before the recent AI boom, Nico Cam was an app users could link to their Twitter accounts to auto-generate emoji captions. Launched directly through a user’s phone camera, Nico Cam plugged a photo’s metadata into an algorithm to produce a string of emojis that described the image, location, time, and even the weather. If you took a photo with your cat in Brooklyn, Nico Cam would generate a cat emoji and a pin emoji along with your location.
In 2012, Lady Gaga was the most followed person on Twitter, and an investor and friend of the company, wondered what would happen if we made someone more famous than her. In search of an answer, we built Fame Game, a Twitter contest that made a random player “famous” for 24 hours. People could enter the contest by connecting their Twitter accounts, and a random number generator would pick a player the rest of the participants would automatically follow — and then unfollow the next day. Featured in BuzzFeed and Observer, Fame Game averaged 8-10K players a week before it was shut down by Twitter.
Back when the Big Human team was still meeting IRL every day, we always kept a bottle of Sriracha — our favorite sauce — on hand. It added an extra kick to every meal. Since we fully believed Sriracha made everything better, we thought it could make websites better, too. We built sriracha.it to see what different websites would look like with a smothering of heat. Visitors could enter any URL into sriracha.it and a squirt of sauce would dribble across the screen and share it.
Many of our Toys are in the form of an app or a website, so we wanted to challenge ourselves with a different medium. Long before cannabis was legal for recreational use in New York, Smoke Signals was a user-generated SMS service that sent “high thoughts” every day at 4:20pm (a feature that predates HQ’s appointment-to-view paradigm, and Be.Real’s notification system). Those who subscribed to the service would receive random messages submitted by other users, but they would only receive it if they sent a “high thought,” first. Reminiscent of the famous “Hits blunt” meme and the Shower Thoughts thread on Reddit, it engaged with purely user-generated content. Some submissions were profound and others were philosophical (“Is there a synonym for "synonym"?”). Jury is still out on this one.