Community-centered social platforms have the power to encourage connection and leave users with good feelings, said Sarah-Allen Preston. But most social media falls short.
“That [current] connection that we have so much of at our fingertips … it feels inauthentic and it makes us frazzled and it’s inhibiting our ability to actually connect with people. Social media doesn’t let us be vulnerable and it doesn’t let us truly touch other people,” said Preston, founder of afloat, a social platform allowing users to send and receive care through an app. “We just got a huge rush of feedback that everyone’s ready for a change and [for us] to bring back that sense of real life care and community and connection.”
The app which launched in early March, allows users to create an online circle of care and send or receive help for or from anyone in a time of need, she said.
Click here to learn more about afloat.
“It’s still your real-life community — we’re just facilitating it through an app and an online platform,” she explained. “It’s letting technology be the vehicle to connect us instead of the disconnect.”
Going through crisis moments both with and without a support system underscored the need for feeling taken care of during those periods “under a mountain of stress,” Preston said, noting at one point her then newly born son was undergoing open heart surgery and the family’s basement and rental home was flooding at that same time.
“It was a crazy time in our lives,” she said. “But during that time I really realized how much support and community there was to lift me up. I would not have been able to get through it without my friends, family and neighbors. I really did not take it or granted at all because when I got to Children’s Mercy for the surgery, I was like ‘Oh gosh, some people don’t have this.’”
“Flash forward a couple of years and I was again at a personal crisis moment, but this time I did not have a support system… I still had all my same friends and family but this time I was going through something I wasn’t ready to share,” she added. “I just needed dinner and my kids were eating like potato chips and Tootsie Pops for dinner. I mean, I have Postmates but it wasn’t about that. It was about feeling connected and cared for.”
Those “light bulb moments” and a few key connections to developers helped build the platform with the word “uplifting” in mind, Preston said.
The app — after going through extensive beta testing and multiple iterations — is available in iOS with Androids pending, and is experiencing positive feedback from users even at this stage, she said.
“[The beta testers] were like, ‘This is super intuitive. This is super easy, and I would use this all the time,’” she added. “Everyone loves the look of it! I would say our branding and what we’re going for is this really happy, positive, and caring aesthetic. It just feels good to be on it.”
With plans already in mind for the next update, afloat is expected to focus on expanding the user base throughout Kansas City to fuel an eventual push into other cities that seem like the next natural step, Preston said.
“When we make enhancements, it’s going to be for everyone’s benefit and not just some big objective for a box we think we need to check. So we’ll continue to grow in the area and then start a national push as soon as we get into giving season this fall,” she said. “We think that is going to be a really awesome time and great space for us to get a little bit bigger.”
“[afloat is] just a really safe, uplifting, and awesome space,” she added. “We’re really excited to see when we get more feedback what people are liking and how we can grow it to perfectly encompass our niche.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.