Can Gas Make Teens Feel Loved?

There may be no developer who knows teens better than Nikita Bier. His first hit, an app called “tbh” -- the abbreviation for “to be honest” -- raised money from Founders fund and Greylock and had 5 million followers when Facebook bought it in 2017. Bier went with the app to Facebook / Meta, and stayed for almost five years before heading out. If you want to know what he’s up to now, just look at the App Store, where Bier’s latest invention is now at #1 on the chart of most-popular apps.  It’s called Gas, and he’s its co-creator.

Gas is the social network currently the rage among  American high school students. 

“The reason I built it was because I wanted to bring back what tbh did for so many kids five years ago, which was raise self-esteem and spread positivity,” the 33-year-old Bier told Blomberg.

So what makes Gas different? Relentless positivity. It’s like writing graffiti on the school wall, but you can only say positive things. When you sign up, it asks you what school you go to, and who your friends are. If you aren’t in high school, or won't’ share your friends -- that’s as far as you get in the sign-up process. 

Gas doesn’t let members post comments. Instead they vote on polls like “This person is the best DJ at a party” or “This person is likely to be a millionaire.”



The name Gas is based on the teen slang of “gassing someone up,”  inflating someone’s ego with compliments, praise, or actions.   The app is now adding 100,000 users a day. Gas hasn’t taken any outside investments, so it can adjust and fine-tune without being under pressure to drive toward relentless growth.

That being said, Bier’s ambitions seem clear.  “Don't be embarrassed to have a narrow target audience. All big things grow from small wedges in the market” wrote Bier in early 2022 on Twitter. “If your product works in one community (like a high school), it should work in all of them.”

Bier says his users feel loved when they get upvotes on positive statements about their value. On the other large platforms, social media has amplified anxiety by valuing beauty and fostering FOMO, fears of missing out.

But feeling "loved" may or may not transfer to adult users. Self-esteem seems like a more urgent need for teens than adults, but that remains to be seen. 

“The feeling that ‘no one is listening to me’ make us want to spend time with machines that seem to care about us,” wrote author Sherry Turkle in “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.” “We’re lonely, but we’re afraid of intimacy. And so from social networks to sociable robots, we’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.”

Certainly Gas is meeting a need that teens have, but it’s worth asking if digital accolades are a reasonable replacement for the real thing.

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