Thoughts on Honk

Ryan Dawidjan
5 min readJan 20, 2021

A creative playground for your thumbs

Time-stamped thoughts matter. I wish Benji and team the best and hope this makes me feel slightly foolish in the years to come.

Go download it and give em a shot.

Since being in the beta, I have been asking myself things like “what don’t I get”, “is it just a crazy time of year to try and give this a shot” and “am I just old now?”

Rarely do I hold the simultaneous feelings of, I don’t feel compelled to personally use this with an immense proactive appreciation for what exists.

I really appreciate what Honk is. You can feel the love and craft put into it. This is extremely lacking in products of all kind but especially digital ones that live beneath a five-inch plate of glass. It doesn’t feel like an app, it feels like a playground for your thumbs.

It is not about presence as a format. That’s not a format and it can be a cheeky framing used to sell to investors or product thinkbois. And if that’s what it takes to earn 2 years of runway to turn this idea into a reality, then so be it.

At the moment, Honk is about chatting. And live chatting is different than the tens of thousands blue bubble messages we have sent. Chatting ideally creates different feelings than the transmittal of text. It’s partly why messaging in Snap has always felt more alive, vibrant, and springy than iMessage. The intention around the details for presence and personality make it feel as if someone is glued to the screen waiting with bated breath for your comment.

Chatting on Honk feels alive. It also feels narrow and weighty. It’s a true opt-in Our Time experience. It requires time, energy, and visual focus…just like chatting with a friend on the street corner or in a restaurant booth with a date does.

The visually impressive emoji flinging, unique concepts (magic words) and bold constraints remind me of a We don’t build saddles here in a consumer context. The team has breathed life into something they ideally want and now we all have the choice to play along or not. It feels quite invigorating to use the product and almost sense that we are tapping around the team’s dream for what chatting with friends could be.

The product marketing/comms, if you want to call it that because it feels too B2B of a term, has been a delight to take in. If comms is about clearly conveying the essence of what the underlying product experience is, then between the twitter and tiktok videos they’ve done a A+ job. They have a well earned advantage in that the product itself is fun, visual, and snappy. Thus the feature videos and screen recordings have been quite effective in getting folks interested in giving in a whirl. iMessage chats feel like a victorian dinner party compared to the house party feel of Honk.

Ben Rubin has described the personal approach to product building as flowing with the water during multiple iterations of video expression across Life on Air, Meerkat, and Houseparty. He and team were working back from a personal feeling of how can we feel close when we’re apart. To do that required a relaxed but nuanced mindset of trying to flow across emergent behavior (a game of angles).

Savvy marketing or just innate DNA (which I’m inclined to believe), Benji is flowing with the fun. If they can craft something that is genuinely fun for themselves to use everyday, perhaps others will enjoy it too. It’s that simple. In a world of 2x2 charts, retrospective deep dives, “bullish on audio/video/medium x” tweets, and ambiguous predictions about social networks, trust yourself and just follow the fun.

While there is no repeatable playbook for invention of consumer communication and expression, both are really strong true norths to be consistently orientated around.

Few scattered thoughts:

  • I can’t quite remember when a messaging product had be thinking about my words as honk. When I compose on Honk I find myself sounding out the statement in my own head as if I was verbalizing it.
  • Maybe an unintended consequence but screencaps like these feel like a new media unit in of itself. The live-typing of a bit or comment are far different than pasting the paragraphs of an iOS notes screenshot. It’s a captivating linear experience that can bring up a lot of the twist + turns and nuances of “dialogue”.
  • My brain gets in a noodle thinking about the dynamic of both seeing live-typing and a confirm/send button of that same text. I think they will figure out a sleeker middle ground or have to make a bolder design decision to make it feel like less sending.
  • I kinda get what :Honk: as an initiation means. Sometimes I do send friends a text “you around?” when I want a bit more captive attention to engage with them about a certain topic. Seeing them present in the app is nice but not sure it’s actually the right proxy to know I could engage them with 5–10 minutes of time in mind.

They have done what few ever do: produce and ship something. Ever rarer, they have crafted a really unique experience. That ability to bring a smile to chatting is winning them a significant benefit of the doubt (keep app installed, pay attention to updates, dabble with it, try it with a close friend or crush), and trust that users should follow them into the future.

Like Path, Honk’s approach to detail and delight will find its way into many more apps to come. It remains to be seen if they both share a lack of ability to unlock a truly new form of expression amongst a social circle.

[An easy statement make about anything in month 1 or year 1] I don’t think this form of 1v1 squared-up live chatting experience gets them to the finish line. But that doesn’t matter really, it’s all a sequence that takes time. They have earned the genuine opportunity to get to the next level via refinement of the fundamentals to an existing core audience or a larger product change (non-ephemeral messages, the most chaotically awesome group convos you have ever seen, etc).



Ryan Dawidjan

building NYC products and teams. // 🗣 w/ modern friends. big heuristic guy.