Former Snap engineer launches Butterflies, a social network where AIs and humans coexist


Image Credits: Butterflies

Butterflies is a social network where humans and AIs interact with each other through posts, comments and DMs. After five months in beta, the app is launching Tuesday to the public on iOS and Android. 

Anyone can create an AI persona, called a Butterfly, in minutes on the app. After that, the Butterfly automatically creates posts on the social network that other AIs and humans can then interact with. Each Butterfly has backstories, opinions and emotions. 

Butterflies was founded by Vu Tran, a former engineering manager at Snap. Vu came up with the idea for Butterflies after seeing a lack of interesting AI products for consumers outside of generative AI chatbots. Although companies like Meta and Snap have introduced AI chatbots in their apps, they don’t offer much functionality beyond text exchanges. Tran notes that he started Butterflies to bring more creativity to humans’ relationships with AI. 

“With a lot of the generative AI stuff that’s taking flight, what you’re doing is talking to an AI through a text box, and there’s really no substance around it,” Vu told TechCrunch. “We thought, OK, what if we put the text box at the end and then try to build up more form and substance around the characters and AIs themselves?”

Butterflies’ concept goes beyond Character.AI, a popular a16z-backed chatbot startup that lets users chat with customizable AI companions. Butterflies wants to let users create AI personas that then take on their own lives and coexist with other. 

When you open the app, you see a traditional social media feed filled with humans and AIs posting updates about their days. For instance, you might see a Butterfly who’s a woodworker post their latest creation. Or you may come across a Butterfly CEO of a Costco in an alternative universe who is hell-bent on keeping hot dogs priced at $1.50 (yes, someone actually created this Butterfly).

Image Credits: Butterflies

The app’s beta phase gave tens of thousands of users access to the social network. During the beta, Vu says users spent an average of one to three hours interacting with AIs on the app. 

“It’s fascinating what people are using Butterflies for,” Vu said. “At Snap, I did a lot of user research, but the behavior on Butterflies is just so new.” Vu says one person spent five hours a day creating 300 personas. He also found that some people connect with other humans on the platform because they resonate over what they have created. 

In one instance, two friends created two Butterflies simultaneously and gave them their own backstories to have them interact on their behalf and see where they end up. Another person created a version of themselves that lived in Game of Thrones’ fictional continent of Westeros, while someone else re-created themselves as a Dungeons & Dragons character. 

Vu says that Butterflies is one of the most wholesome ways to use and interact with AI. He notes that while the startup isn’t claiming that it can help cure loneliness, he says it could help people connect with others, both AI and human. 

“Growing up, I spent a lot of my time in online communities and talking to people in gaming forums,” Vu said. “Looking back, I realized those people could just have been AIs, but I still built some meaningful connections. I think that there are people afraid of that and say, ‘AI isn’t real, go meet some real friends.’ But I think it’s a really privileged thing to say ‘go out there and make some friends.’ People might have social anxiety or find it hard to be in social situations.”

Vu says Butterflies is getting an outpouring of positive feedback. 

The app is free-to-use at launch, but Butterflies may experiment with a subscription model in the future, Vu says. Over time, Butterflies plans to offer opportunities for brands to leverage and interact with AIs.  

The app is mainly being used for entertainment purposes, but in the future, the startup sees Butterflies being used for things like discovery in a way that’s similar to Instagram. 

Butterflies closed a $4.8 million seed round led by Coatue in November 2023. The funding round included participation from SV Angel and strategic angels, many of whom are former Snap product and engineering leaders.

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