MARY BURKE- 04-02152017134348 (copy)

Mary Burke pitched the Building Brave app at the Madison Public Library this February.

Building Brave, a free app that strives to inspire and support women, launched on both Apple and Android devices on Wednesday. The social network takes ingredients familiar to users of Facebook or Twitter — up-to-the-minute streams of new posts, forums about specific topics or interests, personalized profiles — and marries it with habit-forming challenges and a rewards system to help users sharpen skillsets and build confidence.

Burke founded a nonprofit for empowering women, also called Building Brave, last year. The idea came to her after her failed run for the governorship in 2014, she said. She realized that a critical force behind her bid for political office was the encouragement, feedback and applause of other women.

So she began to dream up a tool to give all women access to a similar web of support.

“Very few people will probably be in that situation, but lots of women face similar feelings of doubt about expanding or stepping out of their comfort zone,” she said.

Burke envisioned a tool that was engaging, and something that did not feel like work. Women, she realized, do not need "another monthly meeting."

“That’s where the mobile app comes in,” she said. “It’s technology meets social impact.”

Building Brave partnered with Filament Games, a Madison-based video game maker, to actually develop the software. The end result is a colorful social media platform that, thanks to an early testing phase, already has a small but active user base. Those who join have access to a main feed showing posts from all other users, and to groups devoted to niche issues, like “college life” and “health and well-being.”

“I am in a daily gratitude posting with 8 other women. We share with what we are grateful for each morning,” posted one user in the main feed of the app.

“I’m out of town for a conference and feeling exhausted from cramming in a week of work in three days,” posted another.

The app also features “badges,” achievements that users can try to earn by undertaking certain challenges in the real world. The inclusion of the real-life mini-games is hardly a surprise: Learning games are Filament's bread and butter. The company has made a science of creating game mechanics that encourage users that build new habits or skills.

In Building Brave, users can choose to pursue any number of “badges.” Choose to pursue the “Expressing Your Best Self Badge,” and you may face a challenge to avoid saying the “s word” — sorry — for the day (“unless you should truly be sorry,” the app says.) Sign up for the “Navigating the Workplace” badge, and your challenge could be to “expand your presence” through body language by not slouching.

Completing boosts and earning badges earn users BB points, which can then be used to vote for charitable causes to donate to within the app. Burke said the boosts are an example of how the app is more than just another Facebook. She said that it has to be, in order to incentivize people to join yet another social network.

“If you’re asking people to add something to their lives, you’d better make sure it’s something that adds value to them,” she said.

Her goal is to ultimately grow the platform to 10 million users. Burke said the plan is to start growth in Milwaukee and Madison before expanding to a global audience.

Tech leader Jennifer Javornik has been using the app as part of the software’s launch team. She said that she’s found it to be a rewarding experience thus far.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to last, but it’s been really cool to have Mary Burke comment on and like your posts,” she said.

She added that she has already seen changes in her life thanks to Building Brave: She credits Burke’s message as an inspiration for the release of her recent children’s book about mothers working in science, technology, engineering and math.


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Erik Lorenzsonn is the Capital Times' tech and culture reporter. He joined the team in 2016, after having served as an online editor for Wisconsin Public Radio and having written for publications like The Progressive Magazine and The Poughkeepsie Journal.