Mining Cultural Insights From the Venmo Newsfeed

Observations August 17, 2014 1:04 pm



In the April 2014 article, “Why the Venmo Newsfeed is the Best Social Network Nobody’s Talking About,” The Wire’s Eric Levenson discusses the somewhat strange appeal of Venmo: “Due to its incredibly intimate look at how your friends spend their money, the Venmo newsfeed has become one of the most interesting, informative social networks out there.” And in July 2014, Matter’s Chiara Atik echoes this statement with the article, “Public Displays of Transaction: How Venmo became the ultimate social network for voyeurs and gossips.”

With two articles claiming Venmo is the “best” and “ultimate” social network, it’s clear Venmo is intriguing. But what is Venmo? Venmo is a peer-to-peer payment network that makes it easy for friends to pay each other without the need to carry cash. Venmo also happens to function as a social network because when you pay a friend, the transaction appears on a public newsfeed. The dollar amount of the transaction is hidden, but the transactions become a public, scrollable feed of information- which both of the articles point out above. But what those articles don’t discuss is what’s actually in the feed. Rather than a guilty pleasure, the Venmo newsfeed is actually a pretty good indication of larger cultural trends at play.

Three major trends that the Venmo newsfeed highlights:

1. We’re living manicured lives on social media. Even on a payment network, we’re sugarcoating our livesWhile it may be easier to craft the “perfect life” on other social networks like Facebook and Instagram, this phenomenon also extends to Venmo and how people describe payments. Instead of mundane descriptions like “rent” or “personal training,” the bulk of the transactions in my Venmo feed read like cryptic inside jokes. “Sweet jupiter loving,” “sex,” and “making magic” are all among descriptions, which are entertaining but uninformative (and almost surely not about actual sexual acts). Rather than straightforward descriptions like those you would find on a personal check, there’s an added pressure for people to make their lives seem interesting on Venmo.

But what’s more prevalent than cryptic descriptions?

Non-text, image-based sentences… which brings me to the 2nd trend:

2. Emojis are becoming a universal language. Rather than craft the perfect quip for a transaction, many of my Venmo friends are simply choosing to describe their payments with emojis– which are ironically easier to understand than the majority of text-based descriptions.

For example:

bikini sun= something summery; a day at the beach, pool, etc.


= sharing a meal

beersoccer = looking at the time-stamp (July 14th), World Cup celebrations.

Of course, translating emojis isn’t a perfect science and the beer/soccer emoji sentence could be indicative of a pick-up soccer game that was followed by beers. But what’s important is the ease of which the images are understood. And not just among my friends; emojis are growing as a universal visual language on the Internet, fueled by the rise of messaging apps from Asia. And we’re not just communicating with stickers and emojis on messaging apps– popular services like Yelp now accept emojis in search, and books and TV shows are being “translated” into emojis.

And among the most popular emojis? Wine, Beer, Cab… which brings me to the third trend:


3. Convenience is the ultimate trump card. Text-based or emoji, the most popular descriptions in my Venmo feed are those that speak to convenience (which should be noted, is the entire point of Venmo in my opinion). Splitting meals, rent, cabs, or any other expense among friends is much easier on Venmo than it is anywhere else. Because let’s face it: splitting a bill among a large group of people is no easy task. No one has cash. They’ll pay you back later. It will even out… eventually. In every one of these situations, one person always gets the raw end of the deal. Innovative companies like Uber have recognized this pain point and have been wildly popular because of it, but they remain in the minority.

Convenience is becoming the ultimate trump card– especially for the digital generation. Companies like Venmo who create products and services that recognize this expectation stand to be the most successful.  Just look at Starbucks, who has been able to continue to grow with the help of a wildly successful mobile payments system. Because the system rewards users with each use, it’s not only convenient, it also promotes loyalty. Unlike Starbucks, Venmo hasn’t reached mass-adoption yet, but is poised to become the defacto payment system between friends.

(image above: what this brilliant insight is worth, the highest value accepted on Venmo)

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