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Branch makes its conversation threads available to all

The startup's platform, now open to the public, creates a play space between the blog and the tweet.

Branch home page Jennifer Van Grove/CNET

Billed by Twitter's inventors as a new platform for high-quality public discourse, Branch today opened it doors to anyone who wants to fork off into conversations of more than 140 characters in length.

Branch is essentially a modern, user-friendly version of the Internet forum. People create "branches" to discuss topics or links and invite their friends to participate. Thread participants can also branch off into their own separate but related conversations.

The small, San Francisco-based startup is backed by Obvious, the incubator-investor hybrid machination of Twitter creators Evan Williams and Biz Stone. Obvious announced last March that it was lending its celebrity and product expertise to the conversation-focused company. Prior to today, Branch required an invite to participate.

With the public launch, Branch, which has done marginally well at attracting the attention of the technorati, is going after more mainstream appeal. The service has introduced a few regular people-friendly features including an easier way to start branches, a view of all recent activity, and highlights which help to immediately identify key passages. Also new is the option to add SoundCloud or Spotify selections to branches.

The team behind the product insists that they've made the branch creation process more akin to jotting down ideas or talking to friends in real life. The Branch prompt box nudges the user to talk about a topic or paste a link. Then, upon hitting the next button, he or she can add a few more bullet points to help focus the conversation. The changes could be instrumental in making folks less intimidated by the getting-started process.

Branch, which creates a playground between the blog and the tweet, has its attractive assets, but it has a ways to go before it becomes a place where anyone other than passionate bloggers (or blowhards) will want to hang around for a while. At least with the invite restriction lifted, there's less of a barrier to entry.