Richard Lee remembers how messy the family group chat used to be.

The youngest of six children, all of Lee's siblings are married with kids of their own, he said, plus he and his wife have five kids. At one point, the family group chat had 17 people in it, resulting in sporadic notifications throughout the day and confusion over when particular conversations started, Lee said.

He and his wife, Brooke, began wondering if there was a better way to stay in touch with family members. Not everyone in their family is on social media, Lee said, but they thought a user-friendly interface like those created by Instagram or Facebook might be helpful.

"If we could have something that was like Instagram or Facebook, but with just with our family, (then) we could get off of the group chat, and we could send pictures and share updates and news," Lee said.

The more he and Brooke shared the idea, the more they realized that other families were in the same boat, he said. And that was how Dela began.

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In the two years since their initial conversations, Richard and Brooke Lee have hired a Utah programming company to help them design the app, experimented with prototypes and officially launched on Sept. 1.

Dela is the Swedish word for "share," Richard Lee explained. The free app, which is available on both Apple and Google platforms, "offers a private group networking experience with a social media interface," according to a news release. Users can post messages, photos and videos as they would on traditional social media platforms, but the content is shared only within the private group. Each group also has access to a shared calendar for tracking important dates and planning events.

While user numbers are currently small — only about 170 people have downloaded the app, Richard Lee said — the Lees are hopeful that Dela will grow.

"We just want to tell people about it so they can start using it and benefiting from it as well," Richard Lee said.

'Less intrusive' communication

Utah couple Brooke and Richard Lee recently launched the Dela app. Users can post messages, photos and videos as they would on traditional social media platforms, but the content is shared only within a private group.
Utah couple Brooke and Richard Lee recently launched the Dela app. Users can post messages, photos and videos as they would on traditional social media platforms, but the content is shared only within a private group. | Richard Lee

Lee said neither he nor his wife has any kind of technology background. They grew up in Cache Valley, he said, and have lived in Davis County for the last seven years; he works for a private equity investment firm while Brooke worked as a medical tech before choosing to stay home with their kids full time.

So when they got serious about creating an app, they knew they'd need some help. Lee said Layton-based company Guru Technologies handled the coding while he and Brooke decided what it should look like, how it should function and other key features.

"We decided to invest in it and bring the idea to life, but we haven't done any of the coding or developing ourselves," Lee said.

By summer 2021, they were using a "very, very rough prototype" with their family, Lee said, and continued developing it until they felt confident about putting it in app stores.

Lee said the app's groups are invite-only and the groups aren't searchable; users must either be directly invited to a group by someone they know or create a group themselves.

"So, it's really not social media in the sense that you're going out and making new connections with new people that you didn't know," he said. "This is really an app to communicate with people that are already known to you."

He also emphasized that Dela isn't meant to be draining or time-consuming like traditional social media can sometimes be.

"We're not trying to make this addictive. We're not trying to make people get back on it five times a day. We're not trying to get people to buy things on there," Lee said. "We really just want it to be something that is a tool that helps people instead of a tool that sucks people in and burns them out. ... We think that makes it unique as opposed to other social media that (has) just constant new content all the time."

Brooke Lee added that her favorite feature is the shared calendar. Notifications for events like birthdays and anniversaries can be set to recur annually, she said, and it makes coordinating family events much easier.

"(It) is a really fun way to remember all of those dates as your family gets bigger and bigger," she said.

Richard Lee said future plans for Dela include continuing to streamline its design and build out its features; but the app's core function will always be about forming small, private groups to share content and messages with.

"This is maybe (a) less intrusive or less annoying way to communicate with people that you know," he said.