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Track Changes

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Jun 5, 2018

Are you sick of productivity apps and social platforms that hijack your time? What happens when a platform encourages creativity rather than distracting us? How can you raise capital from users rather than ads?

by Chris Sherron

Less machine learning, less algorithms, less likes: This week Paul Ford and Rich Ziade meet with Charles Broskoski, founder of Are.na, to discuss how his platform moves away from the like-based models of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We talk about how pattern recognition drives our creativity, discuss the difficulty of building a community that people are willing to pay for, and complain about Pinterest. Rich also discovers what an Art Prof is!

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2:35 — Charles: “The main thing that you’re doing [with Are.na] is making collections of resources… You can throw anything in there and the point is that you’re thinking of things you’re consuming over a long period of time. It’s about doing this research and thinking about it as you’re doing things.”

4:15 — Paul: “It’s the overall platform of Pinterest that’s okay, and the membership is very very excited, but it just breaks the web. You hit Google images and you go into Pinterest.”

4:40 — Paul: “Compared to Pinterest, Are.na users tend to have intent when they link things together. Pinterest, on the other hand, is watching people and making these connections for them.”

9:30 — Charles: “I think what was appealing about Del.icio.us is that it didn’t orbit around likes and hearts and whatnot. The thinking was that you use it for your own selfish needs and the sort of by-product of that was something really great for everybody else.”

9:45 — Rich: “There was more of a culture around thinking and deep thought, about being more inquisitive and curious and less about performing a personality online.”

11:00 — Rich: “This is success now on the Internet. Build the tool that lets you ‘heart’ pictures and sounds… It’s born out of Twitter and Facebook and the like.”

17:40 — Paul: “So you’ve got this very abstract set of things. This has actually been one of the challenges of hypertext and the web in general, it’s that most websites end up looking like something that was there before. Newspaper websites look like newspapers. Youtube is about video of a certain aspect ratio that looks like TV… The thing that you’re doing here, the thing that you’re describing — which I think both Rich and I have found really hard to get across to people — is that here are abstract nodes that connect to other abstract nodes about concepts and they can be remixed. I’ve seen a lot of experiments along this line and I think that this one is really interesting in that forty thousand people doing abstract hypertext stuff is really a lot.”

23:00 — Charles: “We’re doing an equity crowdfunding campaign right now, and that was a sort of scary proposition… The scary part with a community like ours is that they’re very critical, they know what’s going on, and they’re very sensitive to changes — but it’s going a lot better than we ever expected.”

23:45 — Paul: “The mental model of what success is has to be changed to accommodate the spaces like this that people really want and will pay for and will be a good business.”

24:10 — Charles: “I’m also very optimistic that people are getting smarter — and I know this is a minority opinion — but people’s ability to pattern recognize different things that are happening in the world, that ability gets strengthened over time and there’s nowhere to put that.”

24:50 — Charles: “We just might as well not do it if we’re gonna do ads. It sets up a weird dynamic because your customer is not the user, your customer is the advertiser. Your motivation then is to serve the advertiser and not the user. We’re just trying to make a good enough product that people will pay for it. The type of people we’re after are knowledge workers, people who are working in creative professions. This is the tool that helps your thinking on an every-day basis.”

26:50 — Charles: “[What stops people from standing up Are.na] is that it’s really hard to build a community. The community building is a fuzzy activity — it’s inviting people, it’s talking to people. It’s not the same kind of productivity that you’re doing when you’re writing code.”

A full transcript of this episode is available.

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Track Changes is the weekly technology and culture podcast from Postlight, hosted by Paul Ford and Rich Ziade. Production, show notes and transcripts by EDITAUDIO. Podcast logo and design by Will Denton of Postlight

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