These days, it’s commonplace to hear complaints about what the Internet is doing to our brains. Without naming names, “I hate insert social media platform here” is a phrase that I hear on a regular basis. I’m sure you experience more or less the same thing. As to why we find ourselves in this situation, it isn’t complicated. If a social media platform’s business model is built on advertising, it’s in the company’s best interest to make its platform as addictive as possible. The easiest way to make a content platform addictive is to encourage content that confirms people’s pre-existing beliefs or plays on their insecurities and susceptibility to FOMO.
With Are.na, we are betting on the opposite direction. We think that people will (and do) want something else in an everyday online experience: something that is healthy, as opposed to the junk food we automatically digest on a daily basis. Any technology that plays on unhealthy human emotions will (or should) never be fashionable. Instead, we are making a space on the Internet where we can think clearly and collaborate openly with others on shared interests.
To grow Are.na without sacrificing that ethos, we needed to find someone who wanted to take that bet with us. A few months ago, I met up with Chris Barley. I knew Chris because he, Leo Shaw, and Christina Badal (who work with Chris at Consortia) were already using Are.na in their own daily work, and we had developed a habit of meeting every month or so to catch up. I had recently gone down to part-time at my job as a software engineer at Artsy in order to spend more time working on Are.na, and Daniel Pianetti and I were at the beginning of exploring what seeking investment would look like and what type of person would both share our philosophy and have the means and motivation to join us.
Chris turned out to be that person. Now we’re in a position for the first time in three years to be able to work on Are.na full-time, without having to do other work on the side in order to survive. We have a lot planned for the next 6 months. I want to share some of our immediate plans, but I’m going to talk about some of the new team members and changes to our (still small) structure first.
Focus + Team
A lot of people who use Are.na remark on how impressive the content is, and how interesting the users are—and of course we agree. But in the same breath, people often ask about how Are.na will scale. How can we get bigger without diluting the character of the community? It’s a good question, and something we are careful about. The real answer is, we don’t have any desire to be exclusive, but we don’t want to grow Are.na just for the sake of getting bigger.
Our aim is to offer an alternative model for the kind of daily activity that ordinary people do on the Internet, and we want that alternative to be available to as many people as possible. Everyone goes down Wikipedia wormholes or on tangents after seeing an article in a feed, so why not archive those tangents and make them useful? There is something creative and powerful about getting into the habit of filtering, saving and assembling the pieces of information that you find online and in the world. It helps you see every bit of information you come across as a potential building block for a larger idea. We’ve seen already within the Are.na community that the act of creative research promotes a culture of curiosity. Chris and Consortia are natural partners in helping us develop this culture further.
There are two other people working with us that we haven’t announced in an official way – Damon Zucconi (who is now leading engineering) and Meg Miller (who is the editor of the Are.na blog).
We also have two student fellows joining us this summer, Anastasia Davydova Lewis and Will Freudenheim. Anastasia joins us from Los Angeles where she is pursuing a degree in Digital Media at UCLA, and Will joins us from Middletown, Connecticut where he is pursuing a degree in the Science in Society program at Wesleyan University.
Plans + Roadmap
In addition to being more transparent about our company structure, we are also making an effort to be more transparent about our upcoming product changes. Most of the Are.na platform is already open-source, but those who want a more high-level overview of what we plan to work on in the near-term can check out our product roadmap.
This leads me to highlight one of our major projects for the summer: a native mobile app. This has been the number one most requested feature from our users (and one we are most excited about ourselves). Our intention is not to create another app that you need to check compulsively, but to provide a tool to send information to Are.na at the moment you come across it in the world, and call up information that you previously saved.
In short, we now have the ability to make Are.na better in a shorter time frame than we have previously. We have a more robust team and big plans for the summer, and we are excited to show you what we’re working on.