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Some Thoughts on Social Media and Collate

Recipient profile picture Oliver Kraftman
11 July
Dear Oliver Kraftman,
I hope you will not mind some of my ramblings here. As an early adopter, I’ve been using Collate for many months now, and I’ve enjoyed my time with it so far. Since joining, I’ve written letters to athletes, scientists, economists, and people in between. I’ve enjoyed getting my musings on paper and reading what other folk have to say about things in this world. Most of us will agree that social media is in need of rework. The algorithms and discourse on most platforms are not working as well as they should. And given the hours that families spend on social media every week, I can only imagine the collective toll and opportunity cost this exhorts on society. I myself find existing platforms unhelpful. I am inactive on Facebook, and use Messenger only to organize my life with friends and family. Twitter is too noisy for me. And LinkedIn is too superficial. (I am, however, a passive user of Reddit. I go there for the latest highlights and news on basketball.) How are you with social media these days? With all that in mind, Collate has been a fresh escape. I like your founding idea and can see its potential if your team can execute well. But like any social media company, you have a big challenge ahead of you. Overcoming the chicken-and-egg problem in a crowded marketplace is no easy feat. The first challenge, of course, is product and interface. It has to be user-friendly. I’m hoping future iterations of Collate, for instance, will allow me to browse, sort and follow other writers and subjects more seamlessly. RSS Feeds, Twitter, Medium, and Reddit are great examples of this. Thankfully, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You can simply take what works from them and make it your own. Collate's great already, don't get me wrong. But I know you can make it better. And I’m sure you’re on top of this. Thinking ahead, moderation and fact-checking will be an interesting challenge and a competitive advantage if you get it right. Like any society in real life, online communities are easier to manage while small. But when you have tens of thousands of users online, the average quality of discussion tends to degenerate. You want to give people the freedom to express themselves without toxicity and misinformation running wild. Reddit’s history with this challenge is illustrative and worth examining too. Similarly, social bubbles and confirmation bias tend to coalesce naturally. Twitter and Facebook have leaned into this, while Collate seeks to address this. One is harder than the other, of course. Swimming upstream will need attention, investment, and some creativity. Can you imagine a platform in which people can speak to public figures or people outside their bubbles in a safe and considerate way? I’m imagining, for example, what it would be like to be pen pals with an anti-vaxxer. I may not agree with his or her views. But if we could write to each other without descending into flame wars, that would be a near-historic achievement. If you’ve read books on company building and economic development, you’ll know that much of our culture and institutions are set in stone from day one. Things are harder to change once momentum builds. In my opinion, the same applies to online ecosystems. I’m sure you’ve seen some sub-reddits and online forums rise and fall because of their inability to moderate as their community scaled. While growing pains are unavoidable, thoughtful systems and rules from the get go can be the difference maker. This raises an interesting question about monetization and gatekeeping. Advertising may not work without scale, while subscription models might kill the network effects that Collate needs. Gatekeeping is interesting as well. Should the platform be closer in format to the free-for-all on Twitter or Reddit, or to selective columnists like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal? Perhaps you’ll play somewhere in between? Moreover, I’ve asked myself why I should write on Collate when I can start my own blog elsewhere. But after spending some time with the product, the answer was obvious. I enjoy writing letters, and I enjoy reading what others have to say. Too much of the mainstream is dominated by an inner circle of celebrities, authorities, authors, and whatnot. It is nice to have something that is people-led for a change. And this is doubly true when it is thoughtful, respectful, and sincere. To me, the small possibility that a public figure might respond to one of my letters or somebody else's is the icing, not the cake. I have a few other ramblings, but maybe I should cut this short. Oliver, I admire the work you are taking on. I’m glad there are people like you who are seeking to improve our online landscape. I’d love to hear more about your journey so far. What have you learned? What has surprised you? Has your vision and direction changed in any form since the beta or launch? What are some initiatives or features that early Collate adopters should look forward to? Warm regards, Tobias

Tobias Lim

Author profile picture Tobias Lim
3 August
Dear Tobias Lim,

Thank you for this letter. Please don’t apologise for “ramblings” - one of the benefits of letter-writing is that it’s more casual than a normal article, and ideas can flow and evolve as you go.

Thank you also for being an early adopter. It’s been great reading your letters; it’s clear your interests are eclectic and deep. By the number of books you reference you seem a voracious reader - I’m inspired to follow your habits!

You won't be surprised to know I agree with your description of LinkedIn and Twitter. I do still use Twitter occasionally - usually to waste time while waiting for a meeting to start. We also use Twitter for Collate marketing, which draws me in sometimes. YouTube is where most of my attention gets sapped. It’s crazy to observe myself get sucked in and out of different platforms. Last year I downloaded Instagram to start posting on the Collate account, having not had the app for years. Slowly it began to eat into my life and soon I was scrolling daily. But then I delete the app again, and the itch disappears.

I know we have a lot to do on product development. Believe me… I know!! We are working as fast as possible to improve things and hopefully over time, you’ll notice big improvements that are being fed to you in small increments. Content moderation is a challenge, but I do think Collate will be better placed to take on that challenge once we scale because of the fundamental structure of the platform.

On Twitter, an anti-vaxxer can tweet unhinged, gain a massive following, and have all those tweets retweeted. Even the rebuttals in the replies below and quote tweets are usually not visible to those who see the original tweets. Alternatively, on Collate, you can have a dialogue with an anti-vaxxer and your response will always sit alongside it. You won’t be able to see the letter without it. If it’s an open letter and the majority of people disagree, that majority is likely to produce some good letters in response - the best of which will sit with the original all the time. Our platform is better designed to self-police.

Also, because Collate is a longer-form platform than Twitter or Reddit, and people are slightly more restricted on when they can write a letter (they can’t respond to a letter addressed to someone else) there will be less content on the site relative to the number of accounts. This should ease the amount of moderation required. Further, without comments, conversations are less likely to descend into vitriol - it doesn’t feel like there’s an audience when having a correspondence.

But there is also something else which helps us: the people we bring onto Collate. You can still feel on Reddit a palpable tone to the comments and posts. This is largely due to the earliest users of the platform who set that tone. Collate can do the same. People like you and the others we are trying to attract are those who want to have interesting conversations, seek the truth, explore creativity, and don’t want to be angry and abusive. If we can find enough people like you, we will go a long way to warding off warmongering users.

Maybe our business model will also help with moderation. We would rather be a slightly smaller platform with unprecedented quality than a mammoth social network with the same old problems. To that end, we plan to charge users at a very low price-point (like $2/month), positioning ourselves as a premium social network where members rub virtual shoulders with public figures while remaining cheaper than newspapers, Netflix and Spotify. How exactly we implement this is yet to be determined e.g. we could charge people to write letters if we have public figures in our midst guaranteed to respond, or do the opposite and charge only those who read. Finding mechanisms to compensate writers may also be necessary.

I’ve learned a lot personally on this journey. I’m the sole founder of Collate and that can be lonely. I’ve learned that I gain energy from working with people and discussing ideas; I’ve learned that I have an interest in design and aesthetics; I understand more deeply why it’s common wisdom in product development to start as simple as possible and iterate - more features means less time refining each, and one great feature is better than three OK ones. I’ve also learned that good decisions are not based on following what similar businesses in similar situations did, but finding a practical solution to the problem at hand, no matter how simple or manual. I’ve learned that many of the lessons I’m learning seem obvious, but that all lessons worth learning seem obvious after you’ve learned them and that in business and in life it’s not complex genius ideas that bring success, but a series of simple lessons and ideas implemented well.

It is only now that the possibilities of Collate are starting to fan out. Up to this point it’s just been about getting the product useable and getting some people using it. Now we have both, it’s time to start thinking about how to heed the desires our new members appear to have. For example, we are looking into ways of using GPT-3 to offer the ability to write to a famous person from history and have them respond from heaven (or hell). (Who would you like to hear from in history, by the way?) If this works well, we may also look at ways we can use AI to help people write, so they can write to a public figure quicker. There are more ideas in the pipeline, but I wouldn’t want to spoil all the surprises!

Having mentioned some fun ideas, our objective still is to be a place for leaders to communicate with the public and each other. It takes time to attract public figures to our platform: it’s a snowball effect, starting slow but building up as more public figures onboard provide more credibility to get others. We, therefore, have to balance any new ideas with the patience to see through our current plan.

Thanks again for your thoughtful letter. It’s helpful hearing your thoughts on what you think will be important for Collate. Please keep them coming if you have more thoughts! Ramble away please! I hope you keep enjoying the platform, I look forward to you boasting to friends of your early adopter status once we go big.

Until next time,

Oliver Kraftman

Oliver Kraftman

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