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?