Discover more from New_ Public
0️⃣0️⃣0️⃣ A platform with no likes, no follower count, and no comments
Sublime builder Sari Azout on the joy of discovery and insight
We’re refreshing our literature review on community stewardship and need your help finding research and insights.
Open jobs: We’re still looking for candidates for Head of Communications and Executive Assistant / Operations Coordinator. More info here.
Our friends at The Dinner Party need your help: find out more here.
At New_ Public, we’re always talking about a new generation of digital public spaces. It’s only natural that you — builders, stewards, partners, funders, casual readers … everybody — would want to learn about some specific examples. We hear you, and we’re about to begin rolling out some resources we’re really excited to share. Let’s start here:
This week: an interview with the builder of Sublime, a new social bookmarking platform in private beta
Sari Azout is Founder of Sublime, an evolution of her previous project, Startupy. Sari has described Sublime, currently in private testing, as a “simpler, more communal way to build your second brain” and an effort to “combine the benefits of a single-player private productivity tool with the sense of aliveness and connectivity of a social network.”
Savvy readers may detect similarities in Google Reader, Are.na, and even the newer app Artifact. But Sublime is full of prosocial, public-spirited potential, described eloquently in their manifesto. Sari has thought deeply about why she wants to build Sublime. I love that she has a solid theory of change, realistic plan of attack, and a firm commitment to what she calls “a more human internet.”
Researcher Scott Shigeoka talked with Sari this summer, touching on everything from how she thinks about designing social spaces to healthier approaches to measurement and monetization. I’ve curated the best excerpts for you below (bold formatting is mine).
—Josh, New_ Public Head of Editorial
Building a more communal second brain
How Sari’s curiosity led towards Sublime:
A lot of the work in building Sublime has been, what do I want from the web? And personally, I want to follow my curiosity wherever it leads. Without sifting through mountains of clickbait and SEO and content designed to feed an algorithm, I want to mindfully collect the pieces of the internet that resonate with me. And I want to do this in a space that feels equal parts personal and communal, and a space that's allowing me to further my goals, but not in some sort of private silo of the web.
What Sublime is actually like:
Sublime is basically a way for you to build your digital library of all that resonates with you, and stitch it together with everybody else's. If you think about what this looks like, there are different cards on Sublime. Any different kind of media is a card, and the only action you can take with a card is to connect it. From any card you can pivot to what it is connected to, with no bias for recency. And you can connect it to a collection that you're sort of nurturing. And so it's a much more quiet space for you to further your own goals.
But there is this serendipity of, “Oh, I have this card. I've been exploring this idea of, ‘what does it mean to be human?’ And here's everything I've added to that.” Then somebody takes one of these cards and connects it to human-centered generative AI. And so I'm invited into that rabbit hole. But still, connecting something requires a lot more than just passively liking.
Sari’s reconsidering the design properties that most large platforms use to mediate our relationship to information. First, recency:
They're all obsessed with the present. I believe that that has diminished our capacity for deep thinking. We are basically like a click away from some of the best insights from history, but if I wanted to see what my Twitter feed looked like a month ago, my finger would fall off, because there's no way to do that. Everything is about what happened in the last 24 hours. And even with something like a Substack, how often have you gone back and read an old post?
It's just that a lot of these interfaces are not conducive to valuing the archives, building upon the past. So that's the first thing. How do we get rid of this obsession with the present? We believe that a culture that is stuck in the present cannot solve important problems.
On metrics and incentives:
Social networks are all built around performative metrics and incentive to perform. So whether it's followers or likes or upvotes, those are the dominant engagement principles of social media. And what tends to happen is that on these platforms, the measure of success is not just how other people react, but how much response there is.
I think that this obsession with quantification, and just converting something as nuanced as human expression into a series of numbers, it just pushes us to ascribe value to these aggregated numbers instead of depth and resonance and meaningful connections. And so Sublime has no likes. No follower count. No comments.
And the “fear of missing out”:
There is this culture of FOMO. You know, if you don't look at your feed today, you are missing something important. And I do think that there's something to this idea of NOMO, which is the necessity of missing out. Back in the day, like 50, 60 years ago, this idea of “a citizen's duty is to be informed,” made sense. But today, there's just no universe where you can be informed on all of these subjects.
My life changed when I decided there are certain things I want to have a very solid understanding of, and I'd rather go deep than just read the headlines across the news cycle. And I realize that's controversial. But the fact that there’s abundance doesn't mean that we need to read everything. It just means we have to cultivate our own little gardens and feel peace and calm from doing that. Today, I feel overwhelmed and pressure that I am not keeping up. And I also think that's a design property.
What “a more human internet” means:
I do think my North Star is definitely a more human internet. There are a lot of incentives driven by the business models or the performance, audience, fame… feeding the algorithm. And so I think that, to get us further towards that humanity, curiosity, sense of calm, I just think it's such an important and timely endeavor. To me, we win when people describe Sublime as that set of feelings, where you go from this low-level anxiety to the sense of aliveness and possibility. When you go from this immediacy and obsession with recency to this slowness and contemplation. When you go from perpetual information overload to the joy of discovery and insight. A lot of these things are more emotional than technical. And they're really, really hard to nail.
Sublime’s theory of monetization:
Our aspiration when it comes to business model is to build the first social tool powered by a freemium model, not an advertising model. So we have a lot to learn. We think that orienting towards utility and building something that people will pay for is a good North Star. Will it leave out people that can’t pay, I don't know, five, ten dollars a month? Yes, it will, and there are ways around that.
And I do think that there are interesting models emerging around choosing what you pay, for example. We introduced, with Startupy, a Believer tier, and we haven't really promoted it much. But we've seen a bunch of really great people pay $1,000. So I think that there is opportunity for experimentation. I do think that if you let revenue be the guiding principle, then a lot of bad stuff will happen, even if you don't monetize via ads, because I don't think subscription is the panacea.
Why the internet is unfinished and advice for other builders:
I think that we all get into this because we observe and we know that the internet is not finished. And that one of the biggest lies we tell ourselves is that it's always been done this way. We all know that there are better ways of doing things on the internet. And there's no question that ten, twenty years from now, the ways that we convene as humans and exchange information, that is all changing. The internet is changing once again.
I think that a lot of people who get into this space are very mission-driven. And ultimately, I do think this has to be thought of like a business. What is the job to be done? What am I doing for people? What can I deliver on in year one and year two? Because I don't think you can start by saying, I am going to compete with Facebook or transform the internet. I just think we have to start really small. TikTok was lip-syncing for teens and now it's a global video-sharing platform.
Something I personally struggle with is, how do we balance the audacity of the vision with earning the right to get there slowly by delivering value to people? And I think we would all really just benefit from breaking down the audacity of this vision into realistic steps you can take. I personally see Sublime, for the first time in my life, as a multi-decade project.
To hear more from Sari about the process of building Sublime and other topics, follow her newsletter below. Thanks Sari!
Trying to thinking of other ‘90s band names that would make a good platform name,