After two years of pushing hard to grow Write.as into a large business, heavily investing (and losing) my savings along the way, early this year I scaled us back to a calm, profitable level we can sustain indefinitely. With a still mind now, I’m seeing a clear vision of how I want this business to run and grow going forward.
Writing “just because” feels like one of the most innocent, humble human activities. Just like making up games to play as a kid. If you step back to view our manufactured world from the frame of what is human vs. non-human, this is clear to me.
We have our screens, and our great technology and economic systems, far removed from the natural world we came from — they’re “human” in the modern sense of the word, rather than the ancient meaning. But we also have this “old humanity” left in us, even as it’s slowly squeezed out of us with ever-encroaching modernity. We still mimic each other in empathy; we still recognize a smile and a laugh; we still gain social connection through touch.
Among other ideas I noodle on for months or more at a time, I’m very slowly mulling over monetization on Write.as — how we would do it, what fits our product, what is the most human way to approach the problem, etc. I first wrote about it a year ago, before we added support for Web Monetization.
I don’t want to just slap a copycat subscription feature on our blogs and call it a day. Like everything, I want to approach this with my own eyes, after surveying the current landscape, talking to our unique group of writers, and asking “Why?” to everything along the way.
So here are some new general principles / ideas on monetization that came to mind today, especially after an earlier conversation with one of the writers in our community, Manuel Parra-Yagnam.
Maybe we don’t need more ways to connect with the people we already know, if we care about breaking out of our filter bubbles, growing, being less depressed, etc. We have more than enough ways to connect with any loved one anywhere in the world. We don’t need more. We have plenty of algorithms feeding us the same-old recommendations of music, products, videos, and tweets that we’ll probably enjoy. We don’t need more.
Our hometown-social-networks might help us connect with people we already know, but do we ever grow? Are our worldviews ever challenged? Do we ever learn, or question anything? Are we ever blindsided by bliss at the discovery of something utterly unanticipated? It seems rare; almost frowned upon.
Maybe what we need, to complement this same old same old, is new ways of digital discovery; new methods of mental adventure. The “old” personal web was, and is, this frontier. It never died, but its frame has been changed by today’s web giants — what used to be the web is now the old web. Unconventional websites are now quaint pitstops on the commute to FaceGoog; aberrations among the real web, as defined (naturally) by the giants.
But our appetites for adventure haven’t changed. Sure, not everyone else will care to step into the wilderness of the decentralized / p2p / weird-and-funky personal web. But those who do, as always, will be rewarded — through growth and pleasant surprise, instead of the same old, same old.
I’ve been digging into the world of image parsing the last couple days, after fixing image orientation issues while introducing a new issue: image metadata (particularly for color correction) getting lost during processing.
In short, Go’s standard image/jpeg library tosses out metadata when you decode an image to transform it, as we do for images uploaded to Snap.as. So preserving that metadata means first parsing it out, running the transformations, then writing it back to the image when you encode it with the new transformations. Should be straightforward, right? Oh let’s see…
For certain musicians, when they put out new work, I have to set aside a moment to sit down and listen to them. These days my mind is too scatterbrained to instantly shut up, switch my focus, and pay attention to this new thing I’m absorbing. So instead I have to carve out some time and space for myself to really feel it.
Some time before, in a past life, in a past day job, it felt like work. I answered to someone; my stress level indexed my responsibilities and how far off-target I was from them. My life was less “mine,” less the product of my personal goals, more the product of market forces; more what my parents would have wanted. I made career choices based on what would benefit me most financially, rather than existentially. I thought convention would benefit me more than pure idealism, and indeed it did. I don’t mean to say I’m ungrateful for all the fortune conventional wisdom has brought me; only that its gains are short-lived, and I’m looking again to my long-term.
I built my own thing as a way out from this; as a re-declaration of my own skills and capacity to do more than what I was merely told to do. I gave that thing a conventional goal of being a profitable business, to solve the problems convention solves: “nothing in life is free.” Otherwise I merely wanted to build, and wanted to build something that people enjoyed. I made it personal and tied it closely to who I am. I worked on it for years because I enjoyed it, and other people seemed to, too.
Now it’s reached a certain point, a certain clearing on the other side of the woods: modest profitability. I always thought I wanted a big small business, but when I started putting that in motion in a real way, I realized how quickly (and how far) I strayed from my original purpose in building this thing (whether you call it a product or business or art project). I started seeing how even this pure thing can eventually feel like work — not in the invigorating, satisfyingly-exhausted sense of the word, but in the futile, misaligned-with-my-life sense. I started buying into the business gurus who say I need to focus on sales and inserting myself in front of people to “grow.” I didn’t really think (or know to think) that I don’t have to do things by convention now. Sure, conventional business practices might help me reach less-modest profitability. But what then? Again, convention promises only short-term, shallow happiness and not the kind of bone-deep satisfaction you get from giving the finger to convention and generally forging your own path.
Something I’ve been thinking lately: perhaps it’s time to move to higher-level applications in our suite. I’m basically thinking our *.as and *Freely apps make sense as highly generic tools fit for a wide range of uses, and then we can offer another layer of more specialized apps on top of them.
My mind is on two major projects at the moment, one that brings many users to the platform, and another that moves a large publication here. The many-users project hasn’t required too much stretching in the product itself; the publication project requires a major rethinking of everything. But it also takes us to a new level — somewhere I’d like to go.