Check your Pulse #57

a pregnant pause, the erosion of place reflections > predictions

Hi, I’m Sari Azout and this is the the 57th edition of Check your Pulse, a tech and startups newsletter designed to make you feel human. I try to make this one of the best emails you get every two weeks(ish). 

Hello, friends.

I meant for this newsletter to return the first week of January. But I’ll get right to it: I’m pregnant.

I found out about a month ago, and since then, have been battling constant nausea and extreme fatigue. I have struggled to get through Zoom calls — from bed with the video off, pretending my camera didn’t work, taking 30 second breaks to throw up in the bathroom.  Still, I have pushed myself to maintain an outward sense of normalcy, mustering a “great, thanks for asking” when greeted with the usual “how are you?” at the top of each call.

This is not what I predicted this year would look like. 

In January last year, I shared a bunch of predictions.

This year I’m ditching my attempts at prediction in favor of reflection. Less certainty, more inquiry. 

Here are some loosely related notes on things I’ve been thinking about.

  • On digital micro-communities. Scaling intimacy is the million-dollar question for digital micro-communities. I’m surprised by how under-discussed this is. We talk about digital communities being the next big thing, but rarely about how the community software options we have today make it impossible to retain the feeling of closeness and empathy at scale.  Over and over I’ve seen the signal-to-noise ratios of these communities suffer as more people join. It’s network effects moving in the opposite direction — as more people join, the experience worsens. All of this has me thinking about what happens when we focus so much on disruption, and not enough on preservation, on building products and services that can withstand and improve with the passage of time. 

  • On the work of maintenance. The ordinary work that keeps our world going — cleaning the parks, caring for small humans, writing documentation and standards, testing the code. This stuff isn’t glamorous and doesn’t scale the way tech does, but it’s valuable. It’s easier for localities to attract federal funding for new infrastructure projects than to get support for maintaining what already exists. We praise startups like Culdesac and Marc Lore’s ambitious project to build the city of the future while ignoring the many ways in which small shifts in our existing infrastructure could make our cities more livable. As it becomes easier to build new things and replace what breaks, it’s worth thinking about the cost of chasing the new while neglecting the work of preservation. Our idolatry of startups and innovation has meant the focus for the past decade has been: what do we want to disrupt? The limitations of this focus have become apparent: creating online spaces without moderation, luring customers into half-baked solutions in critical industries like healthcare, systems designed for growth but not able to sustain uncertainty. How might the outcomes change if we asked a different question: What do we want to preserve?

  • On work that doesn’t feel like work. In the industrial era, output was determined by hours worked. In the knowledge era, output is determined by the quality of your thoughts. To improve our thoughts, we need to give ourselves space to think and refuel our minds without a set agenda. In this economy, the most effective work often doesn’t look like work —but it is the invisible labor that makes creative life possible. An engineer or a chemist can have a successful career knowing only engineering. But the same cannot be said about most other professions. If you are building community software, connecting the dots between ideas in psychology and sociology is just as important as knowing how to push code. How can we enhance creativity, multi-disciplinary thinking, and the quality of our thoughts is a question I am committed to exploring in my work. (My new project, Startupy, is built on the belief in order for us to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of places and combine and recombine them to build new things.)

  • On what we think is good but is actually good marketing. For example, the fear-mongering literature on what screen-time will do to children has very little of it rooted in research. Fortnite is a game where people shoot each other, but it’s also an online club where leadership and teamwork develop. The latter is rarely talked about. Debt can cause more problems than drugs, yet drugs are illegal and debt is tax deductible. Our relationship to products is deeply cultural. How much progress could we make if we re-branded screen-time, masculinity, debt, drugs, meetings, caregiving?

  • On the things we assume are solved. “Data-driven” is the hottest buzzword in business yet it’s crazy to think how, after more than a decade of Data is the new oil we are fighting Covid with medieval measures — curfews, shutdowns, distancing. Where is the data to enable different restrictions for different people? We see terms like social commerce in Techcrunch headlines and assume it’s here, yet if I want to know what stroller my friends use, I just text them. We're still far from utilizing the power of people as true Multi-Level Marketers. There are many other examples. We are in the first inning of so many problems we assume are solved.

  • On the erosion of place. Covid made it harder to go anywhere at all, and then, removed the need to go anywhere. Today, less activities are constrained by place. At home, I can hang out with friends, work out, consult a doctor, collaborate with Internet strangers, start a company, sync with co-workers, build a community. Debates on our digital interactions typically assume a corresponding loss of real life, implying a trade-off between the virtual and the real. We see the online as authentic, and the virtual as fake. One of my contrarian views is that serendipity and authenticity can happen more online than in the physical world. Many of the communities I participate in digitally are brimming with energy and connection, democratizing access to opportunities that were previously only accessible in top-tier cities. That’s not to say there aren’t things we lose when we abstract our interactions into a placeless world. As sociologist Jay Bolter wrote, digital media appears to undermine rather than sustain our capacity to experience a common world. To be clear, to say that we ever had a real “shared reality” would be untrue. I like Erik Torenberg’s explanation: We’ve always disagreed, but at least we had the same coordinates by which we could disagree. Now we’re looking at different maps entirely.

I’ll explore these in more detail in future issues, but for now, I’m happy to be back.

Stay human 🙏🏽

Sari

Fascinating chart that shows if a job is widely considered immoral, you need to pay employees almost twice as much for them to be willing to do it. This is why even a billion dollars of capital cannot compete with a project having a soul. 💰👇🏽

This 8 minute commencement speech was the highlight of my week. The most radical act we can take is to make a commitment to a particular thing… to a place, to a profession, to a cause, to a community, to a person. To show our love for something by working at it for a long time — to close doors and forgo options for its sake. We often assume that some acute and looming threat — be it a foreign invader or a domestic demagogue — will be our downfall. But if we were to end, that end is just as likely to come from something far less dramatic: our failure to sustain the work. 🎓

The Ice Cream Principle states that if you tell 10 people to agree on an ice cream flavor, they’ll pick chocolate or vanilla every time. Groups of people don’t agree on what’s cool or interesting. “Consensus” is just another way of saying average. This made me think of how decentralizing governance can kill innovation 🍦

A hilariously sad website that speaks to the similarities between schools and prisons. I got a pretty bad score. 🏫

The benefits of being attractive are exorbitant. Beauty might be the single greatest physical advantage you can have in life and yet compared to other privileges that may arise from race, gender, or sexuality, we don’t talk much about it. 💄

A playlist from Startupy to you, for your listening pleasure. 🎶

The Startupy First Friends membership is sold out but CYP subscribers can access my second brain - a searchable database with thousands of early stage startups and incredible content (with highlights) - for $99 here. 🧠

I loved these rules for creators, especially the last one. 👇🏽

What an iconic performance of Iris by Goo Goo Dolls 🎶👇🏽

Startups on my radar 🚀

  • Together helps anyone organize or join a community focused co-living experience.

  • Tract: A for kids, by kids online community for student-directed learning founded by Esther Wojcicki (the mother of the CEO of YouTube and the founder of 23andMe)

  • Carro: A collaborative commerce network enabling zero inventory e-commerce cross selling.

  • OnGoody: Send a gift as easily as a text. No address needed. No payment up front.

  • Schoolhouse: A platform for families to kickstart their own microschool with other families they know and trust

Thought-provoking piece on the future of publishing and the opportunity to crowdfund publishing via NFTs. We imagine a world where writers on Mirror can publish an intention to research and produce high-quality writing, and receive crowdsourced funding. In this model, the contributors who fund the project also receive a stake in the future financial upside produced by the work, captured by subsequent sales of the NFT. ✍🏽

A good piece on the changing dynamics of how people earn prestige and what this might mean for traditional MBA programs. Schools are going to have a hard time adjusting to a world in which anyone in the world can now earn prestige from their desk. 🏫

If you’re wondering who’s behind this newsletter:

My name is Sari Azout. I am a design-thinker, strategist, early stage startup investor at Level Ventures, and founder of Startupy. My mission is to bring more humanity and creativity to technology and business.

Want more?

Follow me on TwitterMedium, and Instagram.

Know a founder i should meet?

Drop me a note at sari@level.vc

If you're enjoying this newsletter, I'd love it if you shared it with a friend. You can send them here to sign up.

Thanks for being here!

CYP – Become a Startupy First Friend

Access to a private database of 4,000+ startups and 2,500+ content entries with summaries

Hi, I’m Sari Azout and this is Check your Pulse, a tech and startups newsletter designed to make you feel human. I try to make this one of the best emails you get every two weeks(ish). 


Earlier this week, I shared what I’m working on: startupy.world
(We had over 2,000 people join our waitlist, the announcement is here !)

Today, I’m excited to personally invite you into a special circle of First Friends – a community of thinkers and creators who are excited to help me build and shape Startupy.

This opportunity is exclusive for you, my readers. 

At this time, space is limited to 200 First Friends.

The first 60 First Friends pay $120.
After it becomes $180.

Become a First Friend

What do Startupy First Friends get?

Access to my digital brain 🧠

Private database of 4,000+ startups and 2,500+ content entries with summaries.

Early access to a searchable database with thousands of early stage startups and incredible content (with highlights), all categorized by topic to help with discoverability. This is much more than just a list of links.

Years of work, and I have a feeling I’m underselling this.

Private product chats 💡

Exclusive discussions and a BTS look at our product thinking.

You’ll get to participate and join us in group video calls as we navigate the product questions keeping us up at night – from “Content Moderation and Curator Incentives” to “Embedding Ownership” to “Building Social Products without Vanity Metrics” and “The Future of Subscription Media Businesses”.

Building and thinking in public.

Early believer membership 🤑

1 year of free membership after launch.

When we launch, you'll get a free Startupy membership for 12 months.

I value your vote of confidence.

Deck and roadmap 👀

Real-time visibility.

You'll get access to a deck outlining our strategy, vision, and roadmap.

I believe in radical transparency.

Forever credited 🏆

A place on the Hall of First Friends.

You will be credited as a First Friend in your profile when we launch!

Unless you prefer anonymity.

Gift 🎁

Surprise!

First 60 friends get extra love.

Trust me, it's good.

Become a First Friend

I’ll spare you the for-the-price-of-a-cup-of-coffee-a-day analogies and just say this.

If you like what you’ve seen before in this newsletter, you’ll like Startupy. If you work at a startup, invest in startups, think about startups, or just want to be part of something that offers credible ground for optimism, you’ll love what we’re building. 

If you made it this far, thank you for even considering becoming a First Friend of Startupy!

If you have any questions, just email me. I’m here, nervous and excited to announce this – even privately.

Stay real 🙏
Sari

CYP – Introducing startupy.world

Special Edition – Introducing startupy.world 👀

Hi, I’m Sari Azout and this is a very special edition of Check your Pulse, a tech and startups newsletter designed to make you feel human. I try to make this one of the best emails you get every two weeks(ish).


Happy Wednesday, Friends.

This is a special issue.

In Issue #55, I wrote about the opportunity to build community-curated knowledge networks. About how social media feeds have made us obsessive consumers of the present, but indifferent to the archives of the past. About how we’ve gotten used to consuming information in environments that strip context and discourage reflection.

As someone obsessed with startups and ideas, this problem has felt especially personal when it comes to startup knowledge.

In my work with startups, one thing has become clear; the future is up for grabs. Every major industry will be upended in the coming decades, and change is going to come from the outside in – from access to healthcare, to improving education, to fighting climate change, and creating new forms of ownership.

There has never been a better time to start a company.

I started this newsletter because I craved a place on the Internet that made me feel alive, excited, human. A place that acknowledges the world is messy and complicated but also embodies an ethos of: “we don’t have a problem, we have a solution we’re not happy with”.  

Today, we spend more time reading hit pieces that complain about the status quo than we do amplifying the voices of builders and operators who can see alternatives to how we live today.

All these thoughts I’ve been turning over (for years now) have finally led me here: 

startupy.world


WTFAQ???

So what is Startupy?

You’re in for a glorious 🐇 🕳️

Startupy is as if Roam, Wikipedia, Substack, and Product Hunt had a baby.

We – me initially, but an extended group of high caliber people soon – curate, organize, and interconnect the coolest, most valuable ideas and insights in one dynamic knowledge base designed to inspire the people building the future.

Startupy is a community-powered database of startup knowledge, organized “associatively”. 

So, with Startupy, you flow between startups, content, people, and topics based on their connections, just like your mind works. 

What problem does Startupy solve? 

Startupy is the answer to a question that kept coming up in my work:
“How can I find what the most interesting minds are saying and reading about a space?” 

The information is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.

Whether it’s The Future of Work, Digital Wellness, Carbon Offsetting & Carbon Removal, or The Creator Economy, many times we’d like to:

  • Track down what the sharpest minds are saying and reading about the topic.

  • Discover the most interesting startups in the space.

  • Immerse ourselves in the topic in a digestible, organized way.

  • Find the people behind the scenes at up-and-coming startups  — the studio that designed the site, the angel investor that wrote the check,  the freelance copywriter, and others who are rarely showcased to the outside world. 

At Startupy, we rely on trusted curators to unearth hidden gems, sparing you the impossible task of monitoring millions of things, and giving you a sane, organized way to stay up to speed on the pulse of startup culture.

Why am I building this? 

In 2019, I was spending 60+ hours a week doing consulting for startups, reading too much Naval, and getting tired of renting my time.

Startupy began as a database I built to make my life easier. 

Over time, it became obvious that this was not just a database for myself, but the foundation for something that would be far more powerful in a collaborative setting. 

I’m building what I’ve always wanted; a digital playground to collect and connect the dots with other thinkers and creators.

Who is this for?

If you have a Startupy state of mind, you’ll love it.
Seriously, I’m building the curated information environment I wish I had as a founder, funder, creator, and creative. 

When is Startupy launching?

If I can get myself to cut the scope creep, sometime in 2021 (hopefully first half).
There will be a special opportunity for you, my readers, to get involved before launch. 

How am I feeling?

Anxious, nervous, excited. The truth is, I see myself when I read this, and it sucks 👇🏽 

If you’re in the arena and feeling this way, here I am locking eyes with you in silent recognition and determination to build calmly. 


Self promotion makes me uncomfortable, but I’m just gonna say it.

This has been a true labor of love. If you like what you’ve seen in this newsletter, and are feeling the Startupy vibe, it would mean the world to me if you check out the landing page and share it with friends.

GO DOWN THE 🐇 🕳️

Stay real 🙏
Sari

P.S. Look out for an email where I’ll share a special opportunity to help me build and shape Startupy.

Check your Pulse #56

Fairmint and the Democratization of Upside (A CYP x Not Boring Collab)

Hi, I’m Sari Azout and this is the the 56th edition of Check your Pulse, a tech and startups newsletter designed to make you feel human. I try to make this one of the best emails you get every two weeks(ish). 

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Happy Thursday, friends!

In 2018 I put out a request for startups, one of which was: Carta for Cooperative Mechanics. I wrote: 

What if issuing equity were as easy as paying a salary? We know that ownership and passive income are the only sure routes to financial freedom, so how can we democratize ownership and reduce income inequality? 

I’ve been on the lookout for something like this for years, which is why I was so excited when I came across Fairmint.

Today’s post is a collaboration with Packy McCormick, the brains behind one of my favorite newsletters: Not Boring (go subscribe and come back).

A condensed version of the post is below but if you want to read the full thing head over to Not Boring 👇🏽

Read the full thing

The history of financial innovation is the history of democratizing access to upside. There would be no Silicon Valley, for example, without employee stock options.

When a group of engineers left Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory to start Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957, investors rewarded them with a new type of compensation: stock options.

Options seemed radical then; they’re commonplace now.

When startups made things like microchips and database software, it made sense for employees to share in that upside. But what happens when the boundaries between employment and work begin to blur? The Dashers who deliver your food, the drivers behind the wheel of your Uber, the influencers who create content on Instagram, and the Hosts who let you into their home — they don’t participate in that upside. 

The digital economy has radically changed the nature of the relationship between customers and corporations. Individuals have switched from being passive consumers to being an essential force in creating value, either through their actual work (Airbnb hosts, Uber drivers, Sofar artists) or their data (Facebook, Google). Today, the user is not only the consumer. The user does the work. 

We spent the last fifteen years working for gig money, likes, retweets, and follows. The platforms gave us reputation or cash, but no ownership, upside, or voice in its evolution.

But the balance of power is shifting, and companies are recognizing the need to better align with their participants.

The Internet is a new way to interact, so it’s only natural that 40 years after its invention, we will come up with digitally native ways to distribute and exchange value, unconstrained by legacy financial infrastructure. 👇🏽

The time is right. 

  • Cultural tailwinds support inclusive economic models as opposed to the extractive models that defined the first decade of the gig economy. 

  • Software is eating the markets, giving more people knowledge of, comfort with, and access to, new investment opportunities.

  • Crypto is making it possible to financialize everything

“Crypto” comes with a lot of baggage, so it might help to boil it down to the three main use-cases in the context of the Ownership Economy:  

  1. Financial
    Raise funding while aligning your upside with early fans, workers, and other participants.

  2. Social
    Create a community around you in which your fans and users engage and become your distribution. There’s also an element of social signaling that you were the first involved, and tiered access to exclusive rewards. 

  3. Governance
    Give stakeholders a voice in the decisions about your business, platform, or community. 

There is a vibrant ecosystem of crypto projects that are powering the infrastructure for social tokens, including Props Project, Foundation, Zora, and Roll.

Social tokens allow creators to own, control, and coordinate the value that they create across platforms. But just as the internet in the late ‘90s was engineering-heavy and design-light, crypto thus far has focused too much on what is technically possible and not enough on how it can improve people’s lives. 

Richard Kim’s Random Number Generator is a Discord server for founders and investors in the gaming community in which status is determined by the amount of $RNG tokens users hold. Members use the $RNG they earn for both exclusive access and for financial gain, as Kim plans to create liquidity. 

In an excellent post, Kim reflects on the challenges of token-based communities: 

Whether they acknowledge it or not, tokenized communities are so focused on token price that they lose sight of why they were created to begin with--the shared values and interests, the intrinsic motivators, the glue that is left when all other bindings are stripped away.

As much as crypto fans want to believe they’ve created something startling and revolutionary, in reality, the experience feels: unfamiliar (payments happen off-platform), overwhelming (you end up in a confusing maze of wallets), and pyramid scheme-y.

Social tokens represent one step in a progression — from traditional cap tables and employee stock option plans towards more programmable equity that fits into the flow of a well thought out user experience.  

Like social tokens, Fairmint is built on DeFi rails, but unlike them, you wouldn’t know that from looking at their site. 

Fairmint is like Kickstarter on steroids, mixed with Carta, embedded right in the products we use and love. They’re building the picks and shovels for founders to turn their equity into the most powerful tool to align with their contributors. 

Equity powers the entire stack of entrepreneurship. But until now, the absence of a single, global, open, and interoperable system of record for equity has hampered the democratization of equity ownership. 

Luckily, global, open, and interoperable systems of record are what crypto does best, and Fairmint is using it to build the Continuous Agreement for Future Equity (CAFE), an updated version of Y Combinator’s SAFE, which lets a company’s stakeholders buy or earn equity in the company, at any time, directly from their website.

Users and investors don’t need to know or care that they’re dealing with a DeFi product. They only need to think about how the product benefits them:

  • Founders benefit because fundraising is no longer a full-time job. On Fairmint, founders raise funds on a rolling basis in a “set it and forget it” fashion. They can set up automated incentive plans and align stakeholders with their success. And it gives them flexibility – if they don’t want to sell, and if an IPO is not in the cards, their investors can still get liquidity. 

  • Investors benefit because they get a clearer path to liquidity and can invest in the companies they love and trust at stages usually reserved for insiders and VCs. 

  • Users benefit because they can participate in the financial upside, either by purchasing shares or earning shares for supporting the company.

Our heads are swimming with possibilities: 

  • What if Wikipedia was owned by the editors? 

  • Could Reddit reward its moderators with ownership? 

  • Shouldn’t Uber’s drivers own a piece of the business if they maintain a high enough rating over enough rides? 

  • Would writers be less likely to leave Substack if they owned a piece of the company?

  • What if early users of SaaS products could invest in the company itself? Packy’s mom has been singing Zoom’s praises since 2014. She’d be retired if they worked with Fairmint.

  • What if Taylor Swift’s fans could replace Scooter Braun

Idealism aside, Fairmint will face a few key challenges in making that future a reality. 

  • Ownership Distribution
    Nailing an effective ownership distribution that incentivizes the right behaviors is VERY hard. Fairmint will need to give companies templates and best practices to help them get started. There will inevitably be a period of trial and error here. 

  • Product Marketing
    Explaining what Fairmint does is a challenge. They’re currently explaining it simply as “the ESOP for customers,” and it seems to be working.

  • Double-Edged Switching Costs
    There’s no such thing as a “free trial” with Fairmint. Once you decide to use Fairmint and sell shares via a CAFE, switching to another model is a huge pain. That creates high switching costs, but also barriers to adoption. 

Fairmint has its work cut out for it, but we’re rooting for it to succeed. 

There’s this recurring theme on the internet: when something is easy, people will do more of it. 

In the same way the internet made it easy for everyone in the world to create and share content, the next step is to give everyone the ability to create and share value.

Driven by network effects, technology has radically changed the pace of wealth accumulation. It took Hyatt 63 years to be worth $7 billion. It only took Airbnb 12 years to be worth $18 billion. 

Crypto’s true promise is the ability to usher in a new economic operating system where distributing that value is as easy as paying payroll. One that can close the wealth gap by pulling wage earners out of the debt stack and into the equity stack. One that allows people to share in the upside and ultimately shift the paradigm of ownership to the individuals and communities responsible for creating value. Viewed through that lens, Fairmint is more than a product; it’s a movement.

🙏🏽
Sari (and Packy)

Jerry Seinfeld on Making Something Great. If you’re efficient, you’re doing it the wrong way. The right way is the hard way. The show was successful because I micromanaged it—every word, every line, every take, every edit, every casting. That’s my way of life. 💯

The power of incentives 🏠

A public singalong with Choir! Choir! Choir! is the feel-good, communal vibes we all need post lockdown. Can someone make this happen in Miami? 🎶

When the weather is bad outside, parents react negatively and tell their kids to stay inside This is the first time children begin to outsource their agency to external forces. Josh Waitzkin does the opposite. 🌧️

Flow: the intersection of discipline and surrender. Love this! 👇🏽

Check your Pulse #55

The rise of community-curated knowledge networks

Hi, I’m Sari Azout and this is the the 55th edition of Check your Pulse, a tech and startups newsletter designed to make you feel human. I try to make this one of the best emails you get every two weeks(ish). 

Share

Hellooo!!!

I’ve been MIA, I know. I’ve been watching way too much cable news, joy-scrolling through Total Landscaping memes, and working on a digital thing I wish existed.

Today’s post touches on why I think there’s an opportunity to build this thing

TL;DR 

We are living through the emergence of a new business category that doesn’t even have a name yet, but which I believe will become an important part of our digital lives: online communities at the intersection of content curation and knowledge management. 

I’ll be announcing what I’m working on soon.
Stay tuned ✌🏽


The Internet put thousands of years of human thought at our fingertips, and enabled billions of people to create content. At least 2.5 quintillion bytes of information are produced every day, which is approximately what was produced during all of 2002. While this presents enormous opportunities, our brains are not  equipped to deal with this abundance. 

In Curators are the new Creators, Gaby argues that this will create opportunities for curators – increasingly, we will pay people with good taste to help us sort through the ever-growing mass of information.

The business of good taste has been well documented. There are plenty of businesses that address the question “what should I read?”; The Browser, Listory, Matter, Everything, to name a few.

But thus far, the conversation around “curation” has been too focused on the content – “what should I read?” – and not enough on the structure – “how do we collect, store, and contextualize the information we consume?” We seem to have forgotten that the goal is not to consume more information. The goal is to think better, so we can achieve our goals.

There’s a whole economy around knowledge organization available for the taking. 

Three intersecting problems remain unsolved: 

  1. Our feed-based information architecture is obsessed with the present.

  2. We consume information recreationally, not as a way to achieve our goals.

  3. Curation has been too focused on the information and not enough on architecture; how we collect, store, augment, and utilize what’s already in our minds. 

1. Our feed-based information architecture is obsessed with the present

We seem to have accepted the job of the curator as providing a list of links with some commentary on an organized schedule. But this format is subject to the same accidental property of social media; ephemerality

Substack makes this worse. How often have you gone back to read an old issue of your favorite newsletter? Why bother when you’ll have a new one soon? Without an information architecture that supports a longer shelf life for content, we will continue to accumulate mental and behavioral debt.

In the early days, Google helped us make sense of this abundance. I still remember when a Google search led to discovering personal blogs and hidden gems instead of results manufactured by SEO experts.

Vicki Boykis writes

Everything that Google has done to make people stay on the page and make results more accessible has resulted in a set of editorial decisions that mean we’re no longer getting straight search results that take us away from the page, but are in some kind of Upside Down Google Funhouse Internet where the content is brought directly to us, and the internet that is brought to us is stripped of context, of the richness of the pages on their own pages, wrapped up in Google’s business logic.

These days, we turn to places like Twitter and Substack to find things that people we trust find useful. But Twitter, which was originally conceived as a platform to post personal status updates under the prompt “what are you doing?”, was never designed for the purpose of curating the world’s information stream. Their use-case was always one of obsolescence.  

What’s amazing is how chronological feeds — essentially accidental experiments of digital architecture — have rewired our brains. In the feed, everything is fleeting. This design property means you’re either always on and connected, or you’re off and wondering if you’re missing something important. 

In short, the architecture of digital platforms has made us obsessive documenters and consumers of the present, yet largely indifferent to the archives we create.

2. We consume information recreationally, not as a way to achieve our goals

The architecture of digital platforms encourage us to consume information because it’s in front of us, not because it’s relevant. On Twitter, nothing has to be remembered, studied, applied, or reflected on. It’s an environment that promotes distracted thinking and superficial learning.  

The human brain is incredible at uncovering meaning, but is deficient at long-term memory storage. If we forget what we read, we can’t apply the knowledge to the problem at hand. We don’t need to read a long write-up on Figma’s winning strategy on a Wednesday at 11am when it hits our inbox, but we should be able to reference it if we’re building a company in the design tools space.

With our current tools, the burden of memory is left to the individual.

3. Curation has been too focused on the information and not enough on the architecture; how we collect, store, augment, and utilize what’s already in our minds

The conversation around curation thus far has focused too much on reducing the amount of information, and too little on what other architectures might be possible outside of the feeds or newsletters we’ve grown accustomed to.

While technology successfully disrupted content production, the experience of consuming content remains unchanged – the words have merely moved from a printed page to a screen. 


The Internet offers us the first major opportunity to introduce new, digitally-native information architectures that improve our understanding of the world through added context and relation. 👇🏽

The past few years have seen the rise of many knowledge management tools, online communities, and curation businesses. But what’s interesting is how these categories are remixing into new combinations of content, community, and software.

Let’s take a look at this diagram 👇🏽

On the curation side, there are plenty of tools – and creator businesses – that facilitate content discovery and help us navigate abundance. As we’ve addressed, these businesses often focus on the content at the expense of the structure.

Knowledge management is becoming a hot topic again with the rise of tools designed to bring structure and order to our information stream (Anne-Laure Cunff has a great summary of the space here). These businesses take many forms, from single-player productivity tools designed for personal use (like MyMind and Readwise), to multiplayer workplace collaboration tools (like Notion and Airtable). Instead of being a destination for reading content, these tools help people organize information. 

The intersection of curation and knowledge management is inhabited by utility tools like CB Insights – destinations for both reading content and organizing information. Their biggest miss is that they still function as hierarchies and have not tapped into the power of networked information and crowdsourced knowledge.

On the community side, we’re witnessing a shift towards a post-social media era defined by niche, gated communities of interest and purpose. 

Some content creators, such as 2pm and Lenny’s Newsletter, are blending curation and community to inhabit a space I call: new media.  

Hunter Walk writes

I’m of the belief that “Come for the Content, Stay for the Community” will be one of the dominating themes for media this decade. As more creators break away from companies to go subscription indie, they’ll find it to be an effective and rewarding strategy to think of ways to build ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ experiences.

Most of these communities exist inside Slack, Discord, Telegram, or some other tool. But given the chat-based nature of these platforms, it’s easy to miss the best content. Without bespoke tooling to preserve knowledge, these communities will struggle with the same challenges of their early social media predecessors. 

The intersection of community and knowledge management is inhabited by spaces like Genius, Stack Overflow, and other collectively maintained libraries. Wikipedia is the pinnacle example here, and remains one of the greatest wonders of the Internet age, proving the value of bespoke tooling and the feasibility of collaboration at scale. 


The potential to build community-curated knowledge networks remains largely untapped. There are reasons to be optimistic; the economic feasibility of paid communities, a renewed interest in curation, a slow move away from big social, and an improved understanding of platform incentives. All combined, this will lead to communities that are more sustainable, aligned, and intentional.


The intersection of content curation, knowledge management, and community.
👀 this space.

As for the digital thing I’m building?
I’ll have more to share – and opportunities to get involved – soon.

Stay real 🙏🏼
Sari

Thank you to David Sherry, Gabriel Nessim, Toby Shorin, Marie Dolle, Prakhar Shivam, and Jad Esber for reading drafts of this post.

If you haven’t watched My Octopus Teacher on Netflix, I highly recommend it. The biggest lesson for me is how anyone can create something extraordinary just by showing up everyday. 🐙

A super interesting study on long lived institutions. The biggest surprise? 90% of the companies that are over 200 years old have 300 employees or less; they’re not mega companies. 💭

Finally got around to reading Awareness by Anthony de Mello. What a book! This line is still with me: “We see people and things not as they are, but as we are.” 📖

Fascinating read on how Nick Quah necame the podcast whisperer. More than ever, expertise seems to have become a DIY affair; strategic and determined obsession can replace specific credentials or a tangible track record.🎙️

This is one chic menorah 🕎

Fascinating thread that asks what is a sign of intelligence that most confuse with stupidity? The best answer: Mispronouncing words. It usually means someone reads at a higher level than the people around them, and thus they have only seen words in print, not heard them. 🤯

The power of visualization 👇🏽

A great overview of the challenges and opportunities in the childcare industry 👶🏽

Love this from Jesse Beyroutey: We’ve found that the primary source for a company’s dominance is whether it designs its product and business model to be perfectly aligned with its customers’ interests. A great test of alignment is whether the company benefits or suffers from increased transparency. 💯

If you’re exploring a startup idea, here’s a good checklist to help you develop and filter your idea.

Cool early stage startups on my radar 🚀:

  • Mirror: A pre-launch publishing platform (love the design here)

  • Scout: Allowing fans to buy virtual trading cards of their favorite creators.

  • Pacaso: Democratizing access to owning a second home.

  • Adeft: A new take on online learning focused on doing — no courses, no certificates. Learn for 10 minutes, implement in the next 10 minutes.

  • Oula: A modern brick and mortar maternity center.

If you’re wondering who’s behind this newsletter:

My name is Sari Azout. I am a design-thinker, strategist, and early stage startup investor at Level Ventures. My mission is to bring more humanity and creativity to technology and business.

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