Bill just asked me out of the blue: “What do you think is Readup’s purpose?“. I answered “Well… to get people to read online?“. Here are some more thoughts on that. I think my automatic attempt at defining this purpose is problematic, for a few reasons.
Firstly, “reading online” it is not accurately describing the function that I think Readup is providing to its Readers. Purpose is maybe not the same as function, but I think it’s good to be clear on both concepts in order to get at the right purpose. So, what’s the function of Readup in the lives of its Readers?
Primarily, today, I think Readers are opening Readup to find and read good articles, in a way that has much less friction than any alternatives. Opening Readup is easier than haphazardly finding articles linked on Twitter or Reddit, or reading them on any news/mag website. There are only articles, and they’re peer-vetted. There’s less noise, but at the same time there’s more variety than in a specific magazine. You don’t have to scroll screen-lengths to find a title that speaks to you. Probably you already have a reading backlog ready with items you wanted to start or continue - Readup even auto-bookmarked where you left off! This makes it all so much easier to (re)start reading an article and, as a consequence, to enjoy the benefits offered by the activity of deep reading: the connection with the subject and the writer, the satisfaction of curiosity, the gaining of knowledge, insight and inspiration, the feeling of emotions, the much-needed disconnection from other things.
Secondly, I think some Readers enjoy the social function of sharing and discussing articles with a semi-anonymous and small community of Readers. I’m saying “some” due to my seat-of-the-pants analysis that read counts far outweigh comment and “share” counts on the platform (excuse my non-Readup terminology, but also: let’s speak a language that is understandable to the “outside world” when talking about purpose & function). While these social functions are I think of secondary importance, they also happen to be at the foundation of the primary function. Without the “sharing” part, the “finding” part in Readup wouldn’t have its unique quality. Without comments, Readup would feel like a soulless machine. So making a primary/secondary distinction is maybe not so useful.
Regularly, discussions or conversations happen. But due to the completion mechanic, the bar for this is higher than on other platforms. Reading to completion already requires much attention and thought. After having done this, writing a comment similarly requires attention and thought (at least for me). As a result, I think it frequently happens that a posted article falls off the AOTD charts without a comment, or with just one comment. And that’s fine. This is after all the built-in moderation mechanism. But we should realize that by design this mechanism changes the meaning of “being social online”. Readup comments cannot function as a regular online forum thread. People cannot respond to each other without jumping through a hoop. In Readup, the article is at the center of “being social online”. Readup is a social medium, but not a general-purpose one.
Thirdly, Readup has functions which are more contributing factors or consequences of the two above. I’m thinking about gamification, leaderboards and building a reading habit. And I’m thinking about “following” and the distraction-free reader mode. These all help you read more good articles online, and be social in the reading niche of Readup.
Now that I went through my idea of Readup’s function in plenty of detail, let’s discuss a second problem with “get people to read online” and its variations. It’s the focus on the word “reading”.
First of all, “reading” is just too general! As Bill said in our call, some people consider “I was reading on Twitter” a valid sentence, and they might be right! Moving your eyes over words and understanding their meaning is reading, isn’t it? People do that on Twitter. Bill talks instead about deep reading. A relationship with a single piece of text for a focused amount of time. We can specify even further. Mostly, what happens on Readup is the deep reading of articles. Yes, a poem might appear every now and then. But I haven’t seen a book being read on Readup yet. Considering books, Goodreads is also an online service that helps people to read. Readup’s wet dream might to support all reading online, including Kindle books and pdf scans of monastery manuscripts. But I think Readup’s (current!) purpose would be clearer if it conveys the kind of reading that Readup is most concerned with for the foreseeable future: the deep reading of articles.
Secondly, I’m trying to grasp the deeper societal yearnings that Readup is fulfilling. While “reading” on its own holds a lot of meaning for Readup-aficionados (the act of reading is regularly a topic on Readup, and every Readup blog entry only deepens that), I don’t think “reading more articles in a better way” is a necessarily a goal that Readup’s target group consciously has. Do you know someone who makes a new years’ resolution to “read more articles to completion online”? (maybe you do, I don’t) Will people Google for a “tool that helps me read articles online”?
Rather, I think readers find their way to Readup in other ways. Readup was founded on the premise that “social media just sucks”. I personally found Readup in the Humane Tech forum. A conscious dissatisfaction with social media & the so-called attention economy is seemingly a strong motivator to try Readup, let’s not lose track of that.
And there are other very strong motivators that we haven’t tapped into as much. They relate more to the benefits of reading articles than the act of reading itself (the satisfaction of curiosity, the gaining of knowledge, insight and inspiration, the feeling of emotions, the much-needed disconnection from other things). It’s probably no coincidence that Medium’s front page tagline is “Where good ideas find you”. I many people think of “reading” as an instrument to ulterior personal goals.
These are New Year’s resolutions that I think are more top-of-mind for potential Readers: “spend more time learning about domain X”, “gain a broader understanding of the world”, “waste less time on social media”, “wind down in the evening”, “cultivate real connections”, “listen more”. Readup is an excellent help to all of these.
With all of this in mind, here’s some initial brainstorming on Readup’s purpose: