What does it mean to share something?

And why do humans share things with other humans?

Amongst the Readup crew (meaning: me and Jeff) “share” is now officially a meme, a meta-answer to all the things we can’t quite figure out:

  • How are we going to grow? Share.
  • When are we going to fundraise? Once we figure out share.
  • What’s the purpose of the company? Share.

The concept of “share” is just elusive enough to be an appropriate response to pretty much everything. But like all memes, the thing that makes it funny is also the thing that makes it sting a little bit. And it hurts because… well… it’s true:

We haven’t figured out Share. And we really, seriously need to. Pronto.

I want to walk you through our thoughts and feelings (and failures) related to Share, in hopes that you might be able to help us crack this case and achieve the explosive growth we’re after. Our ambition is to be something much greater than just a quirky little hub of free-thinking on the web. We want to raise conciousness and critical thinking across the web. We want everyone, everywhere to be able to have excellent distraction-free reading experiences, and to be able to distinguish true reading from pseudo-reading activities like scrolling through a feed, skimming headlines, and bouncing around from article to article, task to task.

Back in the early days, I used to describe Readup (which was then called “reallyreadit” - yikes!) as, “a social media platform without liking and sharing.” That’s a pretty awesome claim, and it still resonates with people. But it’s an oversimplification, which means it’s only partially true. It misses the bigger, even better, point. Here’s an attempt to clarify:

Most social media networks, including Facebook and Twitter for example, have “liking” and “sharing” at the very core of their existence. These are the behaviors that power the Feed. And the Feed, in turn, powers the business, because that’s where the ads appear. In other words, the Feed is the thing that makes money and without liking and sharing, everything would come to a grinding halt.

Unfortunately, likes and shares are extraordinarily superficial. You don’t need to do anything, you don’t even need to think, to like something or share it. More broadly, social scientists know that polling people isn’t a good way to figure out what they actually think about a topic. So even if people were taking the time to seriously consider something before liking and sharing it, it still wouldn’t be particularly accurate.

Aggregate, hairbrained opinions are misleading and irrelevant at best, lacking in nuance, and at worst, they’re completely false. They amplify nonsense and make it look like a signal within the noise, when it’s actually still just noise within more noise.

Observing behavior on the other hand – seeing what people do rather than what they say – can be truly insightful.

So, “Readup doesn’t have likes and shares” is actually an understatement. In lieu of all that junk machinery, we have a proven way to determine who’s read what – in fine-grained detail, at scale. Instead of likes, we have reads. On Readup, reading something is roughly equivalent to giving it a like, a bump up, a promotion. And you don’t even need to do it consciously. Reading, by definition, requires consciousness and intentionality, so those principles are baked into the cake already.

Of course, nobody knows what you, as an individual, have read - because obviously. That would just be weird. But the net result of these hundreds of thousands of anonymous little data points is a way to curate articles that’s significantly more honest, interesting, transparent, and “accurate”* than anything else out there. (*A relatively solid definition for “fake news” might be: that which people like and share without actually reading.)

This is where “network effects” come into play. As Readup grows, it keeps getting better.

This no-likes no-shares network is a profound innovation, if we can get it growing. We think it’s something that could change the world. Who cares what people say they’re reading? Can you even imagine how transformative it would be if we could all tap into data about what everyone was actually reading? What if we incentivize journalists and politicians to make the move? Knowing what we know about how reading has the power to bring people together, it’s hard to avoid intense bouts of extreme optimism.

But it’s a dangerous, even cruel optimism. Because we can only make it happen if we can also figure out… you guessed it: Share.

When we say “Share” we aren’t referring to a “share” feature. In fact, we don’t even know what we’re referring to, but we think it’s an external kind of hook. We think it might be some kind of interaction that:

  • is specific to the core technology of Readup and/or an experience that Readup provides to users, and
  • involves “roping in” outsiders, extending meaningful value to them in such a way that they can expand on the value by participating in Readup themselves

Furthermore, we have a giant advantage that we still haven’t capitalized on. That is: pride in Readup; identification with our mission; wanting to help grow a movement against the moral indignation of social media. It might be possible that people want Readup to grow so much that they’re willing to promote us independent of the core experience. That might look like a button at the bottom of the site or app that says, “Do you love Readup? Tell everyone you know about it!” But, frankly, we have no reason to believe that the only people who would use such a feature would be our friends and family. :P (If you disagree, let us know!)

Anywho, one of our several failed attempts at share still currently exists on the site. If you haven’t noticed it, you’re not alone:

Needless to say, we need to do a lot better than that. And we need to figure it out soon.

We’re not opposed to creating integrations with other social media platforms. In fact, we’re eager to do that. (Imagine if you could “mute” non-readers on those platforms?! That’d be a game-changer!)

What’s on your mind right now? This blog post is an attempt to tease apart an extremely tricky product/community/platform problem that doesn’t have an easy answer. Hopefully the messiness of my thoughts will encourage you to share some messy thoughts of your own. So let me put this question to you, reader, so that we can figure this monster out together. And for the sake of clarity, I’ll rephrase it as clearly as I possibly can:

What does Readup need to build to get you sharing some [thing/idea/comment/concept/piece of content] with the rest of the world?

Imagine using Readup for an entire afternoon. Imagine that you are reading and commenting on a handful of powerful articles and stories. And imagine that part of that experience involves roping in some friends and family, or cross-posting to your other platforms. Can you envision that? If so - and even if it’s a little bit murky - please tell us exactly what you’re seeing. How are you sharing? What are you sharing? And the biggest question of all: Why?