An Are.na user

Stop Mark Zuckerberg Getting Any Richer with this Artist-Designed Social Media Platform

Are.na is positioning itself as a distraction-free alternative to Facebook.

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Mar 14 2018, 9:04pm

An Are.na user

In his coruscating 2016 novel I Hate the Internet, Jarrett Kobek writes: “One of the curious aspects of the Twenty-First Century was the great delusion amongst many people, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area, that freedom of speech and freedom of expression were best exercised on technological platforms owned by corporations dedicated to making as much money as possible.” The book from which this line comes, may not seem like an obvious first stop when pondering new ways of interacting with social media. But a new artist-spearheaded platform called Are.na (cofounder and CEO Charles Broskoski was also a lead engineer at Artsy) introduces itself with a similar reminder: “Social networks depend on addicted users to sell more ads and harvest more data.” How to fix a broken medium?

“If we want out attention back,” Are.na suggests, “we need a different model.” Accordingly, they do away with advertising and even liking, replacing the endorphin high of casual approval with the opportunity to actually, you know, do something, by developing ideas collaboratively. Something like a cross between Facebook and Pinterest, though more consciously rhizomatic than either—it was inspired by 1960s experimental hypertext systems—Are.na is organized around thematic “channels”; examples highlighted recently on the Are.na blog are dedicated to everything from Vaporwave to a mooted aesthetic intersection between Andrei Tarkovsky and Urban Outfitters (a "hard to articulate vibe," indeed).

Are.na screenshot

Are.na’s refreshingly uncluttered look is made possible by a membership-based funding structure that keeps ads out of the picture; while basic membership is free, Premium members pay an annual fee of $5 per month or $45 per year for additional privacy and early access to the platform's new products and features, including a mobile app. The whole thing has shades of disapora*, another well-intentioned Facebook-buster that launched in 2010 but never achieved mainstream visibility or seriously troubled its competitor. With luck, Are.na can deliver on its creative optimism, resisting I Hate the Internet character J. Karacehennem's conclusion about the ultimate purpose of Facebook (and, indeed, life itself): “Why are we here, why do we do all of these things? At last we can offer a solution. We are on Earth to make Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg richer. There is an actual, measurable point to our striving. I guess what I’m saying, really, is that there’s always hope.”