I’m going to talk about what’s next for Sharp, as soon as I get the time to put things in motion, and the help and support I’m looking for to get there.
In 2011, Google launched their social network Google+ in an attempt to overthrow the social networking giant of the time, Facebook. The benefits for Google to gain that position are clear: more data, more space to show ads. Fundamentally, though, it had to be different enough to Facebook to try and capture the hearts and minds of the people and how they communicate.
The core idea of the social network was the concept of circles. The idea that people would have certain groups that they’d share certain bits of information to, not just shouting into the void. And sure, you could follow businesses and other similar pages, but you’d too put them into circles. The idea was you’d have more meaningful conversations by picking who you wanted to talk to.
This idea failed. Google+ was a poorly designed platform. There was no way that people would sort their friends like this. It had an invite-only launch. But it's worth revisiting. The culture of social networking looks significantly different in 2016 as messaging becomes the more important service, and group chats become a primary way to organise on social networks. Instagram’s risen as a photo sharing service, Snapchat has replaced a lot of the little ways of communicating that the networks used to provide, and Facebook’s need to make money means that publishers and small page owners don’t get views for their posts unless they give over loads of money. What’s left is a wasteland of repetitive memes and shots at “banter”, posts engineered to go viral, and content farms that’ve gotten this down to an exact science. It's no accident.
In the same way, it’s no coincidence that this year, we’ve seen the “fake news” controversy hit alongside the story that Oculus founder billionaire Palmer Luckey has been tied to funding a super PAC that manufactured pro-Trump viral content, or that Hillary Clinton’s campaign was backed by a similar group. The major platforms of social media are now simply swallowed up by other interests.
It’s frustrating for myself as a student publisher. Working with Motley we had a strict zero-clickbait rule, using online as an extension of our magazine, allowing us to fill up the website with everything that we couldn’t fit in 52 pages. More than that, we wanted to use the website to deliver anything time-sensitive. When Trump won, our editor made sure you could see the path taken, what the key turning points were, and possible future outcomes, all for the morning.
With Sharp, I encountered a few more significant problems. We were a disassociated student collective, built around the radio show. I recruited a lot of great people to write with us, but many ended up writing for their own platforms, blogs, and other projects. Many went to Motley, to get their work in print. Many went to their personal blogs, to keep ownership. It was difficult to keep people on my side when our primary source of readership came from social media. Because we didn’t have a publishing schedule or couldn’t update daily, it was difficult to nail the situation.
Working with Motley in print this year has been a blast. Though I consider myself handy with CSS, working with print is a far more satisfying, visual, and expressive experience. The shape and feel of an article can be changed at a whim and we have a lot more visual room to work with. Holding a physical magazine feels better than reading from a sharply glowing screen. But there’s also a sense of discovery. Picking up the Express or Motley on campus encourages you to flick between the page and see new things pop up in the corners.
Recently, I read an article declaring Trump to be the first president of a “post-literate” age, where the oversimplification of how we communicate led to a dangerous election where news was set by sensationalists playing Facebook for attention; and this is the new norm. I don’t necessarily agree with this;, I think that plenty of people look beyond Facebook when they want to see news, I know hundreds of people with bright, shining ideas that don't transfer well through social media and other platforms. The characteristics of “post-literacy” don’t seem to apply to us, rather the way our platforms and the glowing influence of social media operate and how they change the way information spreads.
The goal of Sharp has changed over time based on the whims of our little group. We built the radio show from being a strictly music-focused affair into a community where anyone can come on, discuss the world at large, and share music that they love regardless of any critical appeal or lack thereof. When I started Sharp983.com, I wanted to shine a spotlight on creative and personal writing efforts of people close to me who have an amazing talent at cracking into the world they see. In July, I wrote a document explaining how I wanted to assemble some new contributors and further this idea. But then something awful happened when September landed — Jonny and I got far too busy to keep up, and we weren’t able to keep interest in our site. In the time since, we’ve both only written one piece each.
July’s words hold true more than ever.
Life is about communities and the interactions between the people within them. Communities power the movement in our lives; there’s so much value that comes from how we build the groups of friends that structure our social lives, that come from combining diverse ideas, experiences and perceptions to give us a stronger, better view of the world. I see myself as somewhat of an introvert, but yet the people who I share my life with are an essential source of the fun, the joy, and the hope in my life. Yes, I love sitting in dimly lit rooms with my headphones and a laptop, a microphone or a notepad, yet I also think that what I like to do things for an audience. I love seeing what my friends are up to, but with a deeper look than Facebook — I want to see what they think and how they feel on a way that brief exchanges don’t allow. It was from the combinations of my various ideas and passions that Sharp was born — because I love you all, and because I want to see your world, and your point of view.
Since then, I’ve met even more talented writers, editors, and creatives through working with Motley and through gathering new friends in the UCC Express camp. There’s a lot of time, a lot of hope, and I think most of all, a lot of effort that goes into that.
Effort is a strong word that I come back to because it describes something I personally hold dear — passion, dedication and time put towards quality. Working on Motley, seeing these different people from all walks give their knowledge, experiences and stories to share freely and voluntarily, I imagined a successor project for me to take on when I graduated; “Collected Efforts”. A play on collective efforts (or Collective Efforts), but individualised, celebrating individual effort within the whole. This page is kind of page one for that. I know I’ve written a hundred first pages, though.
I’m thinking a lot about print. Print’s expensive, but I want to do it. The antithesis of the fast paced environment of hyper-optimised social media strategy — a volume of honest, thoughtful works that you can hold in quiet moments. A tiny collection in black and white with some lovely print and illustrations. The physical manifestation of cozy conversation in your favourite coffee shop over gentle hum. The sense of the new, yet familiar; a stillness, a light. (that’s not to say I’m overly romanticising paper either. The Kindle is an amazing invention, and I definitely do most of my reading on screens – in that I have a Spotify account and a stack of LPs, it’s always nice to appreciate both!)
As a technologist at heart, a programmer and computer science student with a background in web, who shares these particular characteristics with a bunch of others that I’m nearby at all times: there’s a sense that I shouldn’t be rushing to print either. I think this page and its fonts look nice, and I’d like more of the web to look like it; it’s a lot easier and cheaper for me to make this than to throw everything at the great idea that is print. So there’s as many reasons that I should find a way to deliver these experiences by web and build a platform like what I wanted Sharp to be. I’m learning to make mobile apps, so there’s possible grounds for pushing a frontier there. And besides, collectedefforts.com was available. I couldn’t believe that.
The core concept is, and one that I stand very strongly by, is that we have much to learn from others. By sharing and learning with others, we can also have a lot of fun along the way.
I want to believe that this will go huge some day, but I also don’t really care. Sharp has always been set up on the basis that if we reach a tiny crowd, we’re doing just fine; if we make one person smile one morning we’re as good as if we made a million.
When I finish my exams and have a bit more time, I’ll get back on it again. I want to write a lot more, and I want to write more often. I’m going to work on writing shorter pieces to what I usually do — writing as if for print when we’ve got small numbers to fill, not as if for web where I can write endlessly.
This is about closing the loop and putting quality, love and effort above all. It’s about friendship, about scattered experiences and ideas around the world. It’s about all of us. So what’s next?