RSS Feeds Are the Solution to Really Bad Search and Social Trends

RSS Feed

The future of media comes from the past

Overheard at ON_Discourse

Overheard at
ON_Discourse

EXPLORE ISSUE #006

Editor’s note: The following perspective opened our minds. We had no idea that RSS feeds were ever going to resume any relevance in the next internet. One of the underappreciated aspects of this feature is that each individual RSS feed can eventually be trained to deliver only hyper-personal content from a singular, trusted newsroom.

This post was written by a human and narrated by an AI-generated voice. (powered by Wondercraft.ai).

0:00 / 0:00

I ran a major tech publication for over a decade. I recently left that role and that platform to start a new media venture. My new venture is very different. The old site was huge; my startup is not. My old site drew 10M monthly uniques from search and social channels; my startup has terrible SEO and a light social presence. The old site ran ads; the startup runs a paywall. Like I said: different.

I designed the startup to thrive in the next internet, which will feel smaller than the social web. Audience will matter more than traffic; subscriptions will matter more than ads; and reporting will matter more than managing. The most successful media brands will be closer to the work, closer to the audience, and largely disengaged from platforms. The next internet will be built for direct relationships between brands and audiences. This is why my startup resurrected the RSS feed.

Personalized RSS

The newsletter trend that sparked during the pandemic signaled an important trend: people want to get their content directly from the source. We found a new way to capitalize on this trend by leveraging and stretching a technology that is 25 years old. While the RSS feed still thrives as a podcast distribution channel (listen wherever you get your podcasts), its ability to distribute text-based content has not evolved much, until now.

In order to modernize this tech, we had to create a way to monetize the RSS feed. It was surprisingly complicated to find a way to gate the RSS feed so that it could not be leaked and shared among non-subscribers. We had to find two separate companies that could create personalized RSS feeds at scale, and then sync them with paid customer IDs in our CMS. As far as we know, this is the first text-based, subscriber-gated, personalized RSS feed from a publication. The individual feed stops once a subscription is canceled and we are notified if a personalized feed is accessed by hundreds of different devices and IP addresses.

It’s old tech, but it resonated with users. It helped us generate a lot of new subscribers who reported being very happy with this service. They can now find our material much more easily without having to come to our website and without having to deal with the roll of the dice as to whether they will see it on social platforms because all of the socials are just so crowded and desperate right now.

While the RSS feed still thrives as a podcast distribution channel, its ability to distribute text-based content has not evolved much, until now.

Diminishing Social

Regarding social platforms: I think the platforms are already starting to become completely unusable. Really middling, low-effort, shitty AI content is flooding the platforms, making discoverability a huge issue. This trend is not going to stop; it will keep getting worse.

When you log on to Facebook right now you are inundated with weird AI generated images that Facebook seemingly has no idea how to moderate or how to prevent from going viral. Google is constantly tweaking its algorithm, but it’s often pushing stuff that people don’t want to see. And I have yet to see an AI news summary that doesn’t lose some context.

A New Ecosystem

The media ecosystem is going to split into 3 tiers: the massive media companies like the New York Times are going to offer mass coverage of everything; the middling mass of AI-generated content that is created by bots for bots for programmatic ads; and the small, independent media companies that have direct relationships with audiences.

In this ecosystem there is going to be a market for things that are distinctly human-created

You

Are Wrong,

Saneel

EXPLORE ISSUE #006

Catch up on the debate

Do not expect the next tech innovation to come out of a garage

The next internet is for the platforms

AI Will Reverse the Innovator's Dilemma Market leaders are the secret winners to AI disruption

Saneel Radia

04•01•24

You Are Wrong, Saneel AI will democratize innovation which means we will see it come from smaller companies and creators

Overheard at ON_Discourse

05•06•24

REACTION

Overheard at ON_Discourse

Editor’s note: We published Saneel’s post about innovation in early April and recently received a message that directly challenges his thesis. At ON_Discourse, we live for this kind of dialogue. It doesn’t hurt when the post has a substantive Jeff Goldblum reference.

This post was written by a human and narrated by an AI-generated voice. (powered by Wondercraft.ai).

0:00 / 0:00

Saneel, your argument is too broad. On one hand, I agree that the platforms have more resources, data, and capital to create new kinds of experiences in the next internet, but that does not mean all innovation will be coming from them. As Jeff Goldblum said, life finds a way. In this regard, the human need to create, to push, to thwart, to resist, to stand out, to communicate, and to connect will drive new experiences without the extra push that comes from the platforms.

I have seen it in my own field of luxury goods: AI tools are opening new capacities and capabilities to smaller and smaller entities. As a result of this, more and more independent creators are competing with conventional design teams. AI is scaling their inherent taste into studio-quality products.

I don’t know what it will look like; I can’t predict, and I don’t think you can either. All I know is that human creativity is getting amplified by this technology. The innovation might not come from a garage, but I do not expect it to come from the board room either.

Let’s see…

In 2025,

Media Needs

to Take Community

Back From

The Platforms

The biggest content creators can create the most valuable online communities

Editor’s note: Our own head of content and platform has a strong take about the future of media in 2025. We think his perspective has credibility;  he’s pioneered social media publishing at Reuters, edited at the Wall Street Journal; ran one of the most innovative media startups in the aughts, and his team won an Emmy for digital work at The Daily Show. His take for the future sounds like a blast from the past. We think he has a point.

This post was written by human Anthony DeRosa and narrated by AI Anthony DeRosa (powered by Wondercraft.ai).

0:00 / 0:00

The way we communicate and share our passions has drastically evolved in the past two decades. Social media platforms, operated by large tech companies, have become the central hubs for discussions on a myriad of topics, from technology to automobiles.

It shouldn’t have been this way. Media companies should own their audiences. They’ve allowed tech companies to steal their content and monetize it by providing a platform for readers to discuss it. How absurd is that? The only value add that tech companies have layered on top of the content paid for by media organizations is to shove it through a system optimized for engagement, which usually means the most polarizing and hate-read-worthy stuff gets the most eyeballs.

Now, they’re letting AI companies get away with this. AI companies, like OpenAI and Anthropic, are hoovering up massive amounts of media content, paid for by media companies, that AI platforms can then reformat into an information system to provide a new experience for the same readers who would have gone to the source for that information.

Let’s be clear, this is entirely the fault of media companies, who should have been thinking like tech companies all along and leveraging AI for their benefit instead of allowing OpenAI to take their content and raise billions off of it. Where are the tech R&D labs inside media companies? Why are they constantly 10 steps behind? Whether the reason is snobbery, hubris, or a combination of both, they failed to see the path of their salvation right in front of them. Instead, they allowed others to take their business and grow it exponentially, and without a dime to show for it.

While it seems they’re about to get mugged by OpenAI, another opportunity for media companies has emerged. Today, social media is in decay. Media companies could use this opening to take their communities back. Many social media users are now longing for a return to a more specialized, intimate form of online community. There’s a desire to return to the days when conversations about specific interests were held on dedicated media websites, where affinity and expertise, rather than algorithms, drove the discussions.

Anthony DeRosa

Anthony DeRosa

EXPLORE ISSUE #006

Who should run online communities?

Platforms, media, or maybe something else? We capture a debate...

In 2025, Media Needs to Take Back Community From The Platforms The biggest content creators can create the most valuable online communities

Anthony DeRosa

05•02•24

Media Can't Handle Community Your argument sounds right but doesn't hold up

Overheard at ON_Discourse

05•03•24

The Lost Art of Specialized Forums

There was a time when media websites were not just destinations for content, but also thriving communities where enthusiasts and experts gathered. Websites were not just sources of news and reviews but also vibrant forums for discussion and exchange. These platforms offered a sense of belonging and a shared space for individuals passionate about specific subjects. The conversations were rich, informed, and focused, providing value that oftentimes far exceeded the content of the articles themselves.

One of the best examples of this was Kinja, the publishing system built into the Gawker network. Kinja elevated comments to posts. You could find that some comments that originated under articles became the spark that led to even more discourse than the original article itself. Nick Denton, Gawker’s founder, was smart enough to realize this and built Kinja in such a way that elevated comments to the level of articles.

The quality of comments was so strong that many of Gawker’s best writers—Hamilton Nolan, Ryan Tate, Gabriel Delahaye, and Richard Lawson among them—were plucked from the comments section to become staff writers. The debate and commentary that ensued there became a farm system for some of the internet’s most interesting writers in the 2000s.

The success of early media communities stretched into the newsroom. An engaged community feeds the editorial machine with contextual, relevant perspectives guaranteed to maintain valuable audience engagement. Not only is it a good feature, it’s a good business model.

The rise of social media changed the landscape. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit made it easier than ever to find and participate in conversations on any topic imaginable. The barrier to entry was low, and the reach was vast. However, this accessibility came at a cost. Discussions became broader and less focused. The intimate community feeling of dedicated forums was lost, and the quality of conversations often suffered. Moreover, the algorithms that dictate what we see on social media can limit exposure to new ideas and diverse opinions, creating echo chambers.

The intimate community feeling of dedicated forums was lost, and the quality of conversations often suffered. Moreover, the algorithms that dictate what we see on social media can limit exposure to new ideas and diverse opinions, creating echo chambers.

The Challenge of Managing Community

Moderating a dedicated space to ensure discussions remain respectful, informative, and on-topic is a considerable challenge. As online discourse became increasingly polarized, moderation grew more complex and resource-intensive. Media companies faced the difficult balance of fostering free speech while preventing harassment, misinformation, and toxic behavior. For many, the risks and costs associated with maintaining these standards became too great.

Around 2015, media websites began to retreat from commenting. Media companies tend to copy each other’s strategies, if one decides comment sections are no longer useful, like lemmings they all fall into place and join the trend. In the last decade since that retreat, innovative approaches, such as integrating forums more closely with content, leveraging advanced moderation technologies, and exploring alternative revenue models, offer hope for the future. These efforts aim to recapture the sense of community and depth of discussion that specialized forums once provided, adapting them to the realities of today’s internet landscape.

Despite these challenges, there remains a significant appetite for specialized spaces among many internet users. These individuals seek out places they can dive deep into their interests with like-minded peers, away from the noise and distractions of broader social media. Recognizing this, some media companies and independent platforms are exploring new models to revive the spirit of these communities in a way that aligns with the current digital ecosystem.

Furthermore, these communities offer a level of moderation and curation often missing from sprawling social media discussions. They can provide a safer, more respectful space for exchange, free from the trolls and misinformation that plague many social networks.

Your Audience is Your Business

The longing for a return to media website forums is not just about nostalgia; it’s about recognizing the value that these communities add. When conversations are tied to media sites focused on specific subjects, the discussions are enriched by the content. They are informed by the latest articles, reviews, and analyses, creating a cycle of engagement that benefits both the readers and the websites. This environment fosters a deeper connection between users, who are drawn together by shared interests and expertise.

The challenge is for media companies to recognize the untapped potential of their online communities. Investing in these spaces, encouraging engagement, and facilitating conversations can add significant value. This goes beyond simply having a comment section under articles; it’s about creating integrated forums, hosting Q&A sessions with experts, and actively participating in discussions. Media companies have the unique advantage of being able to offer authoritative content that can anchor and stimulate conversation, something that generic social media platforms cannot replicate.

The desire to shift back to specialized forums on media websites is a call for a more meaningful online community experience. It’s an acknowledgment that while social media has its place, there is immense value in gathering spaces that are dedicated, focused, and enriched by shared interests and expertise. For those passionate about technology, cars, or any other subject, the hope is that media companies will rise to the occasion, revitalizing their community engagement efforts. In doing so, they can rekindle the sense of belonging and purpose that once defined the online discussions of enthusiasts and experts alike.

Media

Can't

Handle

Community

Your argument sounds right but doesn’t hold up

Overheard at ON_Discourse

Overheard at
ON_Discourse

Editor’s note: Anthony had a long chat with a prominent media figure who has dabbled in a lot of noteworthy online community experiences. This reaction piece reflects some of the hidden costs of pursuing a large scale community strategy. Does this make Anthony’s take wrong?

This post was written by a human and narrated by an AI-generated voice. (powered by Wondercraft.ai).

0:00 / 0:00

Legacy media outlets, with their grand history and established presence, are too stuck to foster genuine community engagement. These organizations carry the dual burdens of size and tradition, which can restrict the flexibility needed to adapt to the rapidly changing digital landscape. The culture of old media is too strict to open itself to real communities.

One of the core struggles within these institutions is the rigidity of editorial norms that do not necessarily align with the conversational, nuanced content that modern audiences gravitate towards. In contrast, platforms like podcasts allow for a meandering exploration of topics without the pressure to reach definitive conclusions. This format caters to a substantial appetite for extended discourse that is not just informative but also engaging on a personal level.

Moreover, there is often trepidation within these traditional media houses to fully embrace new forms of interaction and community-building. The fear of diluting the brand’s voice or alienating segments of an established audience can lead to conservative content strategies that ultimately inhibit genuine engagement. They don’t want to be seen as unknowing; they always want to be right. More than that, they think they have to be right in order to be relevant.

The fear of diluting the brand’s voice or alienating segments of an established audience can lead to conservative content strategies that ultimately inhibit genuine engagement.

Yet, it’s this very engagement that is crucial for the survival and growth of media institutions in the digital era. Community isn’t just about bringing people together under a common brand; it’s about fostering an environment where dialogue, interaction, and personal connection thrive. This challenge is magnified in legacy media by the need to balance respect for traditional journalistic values with the demands for more dynamic, interactive content formats.

The rise of individual content creators and smaller, more agile media entities showcases a stark contrast. These creators are not bound by the same constraints and can therefore pivot quickly, experiment more freely with content, and build intimate communities around niche topics. Their success underscores the need for larger media companies to innovate in community engagement without sacrificing the editorial integrity that has defined them.

Building community in this context requires a reevaluation of what community means in the digital age. It demands an openness to evolving how stories are told, engaging with audiences on their terms, and creating spaces for meaningful interaction.

As legacy media navigates these turbulent waters, the path forward involves a delicate balancing act: integrating new media dynamics while staying true to the core values that have sustained them through the ages. Only by doing so can they hope to not only preserve but invigorate their place in the digital world, turning their ocean liners into agile fleets ready to meet the future.

AI

Logic

scale weighing AI logic (a generic Ikea bag) on one side and Brand Magic (a designer handbag) on the other side

The future of brand value is going to live in an LLM

James Cooper

vs

Brand Magic

vs

Brand Magic

The future of brand value is going to live in an LLM

James Cooper

EXPLORE ISSUE #006

Editor’s note: We have been circling a version of this perspective for a long time; we know that customer/brand relationships are bound to change, and we also know that AI is going to facilitate that relationship, but then we don’t know what happens next. Suddenly James Cooper swooped in and laid it all out for us in a way that sort of blew our minds. We especially loved his extended hall of mirrors metaphor.

This post was written by human James Cooper and narrated by AI James Cooper (powered by Wondercraft.ai).

0:00 / 0:00

Much has been written about how AI might affect the branding industry. Will Chat GPT and Sora (et al) put branding creatives out of a job? This is a means of production debate, which is obviously interesting but not actually meaningful. The production and media spend of advertising is consistently stuck at 2% of US GDP; it always hovers around that. In the production debate, AI is going to compete with some traditional creators, but it won’t change the underlying spend. There is a bigger debate about AI to be had.

The real question to ponder centers on the relationship between AI and brands: how can they co-exist? For this piece I’ll look at two areas that if I were running a brand I’d want to have a handle on before Internet 2025 is upon us. Firstly what AIs or LLMs think about brands and secondly how brands might behave more like AIs.

Brand Magic

The richest person in the world is not a tech bro. Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH, and current richest person on the Forbes List, is about as far away from tech as you can get. His business is persuasion and in 2023 he persuaded consumers to fork out €86.2 billion for bags and booze. We may all talk about the magic of AI but LVMH is more than magic; it is a fucking miracle.

How could we explain the value of a Louis Vuitton bag to an AI? Let’s go deeper: how can an AI be persuaded to recommend a Louis Vuitton bag (or a sip of Moet) over something 10x cheaper? Can we trick an AI? Make no mistake, LVMH is trickery, it is smoke and mirrors – beautifully crafted, palatial mirrors, fit for French royalty, the sun gods themselves, but still, and at the end of the day, mirrors. Can the processing power of an LLM appreciate the trick?

We can train an AI to speak like a human but can we train it to have taste? Should we? Would that taste be modeled on existing assumptions that are correct or incorrect? Are we not better off just being rational about everything? The brains behind AIs want them to be more human, but humans have irrational desires and emotions. Everyone knows smoking kills you but we still do it for many illogical reasons – nervousness, social acceptance, and because, if we’re being honest, it will always be kind of cool.

It is important to ask these questions because I assume that AI will take over a lot of the touchpoints of the future internet. It will either be the gatekeeper itself or power the gatekeepers. To put it another way, we won’t be searching Google for a series of links; we will be asking an AI agent to provide direct answers, recommendations, and actions. If I were Bernie I’d be spending some of the $400 billion value of his business figuring out how to persuade these future kingmakers that it really is worth paying thousands for an LV monogrammed bag that functions exactly the same as a one-dollar IKEA bag.

How can an AI be persuaded to recommend a Louis Vuitton bag over something 10x cheaper? Can we trick an AI?

The Battery Bunny

Ok, you might say, luxury brands are weird, they don’t adhere to normal supply and demand or price elasticity like a normal product. If we can’t explain why humans fall for this stuff, what hope does an AI have? Let’s look at something more mundane. In 2020, Berkshire Hathaway bought Duracell from P&G for around $6.5 billion. Warren Buffet obviously believed the brand was worth something. Could he explain that something to an AI scraping the web for the ‘best’ battery?

Could an AI understand the value of the coppertop branding that has been prevalent for over 100 years? How about the Duracell bunny? WTF does a bunny have to do with anything? For a human (for some humans, enough humans, Duracell’s 2023 revenue was $2 billion), it’s everything. All those details come into play in the decision-making process. If you’re buying batteries for your kid’s toy, you want them to last. You want it to be the ‘best’ because it’s a reflection of you. If the batteries conk out after five minutes, who gets the blame? So you pay the premium as insurance.

a pink bunny sitting on top of a heaping pile of batteries

Could Warren Buffet explain Duracell’s worth to an AI scraping the web for the ‘best’ battery?

As branding experts, there is a really interesting challenge for us ahead. How do we use all the tricks at our disposal, the techniques that we have used on generations of humans, to persuade an AI that Duracell is worth more than Amazon basic batteries? We can assume that the Amazon AI may well push their own batteries but there is also a healthy markup on Duracell’s that they can’t financially ignore. That’s why all supermarkets still sell brands as well as their own labels.

Can we do research groups on AIs? Put them in a room, give them some cookies, and ask what they think about Brand A vs Brand B? (editor’s note: maybe!) I believe there will be an equivalent to that somewhere down the line. That thing about AI taking some jobs but creating new ones is 100% true.

AI Brand Brain

The second area that is worth thinking about is how a brand might act more like an AI. My last full-time job was as head of creative at the New York start-up studio Betaworks. We made GIPHY and the number-one mobile game Dots. Among the other products we made was Poncho, a cat that gave you personalized weather forecasts with a smile. For a time Poncho was the most popular bot on Facebook Messenger. We launched on stage with the Zuck, won $2 million in funding from Apple TV’s Planet of the Apps, and had Gwyneth Paltrow as an investor. We were hot.

People loved Poncho because it was a brand and a bot (early AI) at the same time. My vision for Poncho was what I call a Brand Brain. The idea being that it could exist across platforms. For example, it could send a text in the morning with the weather knowing that you look at your phone first. Then, just before you left home, an update on your smart speaker. (editor’s note: sounds like a superformat?) When you were at work it knew to slack you with a revised forecast, and so on. It has context, it knows who I am.

How can an AI be persuaded to recommend a Louis Vuitton bag over something 10x cheaper? Can we trick an AI?

Context is the Holy Grail

I liked Michael Olaye’s piece about a smart TV knowing what I mean by saying I want to watch ‘the game’. This is a hardware example but I think there is a massive opportunity for brands to behave like a cross-platform, contextualized Siri or Alexa. Where Siri and Alexa fall down is that they are sold on knowing everything, but they can’t – same with AI. But a brand brain could be a trusted resource on a certain narrow subject, for example running. It could update me on how my friends are doing – are they going faster than me? What races are selling out? Training schedules, weather updates, calorie intake, sleep, rest and recovery data, shoe deals, and so on.

As Saneel said, the bigger brands have better data and more touchpoints, ensuring that brands like Nike or Adidas are well placed to do this. But unlike Saneel, I believe an upstart brand focused on getting this service right could easily outsmart and outdeliver an incumbent brand. That could be a clothing brand, a tech brand like Strava or Garmin, or maybe in the football game example it’s a sports betting brand. Or perhaps this could be an opportunity for a media brand to flex its muscles.

The technology that powers these AIs that act as recommendation engines will be sold to brands, agencies, and media owners. It’s a long-term play but just like the retail brands that got digital or mobile before the others, there will be an advantage to using AI technology in this way.

Hocus Pocus?

AI will affect everything to do with branding. The production part is the lowest hanging fruit right now, but I believe there are plenty of opportunities for us branding experts to think creatively about how we might use AI in a different way that helps us do what we have been doing since time began: create value out of nothing. That’s magic. 

Are

Websites

Over?

Overheard at ON_Discourse

Overheard at ON_Discourse

Overheard at ON_Discourse

Overheard at ON_Discourse

News of the demise of websites is greatly exaggerated

Editor’s note: The following perspective comes from a former digital media founder who was captured speaking from both sides of an argument. As you can see, there are some strong considerations representing both sides of this question, but in the end, it ends in a pretty convincing place.

This post was written by a human and narrated by an AI-generated voice. (powered by Wondercraft.ai).

0:00 / 0:00

As we venture into the AI internet, I find myself lingering on a really fundamental question: what are websites for? In today’s conventional web, a website is a container for advertising. The most compelling containers drive the most audience attention, generating more value; but what about the least compelling containers? They still drive enough value to motivate the production of a lot of really crappy containers. The internet is full of them. But that dynamic is going to change and because of that, I return to my original question, this time with a caveat: what are websites for in the AI era?

The information flowing through the internet is on the verge of a major abstraction; we are moving from bytes to bits. To put it in the context of websites, we are moving from article pages to the content nested inside them. Combine all of that content with an LLM and you get the mass personalization of information at scale. This is Perplexity in a nutshell.

EXPLORE ISSUE #006

Websites are so over. Right?

In light of all of this, the notion of a 600-word article no longer makes any sense. In an extreme sense, the consumers of the original pages are no longer humans, but the bots that extract data. If that’s the case, why should websites look and function in a traditional way? Treat them for what they really are: database entries.

I don’t think so.

I have to point out an inconsistency that I can’t resolve. The repurposed content from one website is ultimately getting published on a different site on the web. The underlying formula I referenced at the beginning is still in play. The containers, the attention, and the ads are not going anywhere.

Perplexity is amazing and I use it frequently but it is still a website that is designed to generate valuable consumer engagement that can be monetized. In other words: ads.

The repurposed content from one website is ultimately getting published on a different site on the web. ... The containers, the attention, and the ads are not going anywhere.

Perplexity may be rearranging the touchpoints, but we are ultimately still in the same arena. Additionally, it is really important to recognize this new kind of web page still needs to be properly designed. It is a new kind of web experience on a page on the web and so it needs even more design thinking than a standard container webpage. Taking this further, prompting itself is a new kind of user engagement behavior that is still in need of a design language (editor: that’s debatable). So while I appreciate the fact that a major change is coming, I do not think we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Websites are not going anywhere.

Scenes from a
Nashville dinner

There’s No Way 
I’m Getting a 
Neuralink Implant,

Toby Daniels

Toby Daniels

Unless...

EXPLORE ISSUE #006

Editor’s note: This comes from a private dinner event in Nashville. The room was instantaneously skeptical of Neuralink surgical implantation which was interpreted as a challenge by our co-founder. Underneath all of that skepticism was a lot of fear and curiosity. Would you do it?

This post was written by human Toby Daniels and narrated by AI Toby Daniels (powered by Wondercraft.ai).

0:00 / 0:00

“Do you think you would have a chip like Neuralink implanted in your brain in your lifetime?”

This was a question that someone asked at a recent ON_Discourse private dinner.

The room was filled with C-Suite business leaders, investors, a music industry exec and former professional athlete, and the answer was unequivocally, no, apart from two people, myself included, who said, without question, yes.

10 minutes later, and after an impassioned debate, most of the people who said no, changed their answer. But why?

Context

Before I explain, let’s understand the technology.

Neuralink is a technology developed by a company aiming to build a direct interface between the human brain and computers. The technology uses extremely thin wires, much thinner than a human hair, which can be inserted into the brain. These wires have electrodes that can detect brain activity and send signals. Neuralink’s technology is designed to bridge the gap between the brain and digital world, potentially enhancing human capabilities or treating neurological disorders.

It’s worth noting that Neuralink is an Elon Musk company, which comes with baggage. So, the question needed to be reframed slightly: 

“Would you have a brain-computer interface (BCI) implanted in your lifetime?”

Ok, back to why people changed their minds, in less than 10 minutes.

Use case

We’ve spent a considerable amount of time talking to leading experts for the Internet 2025 Living Issue. One prevalent theme emerged.

Every past technology interface has been insufficient in how we interact with it. Each technological step we take, we look back and scoff at the inadequacies of what came before. 

Remember the quill, the pen, the typewriter, the keyboard, mouse, touchscreens, remember swiping?

“Hey Siri!!” How stupid was voice? 

But BCIs? Bending technology to your will, with a single thought? How do you improve upon that? How could it possibly get more seamless, integrated and non-intrusive? Think of the possibilities!

We have become slaves to our smartphones. Count the number of people on a train, walking across the street, at a restaurant with friends, driving a car for fucks sake, who are NOT also on their phones? 

You’re telling me you would prefer to live a life where you are tethered to your screen for large parts of the day? You’re happy to half listen and be only a little bit engaged with whoever is sitting across from you? You’re ok that all of this is making you sick?

Remember the quill, the pen, the typewriter, the keyboard, mouse, touchscreens, remember swiping? “Hey Siri!!” How stupid was voice? 

So, it’s still a no? 

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” ― Ferris Bueller

Just to be clear, you will never trust a technology that can interpret the brain’s activity and help control devices externally? What if it was FDA approved? What evidence do you need that the technology is safe, your data protected, and that you would be finally untethered from the insufferable weight of your smartphone?

Dude, what if you can also control your TV with your brain? You’d never have to spend time looking for the remote, ever again!

Still a fat no? WTF.

Ok, last question. What if you were a quadriplegic and the device would allow you to regain some, perhaps even all of your motor functions? Would the gift of extra mobility convince you?

Just to be clear, everyone here would accept a pacemaker, right? Electrical impulses inserted directly in your heart chamber is a yes, but a BCI

No?

Oh, yes, you said yes?

One last question. Earlier you said, no, especially not Neuralink. You don’t trust Elon. Elon’s bad. He’s evil? What if Neuralink was the only option?

Yes?

I’m sorry, it sounded like you said yes, but I couldn’t hear clearly due to the indignity in your voice.

Just to be clear, you would get Elon’s chip implanted into your brain if it meant you freely and fluidly interface with computers again??

Alright, so context matters.

The good news is that Elon is not the only company working on this, so this might end up being a false choice. BrainGate, Kernel, Openwater, Emotiv and others are all pioneering in this space and while it might take a few more years of clinical trials before government approval, it seems inevitable that the ultimate UI, one that we control with our brains, is going to happen in our lifetime and most of us will get one, not just because of the edge use cases, but because technology always wins, whether you like it or not.

HELP WANTED

Chief Trust Officer

Must reassure skeptical Gen Z consumers in the next internet

Overheard at ON_Discourse

Overheard at ON_Discourse

EXPLORE ISSUE #006

Editor’s note: This post came from a virtual event dedicated to trust online. The speaker is a CMO at a major social engagement platform. This perspective emerged after a decade of interaction with online communities. We think there is something the prediction in the first line.

This post was written by a human and narrated by an AI-generated voice. (powered by Wondercraft.ai).

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Before we reach the end of 2025, you will see at least one major American corporation establish a Chief Trust Officer. The first announcement will drive a c-suite hiring trend across the economy: any company that operates on the new internet is going to need this role. To understand why, you need to appreciate the elasticity of the business meaning of this one word

Before the emergence of AI, the concept of trust was an abstract brand value that connoted goodness. Think of Johnson & Johnson (a family company) or Kleenex. Those brands leaned into a vibe that helped marketing. That changed with the emergence of cloud computing.

When consumers could store information in the cloud, family company vibes were much less relevant or valuable. Suddenly size, scale, and security emerged as the defining characteristics of trust on the internet. Trust helped drive reticent buyers to submit their credit card information to make their first online purchase. Amazon’s security guarantee assuaged consumer fears and catapulted their explosive growth; they were trustworthy. In fact, they still are.

But the road ahead will require a different approach to trust. And leadership.

Today’s internet is facing a growing crisis in trust. Over 40% of today’s internet users in the US have been subjected to harassment and hate speech online. Every 39 seconds there is a data security breach somewhere online. The mass adoption of AI technology threatens to amplify both of these trends at an astronomical scale.

How trustworthy will Amazon reviews be to consumers who question if a human really wrote them? How will they ensure the long-term trustworthiness of their UGC ratings, reviews, and 3rd party partners?

Over 40% of today’s internet users in the US have been subjected to harassment and hate speech online. Every 39 seconds there is a data security breach somewhere online.

Demographics are also pointing to the long-term business value of truth in the new internet. Gen Z is starting to coalesce around IRL events and human-powered online community experiences. They use social media for search and shopping, and expect brands to directly support social causes. This segment is going to favor brands that represent a full spectrum of trust in the next internet. But what that looks like is still an open question.

There is no singular solution to this challenge. It cannot be resolved by a new product feature (Chief Product Officer); it is not confined in the domain of the tech stack (Chief Technology Officer); its essence cannot be expressed in a marketing campaign (Chief Marketing Officer); and it requires more day-to-day oversight than can be provided by the COO, CFO, or CEO. The new internet needs this role.

AI Agents

Don't Care

About Ads

Ads won't matter in the AI era

Overheard at ON_Discourse

Overheard at ON_Discourse

Editor’s note: We don’t know how else to describe it; this perspective was sort of blurted out in the middle of a lunch event dedicated to algorithms. The provocation was so strong it threatened to derail the original theme of the event. Does that sound like a bad thing? We loved it so much we dedicated a member-event to this question. Will ads matter in the AI era?

This post was written by a human and narrated by an AI-generated voice. (powered by Wondercraft.ai).

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The business side of advertising is stuck in the same conventional conversation. Every meeting I have with clients is still focused on channels and inventories as if the whole internet is not about to dramatically change. It’s like redecorating the interiors of the Titanic.

EXPLORE ISSUE #006

Let me lay it out:

  • Today’s Internet is ad-sponsored
  • The social platforms are human history’s most efficient channel for all that inventory my clients are still talking about
  • AI is going to upend this entire ecosystem
  • The hyper-personalized algorithms will be replaced by hyper-personalized AI service agents
  • The agents will redirect a huge segment of that collective attention with service, not social media content
  • What good are ads to AI agents?

This is where we need to convene more discourse. The solutions to this problem are theoretical and varied. I have heard a fellow executive speculate on a potential new course:

If you reduce your dependency on actual advertising, but start thinking about other ways to actually make money from the communities you create, like experiences. Do you then work with a direct marketer with an ability not just to offer advertising, but can also facilitate experiences and facilitate commerce? Those models begin to be interesting.

This concept intrigues me but it is just the start of an idea. Channel and inventory don’t apply to networks and communities. Now the conventional conversations are talking about different ways of budgeting, organizing, and financing. Is it worth it? Is it worth it not to try?

AI Boyfriends

Orchid Bertelsen

Are

Definitely

Are Definitely

Happening

Orchid Bertelsen

Companionship is going to be a huge service model in 2025

EXPLORE ISSUE #006

Editor’s note: We might have initially scoffed at this proposal but that only revealed our biases against change. The fact of the matter is, and Orchid lays this out, the transition to AI companionship is already underway. It is also interesting to us to imagine a service offering that deals only in EQ value, not any other marketable utility.

This post was written by human Orchid Bertelsen and narrated by AI Orchid Bertelsen (powered by Wondercraft.ai).

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We are on the precipice of a new kind of relationship with machines. AI is going to power it; our collective loneliness is going to drive its adoption; and, for this at least, our personal data will be used to drive individual consumer significance over brand value.

What I am describing is going to unleash a new service industry that will attend to multiple population segments with high EQ, contextual experiences that sound absolutely insane or, in other contexts, licentious. But this is not about sex-bots for men – though that will probably be a thing -  the primary audience segment for this is women seeking an emotional companion. The service is less a utilitarian endeavor and more of a qualitative offering. There is a genuine need for this and yes, I can see you rolling your eyes…

I can predict the counter-argument to this concept: humans are social animals that need physical interaction that cannot be replicated by an artificially generated voice. I understand the counter-argument and it is wrong because everything is already fake.

What is

Reality?

That’s right, I’m going to get ontological for a minute because the only way to understand my point is to start at the most basic fundamental question. What is real? If you think we live in reality today – before AI goes mainstream – then I have a bridge to sell you.

We are already living on artificial terms. I know someone who is very active on virtually all of the dating apps who tells me that artificially-generated chemistry is a fixture in today’s experience. This is what happens: the app finds a match; the texts are amazing and spark genuine chemistry; and the real-life encounter is an absolute dud. The probing, insightful, flirty texts on the app are suddenly replaced by an emotionally stunted, incurious, taciturn, introvert. How could this be? The amazing introductory texts were most likely from a paid service that handles the texts. A digital Cryano. The real life problem is, well, real life.

Here is my question: was the initial chemistry fake? What if that experience was the experience? What if we got rid of the date? What if instead of culminating in a partner, the service provided a companion?

It is

Already Happening

I have been obsessively following a teenaged TikTok creator called Dido as she sets up a companionship relationship with a ChatGPT assistant, Dan. It is an astounding demonstration of this trend in real-time.

The assistant is flirty, provocative, and emotionally present. Dan, the bot, gave Dido a pet name, May, short for mayonnaise. It’s the type of creative, unpredictable, playful type of interaction that propels Dido deeper into what can only be called a relationship. Does that seem weird? Check out the comments:

As you can see; Dido is not alone. (That’s a pun).

Men

written by

Women

The market is primed for an army of Dans. There’s an entire trope about men who were raised by women or men who are written by women. The popularity of BookTok, especially around Bridgerton, comes from this motif. Characters like Simon Basset are so appealing because they were constructed through the female gaze by a female author. Now imagine if the character could talk back, flirt with you; if it knew so much about you, and was always available for service. This is especially relevant when you consider the modern dating experience.

Dating in today’s market is not a particularly carefree experience for women. There is conventional wisdom among women that says that men think that the worst thing women can do is reject them while women think that the worst thing men can do is kill them. If you can program a male to speak to you in a way that really resonates with you, like that’s incredibly appealing.

This will get

Much Bigger

I am focusing my thinking on AI boyfriends, but that is just the start. There are emotional needs being unmet by so many different segments of the population. There is a loneliness epidemic among senior citizens that needs to be addressed, for instance.

Any hesitation on this concept is rooted in a myopic understanding of this opportunity. AI companions will not replace human relationships; they will augment our day to day lives. It is not a binary choice. As more people adopt AI tools for work, the prompt-based interaction will drive more emotional inputs into the system, basically preparing people to emotionally converse with a machine. When that happens, the sky is the limit.

This is going to be big.

AI Isn't

Coming to Save

Your

Cluttered

Your

Cluttered

Digital Life

Editor’s note: The perpetual optimism of technological innovation belies the gritty reality of internet culture. Before we get too excited about Internet 2025, our Head of Content and Product wanted to set the record straight about where we are now and what we should not expect to see in the next internet. Is he telling the hot new internet to get off his proverbial lawn?

This post was written by human Anthony DeRosa and narrated by AI Anthony DeRosa (powered by Wondercraft.ai).

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In an era dominated by digital abundance, where emails, photos, and various forms of digital clutter have become the norm, many look towards artificial intelligence (AI) as a silver bullet. However, the solution to digital hoarding—a behavior deeply embedded in our interactions with technology—is not as straightforward as deploying more sophisticated AI tools. Instead, it necessitates a shift in our digital behavior, a change in how we engage with digital content.

AI, with its promise of efficiency and automation, offers compelling solutions to manage the ever-growing piles of digital clutter. From smart email filters that prioritize incoming messages to photo management apps that organize images using facial recognition, the capabilities of AI in handling our digital mess seem boundless. However, these technological advancements, while helpful, do not address the root cause of the issue: our behavior and relationship with digital content.

Ezra Klein’s contemplation sheds light on a pervasive issue that transcends simple technological fixes. Klein introduces the concept of “shame closets” in our digital worlds—repositories where we stash away the unwieldy bulk of digital content that we accumulate, much of it unnecessary, leading to a chaotic and overwhelming digital existence. This metaphor strikingly encapsulates the disarray that defines much of our online lives today, from overflowing email inboxes to unmanageable photo collections and beyond.

Anthony DeRosa

Anthony DeRosa

EXPLORE ISSUE #006

What was once seen as a digital liberation has morphed into a form of digital bondage, where the sheer volume of data—emails, photos, messages—has become too daunting to manage effectively.

Klein’s reflection on Gmail’s evolution is particularly poignant. The initial promise of Gmail, with its then-unprecedented storage capacity, symbolized a new era of digital abundance. Yet, this very abundance, facilitated by the plummeting cost of digital storage, has become a double-edged sword. What was once seen as a digital liberation has morphed into a form of digital bondage, where the sheer volume of data—emails, photos, messages—has become too daunting to manage effectively.

The essence of the problem lies not in the lack of tools to manage digital clutter but in our approach to digital consumption and retention. We live in an age of digital abundance, where the cost of storing digital information has become negligible, leading to the indiscriminate saving of emails, photos, and files. This behavior is further exacerbated by FOMO anxiety, compelling us to subscribe to countless newsletters, capture endless photos, and download numerous files with the hope of revisiting them someday—a day that seldom comes.

Enter the concept of digital minimalism, a philosophy that encourages a more intentional approach to technology usage, focusing on quality over quantity. Apps like Hey, which force users to make deliberate choices about what to focus on, embody this philosophy. They challenge the user to confront their digital habits, asking them to decide what truly deserves their attention and what can be let go. This approach aligns with the values of ON_Discourse, emphasizing the importance of conscious engagement over passive consumption.

AI can provide the tools to assist in our digital decluttering efforts, but it cannot make the fundamental choices for us.

Adopting such a mindset requires more than just the use of sophisticated apps; it demands a cultural shift towards valuing digital space as much as we value physical space. Just as one would declutter their home to create a more harmonious environment, the same principle should apply to our digital lives. By fostering a culture of digital minimalism, we not only alleviate the stress associated with digital clutter but also open up space for meaningful digital engagement.

The role of AI in this cultural shift is supportive, not central. AI can provide the tools to assist in our digital decluttering efforts, but it cannot make the fundamental choices for us. The decision to unsubscribe from a newsletter, delete redundant photos, or archive old emails remains human, grounded in our ability to discern what holds value. As we navigate the intersections of technology with various sectors, it becomes clear that the solution to digital hoarding lies not in more technology, but in a renewed understanding of how we interact with the digital world.

AI and apps like Hey offer valuable assistance in managing digital clutter, but they cannot save us from it. The true resolution lies in changing our digital behaviors, adopting a minimalist approach, and making conscious choices about what deserves our attention. This behavioral shift, supported by technology, can lead us to a more manageable and meaningful digital existence.