We are living through a Cambrian explosion. An explosion of content on the world wide web that is probably only overshadowed in significance by Gutenberg’s printing machine and the following explosion of printed content. In just the last ten years, worldwide data jumped from 2 to 59 zettabytes, Twitter amassed 500m daily tweets, blogs went from niche to mainstream, and the e-book market in the U.S. alone grew from $1B to $6B.
The way we consume content is more diverse than ever. There are blogs and newsletters, Medium and Substack, Twitter threads and tweetstorms, podcasts and Youtube, and much more. By the time you read this who knows what the next big thing will be? While this Cambrian explosion of digital content is beautiful, it’s also overwhelming, unstructured and noisy. But still, when digging through your feed, there are true gems, bits and pieces of insights & information that you just wouldn’t stumble across otherwise. These can change the way you see the world or simply offer an amusing perspective. You can learn from some of the smartest people in the world and go down incredible rabbit holes just by following your curiosity online. Simultaneously, we see more and more people gaining access to this seemingly limitless world by getting online. And they don’t just consume – they create!
The problem is no longer how to access information, it’s what you do once you have it. How many incredible insights are never saved or end up on the bottom of siloed bookmarks, lists or note-taking tools? How many are never truly digested, connected with related bits and pieces and shared with others to spark ideas or inspire them? And how amazing is it, when this does happen? It’s those “happy accidents”, serendipity, driven by curiosity and tinkering, that are special and drive ideas and technology forward.
“Curiosity demands that we ask questions, that we try to put things together and try to understand this multitude of aspects as perhaps resulting from the action of a relatively small number of elemental things and forces in an infinite variety if combinations” – Richard Feynman
Our mission at Fount is to make these “happy accidents” happen more often. Think a 100 times more often. It’s quite selfish, to be honest. We love to read and learn online and don’t have something that scratches this itch. We believe that doing so would be a net positive and could unlock ideas and thoughts across disciplines that change our world.
The Status Quo
The Problem of Silos and Noise
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone after reading the introduction, that we are not quite satisfied with the existing approaches – namely note-taking tools – to manage and expand your knowledge. We believe there is a lot of untapped potential.
First, there are the traditional note-taking tools that allow you to save notes in a linear and static manner. As we speak, one of the largest ones, one that innovated the space ten years ago, is on a feature moratorium for 18 months to fix their backend – not quite the source of innovation today.
Then, we have a new generation of note-takers that bring exciting twists to an old game. Leveraging backlinks or knowledge graphs as well innovation in embedding blocks in pages, they allow for more networked structures and flexibility. Content from the web can usually be saved into these page structures and then the tools differ greatly in what you can do with a page. Yet the common thread between these is that it’s very hard to operate on the insight-level when the tool is built for the note, or page level.
Besides, and this is true for old and new note-taking tools alike, it takes a lot of effort to create and maintain such a system. It’s work, really, and this is one of the largest problems we see. This is not to say that knowledge management can exist without having some discipline in structuring connecting your information properly – but there is a huge potential for making this experience as simple, seamless and playful as possible.
We don’t think that note-taking tools are the sole answer to knowledge management. They do have their purpose. This is, as the name already indicates, allowing the user to put in the effort into deliberately saving and writing down ideas and thoughts and structuring them – depending on the tool – in file-cabinets or as knowledge graphs. But they are not so much about seamlessly saving and structuring insights from all across the web, much less about connecting and digesting them in new and serendipitous-optimised ways. This once again points to the potential we currently see – to make knowledge management about play instead of work.
A New Way of Structuring & Connecting Your Insights Is Needed
The most difficult challenge is probably connecting the dots. How do you structure and connect your insights using existing solutions? Because isn’t that fundamentally how we learn? There really are no stand-alone ideas. Our brains work as associative networks where one idea stands in multiple, interdependent relationships with others.
Even building our internal mental models to make sense of the world around us comes down to making and breaking connections between insights and domains. This is what John Boyd callsa dialectic process of destruction and creation: Using analysis (breaking down a comprehensive whole into its constituents) and synthesis (starting with parts and building towards a comprehensive whole) to approach match-up with observed reality. Arriving at pieces of information or insights is the analysis, the deconstruction of domains. But what tools do we have to create and structure our own concepts of meaning?
Currently, we see two approaches to structuring and connecting knowledge. Firstly, the hierarchical file-cabinet approach and secondly, the knowledge graph approach. While file-cabinets are frequently used, they have some obvious disadvantages. The most crucial one being their lack of interconnectivity. Using a file-cabinet makes it rather difficult to re-use and re-mix distinct insights. If they are duplicated and re-used, one often faces the problem of multiple versions that can cause a lot of confusion.
Knowledge graphs address this problem by enabling a high degree of connectivity. Information can be connected in back-linking, overlapping hierarchies while always being up to date. This approach resembles more the way our human brain works where each piece of knowledge represents a node in a larger network
While we see the potential in knowledge graphs, they are much more difficult to navigate in the world of bits than in the world of neurons. When containing a lot of information, they require complex visualisation and are high maintenance – which can be the right tool for some projects but creates problems when trying to structure insights in a serendipitous, playful way. A best of both worlds solution is currently lacking.
Go With the Flow: The Power of Simplicity & Serendipity
It’s about play
Following your curiosity isn’t work, its play. Genius ideas are rarely stumbled upon during office hours or according to a schedule. Our brains just don’t work that way. Instead, you take a shower or go for a run and suddenly the puzzle pieces fall together, it all starts to make sense.
This state of wandering, free-form contemplation & discovery (or rediscovery) is what we are striving for. The best parts of the internet feel like this and we believe that Nassim Taleb captured it when describing and embodying the lifestyle of a flaneur, somebody who enjoys to wander and to stroll with no other purpose than to be an observer of life in all of its nuances.
Whatever solution you use, it should reflect this basic tendency of how we learn and discover by being seamless and allowing for serendipity. Copying and pasting insights into static pages that require many hours of maintenance is not an adequate solution. Capturing, structuring and connecting your insights, as Feynman puts it, in “an infinite variety of combinations” to create new knowledge should be a fun process.
Insights As Building Blocks
At the centre of our approach is the “insight”. We want to break non-fiction content down to its most fundamental level. An insight could be a tweet you liked, a book passage you highlighted or a quote from an essay that inspired you. But it could also be the podcast clip you listen to on repeat or visual graphics that you don’t want to lose.
Insights form the basic building blocks, the atomic unit, of our product. Their simplicity allows for seamless digesting as well as mixing and remixing of insights. With this fundamental block, you can start building.
Playlists For Simple Value-Adding Structure
What is then needed is an intuitive and seamless possibility to structure and connect your insights. Whenever you read, see or hear something that strikes out, it needs to be easy to add these insights to your library, grouped in theme-based containers that we call ‘playlists’. Imagine you stumble upon a new insight – don’t you usually already have a rough idea on where to store this element?
For the sake of simplicity, we limited the possible number of insights per playlist. Instead of continuing to throw insights into your playlists, you need to consciously select and structure your insights accordingly. The concept here is similar to Twitter, since we believe that limitation will add to the idea of focusing on highly aggregated knowledge and force the user to create value via negativa. If needed, multiple playlists can be grouped to meta-playlists.
Beyond Linearity: Strings For Representing Relationships
Moving beyond the rather simple idea of storing insights in playlists, users can string several insights together, both within and across playlists. The idea here is to move away from file-cabinet and the limitations of hierarchical structures while keeping it as simple as possible to connect insights.
It might be just three or four insights within a playlist, that build upon each other and therefore are stringed together to visualise their relationship. However, it might also be a certain meta-theme across multiple playlists that forms a string. Users can start building strings from just an intuitive, serendipitous feeling, that two or more insights might stand in a causal relationship. If they continue adding to this string, they can at any point choose to convert these strings into an independent playlist.
Bringing It All Together – This Is How You Play…
Whatever insights the user sees or reads that he finds worth saving, he can do so easily via various integrations, both on mobile and desktop.
When structuring and connecting these insights, the concepts of playlists and strings really allow to focus on the state of flow that the user experiences when satisfying their curiosity. It enables the user to take on the conundrum of both the file-cabinet system and the knowledge graph approach to structured information. He can move up and down knowledge structures hierarchically by collecting insights in playlists and sorting playlists into meta-playlists. Or literally “pull on the strings” of good ideas and explore related insights laterally by loosely connecting insights from different contexts with flexible strings.
Automatically created digests-formats as well as manually created playlists allow the user to digest and revisit his knowledge. The automatic digest can be thought of as temporary playlists that contain insights based on time horizon, category or interests (how about getting a time-capsule of your favourite insights from last year?). You can revisit as well as deliberately relearn and connect your insights whenever you want, however you want.
… And This Is How We Do It Together
You can play Fount in single-player mode, solely focused on your own insights. And that is totally fine. But instead of you being the sole curator of your own knowledge, why not utilise the distilled key takeaways, highlights & insights of brilliant minds from around the globe?
Play multi-player by sharing insights and collections of insights with your circle of friends and go through what they are saving, learning & connecting. But we think that there is more to it than that. In our information saturated world, curation is desperately needed. We are looking at Fount as an Insight Curation Platform – a community of curators that share aggregated knowledge and a platform that offers signals rather than noise.
Discover the curations of other users, of friends or knowledge influencers that you follow. Build upon their playlists, import individual insights that you find fascinating or strings of insights that add to your own playlist. Use these insights to create new and exciting connections and trace back the sources to discover even more.
The goal of this Insight Curation Platform has to be to keep it as simple, serendipitous-optimised and seamless as it can get, while allowing for playful curation, structure and connection. Using Fount should feel like one of those conversations where you lose track of space and time, a place for curators and digital flaneurs to create unique knowledge that can be shared with others. Becoming a curator, even making a living from it, then becomes a side effect of increasing the level of serendipity and structured knowledge on the internet.
What’s Next: Tapping Into the Curator Economy
As pointed out by now, good taste is valuable, especially with increasing optionality. If you are curating insights from all across the web – saving, structuring and connecting them – you are adding value. A lot, actually. Why not share this with everybody? And why not use the possibility to tap into the already curated, highly aggregated knowledge from so many other people? Why make it a single-player game when the value of a multi-player game is tenfold?
This is at the core of what we are seeing as the emerging Curator Economy. Li Jin (ex a16z) prominently described the advent of what she framed as the Passion Economy, of more and more people being able to monetise their interests and become creators, not just consumers of content & information.
The Curator Economy can be seen as a subset of this trend, by making it easier to follow one’s curiosity and enabling curators to earn by doing what they love. But it also addresses one of the challenges of the Passion Economy: with more content from more and more decentralised sources, how do you know what to read? Whom to follow? How do you pick out the gems?
Imagine being able to read the distilled key takeaways, highlights & insights of brilliant minds from all across the globe. And as one of those brilliant minds, imagine to curate & share your learnings and insights with thousands of people online. To build a community of people that follow their curiosity and create a bottom-up, curated knowledge base. And if you want to monetise the work that you are putting in, you can do so on your own terms – without any ads that create adverse incentives and interrupt the experience.
We believe that the Curator Economy is a growing space that will be critical to how we engage with information and learning in the future. Interesting work is being done on multiple fronts, for example with community-curated networks of knowledge. So far efforts in this direction seem to focus on large, networked information structures. While these are clearly important, with Fount, we see the highest point of leverage at the top of the curation funnel: as a meta-layer filtering signal out of noise.
The Secret Masterplan
This is what we are planning to do – build something users love. This includes:
- Build a way for users to fill the app with insights they love.
- Enable users to connect insights in exciting ways.
- Help users rediscover & explore their own and everybody else’s insights.
- Turn users into curators.
Knowledge management almost always requires a lot of effort. Instead of playing with our knowledge driven by our curiosity, we built excessively complex systems that often feel like work to be maintained. We become stuck in silos and loose insights in the noise of social feeds. And instead of tapping into the existing curations of other users, our systems are just our own, private collections.
Our vision at Fount isbuilding a platform that allows you to benefit from the aggregated knowledge from curious people – experts, amateurs, autodidacts, polymaths and many more – from all around the world. A platform to save your insights from across the web in a simple and seamless manner, to (re-)discover your own insights and those of others, and, most importantly, to connect them and thereby create new and unique knowledge that then can be shared and built upon with others. It’s a place of serendipity, for you to follow your curiosity wherever it might lead you.
So let’s play.