Competition

For the past two years building Ken, I’ve been most worried about whether there is a real need for what I’m doing. Maybe it’s just what I need, while nobody else cares?

A couple of weeks ago, I made a discovery that left me with a mix of excitement and discomfort — I’m not alone in this.

Nicheless is a micro-blogging platform for raw, unfiltered thoughts. It's like long form Twitter, minus the status games. 300 words per post. Long enough to allow for nuance. Short enough to compel clarity of thought. Private likes. Private responses. Private subscriber counts. No status games. No trolls. No pressure. Built for people. Not publications.

The internet is full of tools that let you build and monetize audiences within a niche. This isn't one of them. Nicheless is a space to share your thoughts on a variety of topics without fear of judgment. A space to write, for thinking's sake.

That copy on their homepage pretty much lines up with my vision for Ken, which could be summarized as a space to express, not impress. There’s certainly a lot of overlap. Maybe too much? So for the past weeks, I was left with many questions. Now I'm taking time to reflect on my thoughts and write down my observations. I'll take a look at what’s out there and figure out how to best respond to that.

Nicheless

When I tried out Nicheless, I had a déjà vu. A couple of months ago, I was playing with the thought of removing all branding from letsken.com, making it feel more like a diary written with a typewriter. I’m happy that a thing like this is out there. Because I ditched my idea and went on to build on top of what I already had.

Just now, I published my second post on Nicheless. It’s a text that I’ve drafted a while ago and that I’ve been hesitant to share. An anonymous judgment-free place like Nicheless is just perfect to get this out (of my head and into the world). Maybe someone finds it useful.

Blogs

Many writers are running their own blogs. The advantage of a blog is that you are 100% in control. You have your own domain, and you can style your website any way you want.

I truly appreciate the value of an independent blog. This is where I can meet people as authentic as it can get. Because they own their place. If I wouldn’t run a writing platform myself, I’d probably publish my writing on my own website too. It’s an ongoing challenge for me to make Ken as much as possible like a self-hosted blog — but without having to deal with technical stuff, plus the ability for readers and writers to interact effortlessly.

Medium

“This reminds me of Substance,” someone said on Twitter when Medium launched in 2012. Substance was a platform I built a long time ago. It was pretty similar to Ken, but I took it offline after a year or so, as we decided to utilize the technology in the field of academic publishing.

Medium definitely fulfilled the promise to make publishing articles easy. At a guess, there are over a million stories posted every month.

I've been writing on Medium too. I liked the user experience. The business model — not so much. Right now, you can choose to put your articles behind Medium's paywall. This way, only members with a subscription can access it. In return, you get paid if your articles are read frequently.

My feeling is that this model backfired. Sure, Medium attracted a lot of writers, but the quality suffered, and Medium essentially became a decent-looking content farm. There are tons of recycled texts, and article titles are becoming as clickbait-y as on Youtube. Since popular content sells better than high-quality writing, that’s what Medium’s algorithm suggests.

Medium is not for me. I love the fact it enables everyone to write on the internet. But I don't want to support a service that tries to keep people engaged. They are in the same game as any other corporate social media platform.

Repositioning Ken

There are two types of competitors for me. Those who resonate with me and those who don’t. In the latter case, it’s easy to ignore them — they are in a different game. But when I genuinely like them — like I do Nicheless — I need to get creative. I refuse to compete over a cake. Instead, I want to find a different cake for me. Or at least make the existing one bigger.

So taking in the current landscape of tools and services, here's a fresh attempt at positioning Ken:

Want to write, just for thinking's sake? Use Nicheless. Or a self-hosted blog. Want to figure out how the world works through meaningful conversation? Consider Ken.

Collaborate rather than compete?

In the past few years, I’ve learned an important lesson. A positive turn is always just one counter-intuitive thought away. It’s easy to miss — and often I will, but the next opportunity is always waiting around the corner. I'll try to be alerted. Alerted like a cat, waiting for the mouse to come out of the hole in the wall.

Louis from Nicheless has a lot of good ideas. Aside from Nicheless, he built readsomethinggreat.com, a manually curated selection of thought-provoking articles on the internet. It’s a great selection, worth checking out. He is also a great writer himself, more experienced than I am. I especially like the copy on his websites. Concise and to the point.

My greatest strength is the software engineering and product design part. I built a social network for music fans before Facebook was there. For more than 10 years, I’ve spent my time building intuitive content editing solutions for academic publishing. In 2020, I started working on Ken, my attempt to make the 1990s dream of the internet come true: Free exchange of knowledge and ideas. Ken is 100% handcrafted. I control every pixel on the screen and every row in the database. I think, I’ve built one of the best tools for writing online, yet nobody knows about it. Once people start using it, there will be tons of things to improve.

I love collaboration. And I hate being protective of my ideas, my code, etc. I want to help others who are doing good stuff. Maybe I can be the missing link. I also value getting help, at best unrequested. There is a danger that comes with collaborating, though. I don’t want to become merely a means for others to reach their goals — I often felt like that when working with others. In the same way, I don’t want others to become a means for me to reach my goals — I’ve been there, unconsciously, blinded by enthusiasm.

I don’t want to collaborate the way companies make a profitable deal. Instead, I want to remove the obstacles. Make it effortless to discover opportunities and use them. Move into a shared direction. In our case, to make the internet a better place.

Published by Michael Aufreiter on Nov 2
Revised on Nov 2
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