The competitive advantage of creative spaces

Last week the website of Yamauchi №10 Family Office made the rounds. It’s a great website — isometric scrolling! Voxel animations! Music!

It’s hard to find websites like this. Arguably, for good reason. Most of the time you just want to find information, complete a transaction, fill out a form. Having your bank website flash lights and play a siren at you every time you schedule a bill payment would get old fast. Quirky features slow everything down, and they’re not great for mobile users, security or accessibility.

And yet, as fun one-off projects, weird, creative websites are some of my favorite things on the internet. It’s so rare that I find spaces that are enjoyable to inhabit on the platform-dominated web. Everything on Facebook, YouTube, et al is templated. Creators are limited to uploading a profile picture, writing a text description, and maybe choosing a background color. You won’t find much surprise or delight.

It’s a real shame, because surprise and delight are powerful tools for attracting attention. For creators, unique design and presentation can be a competitive advantage, making you stand out from the same-y expanse of text boxes and vector drawings.

Big platforms can’t allow this kind of creativity, because they’re built for scale. Every item, whether it’s a post, a video, or a photo, needs to be essentially identical, such that the platform’s tools can handle every one in the same way. The content can change, but the form is static.

On its own, this shift is unfortunate but manageable. Creators can still push the boundaries within the constraints of the platform, distinguishing themselves and building an audience.

But the same standardization that removes creator control of form also indirectly steers content. Platforms pair standardization with algorithmic curation, leaving audience formation up to personalized feeds. In turn, creators have to adapt to the algorithm’s preferences, or risk losing their livelihoods. The algorithm rewards desirable qualities with larger surface area, severing the link between popularity and audience appeal. Popular content on a platform like YouTube can essentially be for no one — just the algorithm.

This latter concern is a widely-accepted one. Platforms like Substack and Patreon have popped up to encourage direct relationships between creators and audiences, loosening the algorithm’s grip on content. They do not, however, address the trickier question of form.

How do we create spaces where weird, creative projects can live and breathe? Glitch comes to mind, as a home for free-form web coding. But I think the real answer is tougher. We need new tools and spaces to support this kind of work, combining the best of full-fledged independence with the discoverability of a shared platform. It’s not just a question of doing something fun or cool — I think creative work requires expression of personality to distinguish itself and attract an audience. Today’s platforms sorely lack that capacity for self-expression, putting them at a disadvantage for supporting creators.

PhD student @ Northwestern University. I worked in digital media, now I study it.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store