Lets Get Weird On Sidechannel!

The internet feels extractive. Let's make it generative.

On Monday I’m launching Sidechannel along with seven other fantastic newsletter writers. I wrote a bit about it in my ‘welcome to Galaxy Brain’ post but I’d love to explain a bit more about why I’m so excited (as well as what you’ll get access to if you become a paid subscriber). We’ll send the invites out on Sunday!

What is Discord?

Discord is a platform that acts basically a series of connected chatrooms. It’s a bit like Slack but it was built for gamers, not knowledge workers. It’s much less productivity-focused and way more for ambient hanging out. It’s pseudonymous so you can create any username and comment without having to worry. It’s easy fun and easy to hop into a room and get that ‘just walked through the door of a bustling bar’ vibe. Discord also has a ‘stages’ feature for us to conduct bigger interviews — we have a big, fun one coming on Monday morning (to be announced soon!).

What will it look like?

There’ll be a bigger, umbrella rooms where everyone can congregate as well as rooms specific to each publication (as long as you’re a paid subscriber to one of the eight of us, you’ll get access to everything). It looks a bit like this:

Why You Should Join (Why I’m Vibrating With Excitement Right Now)

Something I’ve always been frustrated by in media is how it is hard for readers to see how the sausage gets made. I don’t believe this is nefarious — every newsroom I’ve worked in is full of curious people who want to tell meaningful stories and get them right. But a lot of media prides itself on delivering a definitive, polished product and then answering very few questions about how that product came to be. I think that plenty of readers (though not all) want more. What questions did the writer initially set out to answer? What did they read during the research process? How did their minds change or not change as they went deeper down the rabbit hole? What was left on the cutting room floor?

I don’t mean to suggest that Sidechannel will always answer these questions for readers. But I do see the experiment as providing a window into how we all do our work. We’ll be debating each other and sharing links and asking questions. It’s a place where we’ll gossip and learn and go down rabbit holes together. In the process, I hope that will help to give readers a sense of how we do our work. In a perfect world, you might get a sense of how my thinking evolves over time on something. For example, right now I am begrudgingly finding myself thinking quite a bit about cryptocurrencies. I’m having some difficulty trying to parse what is hype and what parts might have real promise. I’m imagining Sidechannel as a place where I can learn about stuff like this in real-time and in public.

What excites me so much about Sidechannel is the idea of a space on the internet that isn’t extractive but generative. Twitter is probably the place where I do the most ‘hanging out’ on the internet these days. But like most platforms, it feels so transactional. You are competing for likes and retweets and attention. It is next to impossible to have nuanced conversations and — as I wrote on Tuesday — often discussions meant for one group of people end up in the hands of a different, openly hostile audience. These spaces often feel toxic and exhausting and exploitative because the business model they’re built off of is extractive. This is an attempt at something different — a social internet experience that gives you something in return and doesn’t leave you feeling exhausted and hollow.

This space is for you all as much as it is for us. It’s a place to pick apart news or obsess over a peculiar slice of the internet. It’s a place to share curiosities with other people. Or to come and listen to somebody give a talk or conduct an interview. But just because the eight of us are launching this, doesn’t mean we’ll necessarily be driving the conversation all the time. We’re building it alongside you all and you get a say in how this looks and feels.

I’m really hoping that generative experience translates to this very newsletter. The hardest thing about journalism (in my experience) is knowing where to look for new ideas and stories. I got into this line of work because I’m naturally curious and delight in learning new things. I’m hoping you all can introduce me to new or weird ideas or people or send me down a reporting rabbit hole I never knew existed. I thrive off that kind of collaboration and am incredibly excited to see if I can harness it from Sidechannel with your help.

Who is involved?

I’ve taken a bit of this (with permission) from Casey Newton, who came up with the idea for Sidechannel and has helped make it a reality. We will expand the writers/publications over time but this is the launch group:

  • Casey Newton (tech, democracy and the big platforms). I’ve read Casey every day religiously for the last three years. He is a workhorse who breaks news on the way that Big Tech wields huge geopolitical power. Late last year, he launched Platformer and it has quickly become one of the must read publications in Silicon Valley. He is a kind and funny person and his analysis is equally thoughtful.

  • Nick Quah (podcasts and audio). Nick is, as Casey notes, “the industry standard” when it comes to covering the world of audio. I’ve always deeply admired how he figured out that podcasts would be a dominant cultural force way before anyone else and then just straight up built his own mini media empire around it. He is the person you want to read.

  • Delia Cai (media). Delia’s Deez Links is smart and funny and insidery. She makes you feel like you are at a happy hour listening to her holding court and exchanging gossip (that is both helpful and extremely entertaining). She writes with the ease of somebody who loves the industry but is also aware that it is quite broken and most of the people in it have mild personality disorders.

  • Ryan Broderick (internet culture). Ryan writes Garbage Day, which Casey described as “a transcendent newsletter about the internet’s strangest corners.” I worked with Ryan for six years at BuzzFeed and I really don’t believe there is a person who instinctively understands the internet like Ryan. He feels it in his bones. He’s like one of those geologists who can lick an old rock and know how old it is. That’s what Ryan does with memes. He licks them and tells you about their formation.

  • Kim Zetter (cybersecurity). Kim is a veteran of Wired and let me just tell you that I’m still a bit intimidated by her genre-defining body of reporting (turns out this is silly because she’s incredibly gracious). As Casey notes, “If you are interested in the world of cybersecurity, either as a newcomer or someone who’s been part of this world for decades, this newsletter is for you.” I’m so excited to be able to learn from Kim in Sidechannel.

  • Eric Newcomer (startups and venture capital). Eric left Bloomberg defector last year to start his publication and it is an incredible reported deep dive into the world of money in Silicon Valley. I’m somebody who gets really tired of 'deals’ reporting but Eric’s work is incisive and insightful and I always find myself drawn into stories that I didn’t expect to be interested in. If you care about money and power then you should be reading this.

  • Anne Helen Petersen (culture and remote work). Annie is a former professor turned BuzzFeed reporter who left last year to found Culture Study. Annie is preposterously prolific, a phenomenal reporter and the kind of writer who takes subjects you didn’t know you cared about and makes you realize that, not only did you care about it, you’re living inside of it every day. She has changed the way that millions of people think about the broken way we work and how that upends the rest of our lives. She’s also my partner and we share two dogs and a mortgage.

How Do You Join?

I’ll be sending out a link to paid subscribers on Sunday (likely in the evening). You can come play or you can ignore it completely. This is an experiment, which means that it might be a smashing success or it could utterly fail. I started Galaxy Brain to try and build a sliver of the internet I want to see in the world and so my promise is that if Sidechannel starts to feel exhausting or boring or extractive, I’ll stop doing it. Life is too short!

If you’re a subscriber, I would be thrilled if you came in to help build this with us and figure it out. If you’re on the unpaid email list and you have the means, I hope you’ll consider subscribing. I’ll see you Monday in Sidechannel!