The awesome power of deep interests.
Today we’re launching Mighty Networks, a totally re-imagined social network for deep interests on mobile. My team and I are determined to recapture what social networks were intended to be — a way for us to forge meaningful connections with new people around the interests that are most important to us.
And, yet, this is more than a product launch for me.
I learned early on the power of deep interests.
My father was a high school history teacher in Cupertino, California, and he was obsessed with antique cars. So much so, he restored his own Model T Ford from parts in his parents’ orchard as a teenager. He later added a Model A Ford and a Mercedes 300SL he restored himself to his collection. And this was no solo hobby. Ten years and three small children later, we were regulars on Saturday drives along Highway 280 with the rest of the Model Ford Club of Santa Clara County.
My mother’s deep interest favored the animal kingdom. Guinea pigs, to be exact. She bred them. She showed them. She took them so seriously that my father built a tiny house in our backyard for all 50 of them. She was not known for moderation.
Around the same time as the Model T Ford Club and guinea pig shows, another club was meeting up the highway in Menlo Park. This one attracted electronic enthusiasts and technical hobbyists who were trading in the parts, circuits, and information needed to build their own personal computers. It was called the Homebrew Computer Club, and without it, there would likely be no Apple Computer today, and Silicon Valley would still have more apricot orchards than office parks.
When I was 11 years old, my father was killed by a drunk driver. He was 38 years old. In an instant, me, my 36-year-old mother, my 13-year-old brother, and my 10-year-old sister were initiated into a club we’d never imagined ourselves joining: a family who one day had a larger-than-life husband and father and the next day, well, didn’t.
After it happened, I felt isolated and different. My sense of community only returned after I found my own deep interests — and the people who loved them as much as I did. Field hockey, community theater, and a stint as a Congressional Page in Washington, D.C. with 66 other high school juniors, gave me a sense of purpose and motivation that comes from being in a tribe with others.
As a Page, it was a deep interest in government and a mild sense of adventure that exposed me to other 16-year-olds from Alaska, Arkansas, Beverly Hills, and downtown Chicago while living and working on Capitol Hill. The experience made my life richer, and gave me access to new relationships I would have never made by counting the number of people we had in common.
Fast forward to 2004 and the early days of social networks. I was fortunate to be living and working in Palo Alto, California as these new networks emerged. I had traded in field hockey and government for startup life, and, with it, I had a new tight-knit community of entrepreneurs and engineers all fascinated like me by blogs and Friendster, MySpace, and The Facebook.
With the massive potential of these new digital networks, finding people who shared the same deep interests anywhere in the world was supposed to get profoundly easier and more satisfying. I knew this was where I wanted to focus. I had found my calling.
The potential was enormous, and we got pretty far with my first company, Ning. People from around the world created 3,000,000 interest networks on our platform, and it reached nearly 100,000,000 people in a few short years. I saw up close just how powerful the right platform can be for people gathering around a shared interest. For members, it can be life changing. Deep interests bring us together in a way that a social network built around where we were born, where we went to school, and where we worked — the “social graph” — doesn’t. Instead, when we’re primarily connected by these identities and labels, we solidify and harden into red states and blue, conservative and liberal, working class and elite.
The reality is that twenty-five years into the Internet and ten years into social media, it’s still really hard to meet new people around a deep interest.
So, what happened?
Facebook sabotages deep interests.
In one short decade, Facebook — the social network — has connected nearly two billion people around the world, more than any other technology in history. It’s achieved this feat by networking people one college dorm, one extended family, and one group of friends at a time.
Facebook is phenomenal for keeping up with the people you know. It creates a sense of intimacy as people post about their lives. For interests, Facebook Groups completely dominate the landscape.
But, Facebook Groups are positively broken when it comes to deep interests.
Try using a Facebook Group to build relationships around a deep interest, and see how far you get. For me, participating in groups changed the trajectory of my life — they captured knowledge, so I made better decisions; they encouraged friendship, support, and solidarity, so I kept going and didn’t feel so alone; and they motivated, recognized and inspired me, so I took more risks. Without them, I wouldn’t be sitting here today.
But Facebook Groups make all of these things harder than they should be in 2017. Mark Zuckerberg’s recent Manifesto aside, Facebook’s goal is to keep you coming back to Facebook with updates from people you know, not make new, meaningful connections with new people you don’t.
It’s nearly impossible to organize a deep interest via Facebook’s nonstop News Feed, even with Groups. The News Feed forces us to blast out messages, hoping to capture someone’s attention at that moment. And member profiles aren’t specific to the context of a Group or why you are there. All the benefits of deep interests — community, context, knowledge, friendships, solidarity and motivation — are scrubbed out of Facebook, even with Groups.
I haven’t been immune to the addictive qualities of the News Feed, or how frustrating Facebook Groups can be. For any one thing I may care about, there are hundreds of other things my friends and connections wanted me to care about. And all of these posts are fighting for my attention in the News Feed. My answer is a quick “like” or “share” before moving on to the next update. It doesn’t give me time to stop, think, and act in a way that — if coordinated — could have a bigger impact.
Mighty Networks is designed for deep interests.
That’s why we’ve built Mighty Networks.
I want to bring the awesome power of deep interests to a new generation of tinkerers, inventors, creators, car builders, and guinea pig breeders, not just in Silicon Valley but around the world.
We’ve made Mighty Networks the very best way to meet people around a shared interest — both the interests that you choose, and the interests that choose you. This could be pursuing your dream career, navigating a chronic condition or recent diagnosis, diving into a new obsession, or enjoying a new way to experience a hobby you’ve had for years.
Anyone can create a Mighty Network for free in a few minutes. And when you invite members in, we use breakthrough algorithms and smart technology to connect members by location, by the topics they choose, and by the categories they define. Even better, with everything for an interest in one place, you can always get back to the content, conversations, and members that are important to you.
A Mighty Network is designed to mirror the very best elements of groups in real-life with the added features now possible with a supercomputer in our pocket.
And, already our Mighty Networks are seeing some amazing results.
When Sarah Lucas launched Beyond Type 1 as a Mighty Network for people touched by Type 1 Diabetes in June 2016, she didn’t think she’d be changing the way doctors diagnosed the disease in children. However, through a series of polls, she uncovered nearly half of her members who responded had been dangerously misdiagnosed as children. The Beyond Type 1 team quickly collaborated with the American Academy of Pediatrics on a campaign for early symptoms that has since been adopted by 15,000 doctors’ offices across seven states in a matter of months. The collective knowledge of Beyond Type 1’s members is literally saving lives.
Tara Gentile, an entrepreneur coach and best-selling author of The Art of Earning, launched CoCommercial as a “grad school” for savvy digital entrepreneurs and small business owners. Since moving to a Mighty Network, her virtual classes boast a nearly 100 percent completion rate, up from 30 percent in only one year. The value of this tight-knit community is literally translating into dollars and cents for her members every day.
And these networks aren’t just online. Dr. Efrain Talamantes and Roberto Gonzalez’s MiMentor.org is a thriving mentoring network for 1,800 pre-health students from underserved communities that moved their entire organization — website, online community, college events, and seminars like “Mastering the Medical School interview” — to their own Mighty Network just in time for their Fall 2016 campus college tour. Since launch, they’ve held 181 physical events, bringing students and mentors together, attracting nearly half of event organizers from outside of MiMentor.
These stories get me up every morning and motivate me and my team to find new and better ways to harness deep interests to capture knowledge, make friends, and find inspiration, but it’s more personal than that.
From my own experience, I know it’s easier to navigate a unique life experience — whether that’s losing a parent, mastering a sport, or launching a business — when you belong to a social network for a deep interest with people on the same path.
So, if you’re inspired to join us, you can create your own Mighty Network for free, share it, and I promise you, you’ll find something special in what happens next. It’s easy, but more importantly, it matters.
We’ve spent the past decade hardening identities that today divide us. Let’s spend the next decade building new connections around the deep interests that bring us together.