Arbital is a startup that was built in 2016–2018 primarily by Alexei Andreev, a smart friend of mine. The description on the home page is “Arbital is a hybrid blogging and wiki platform.” These are some of the most differentiated features that the platform offered:
- The ability to embed arbitrary probabilistic statements within an article, and then have readers vote on their belief-probability of those statements
- LaTeX with instant preview
- “Lenses” where the same page of content made up of various sections can then be configured by a reader to show e.g. either “explanation of this concept with 6th grade math” or “explanation of this concept with college-level math”.
Today, the project is in an inactive state as far as I know.
When the Golden.com MVP launched a couple weeks ago, I felt like I was back in 2016 watching Arbital first launch. At the time, I posed the exact same question that I posed about Golden:
What’s the #1 best article on Arbital that couldn’t have created the same amount of value by being posted on another platform?
To this day I don’t believe there is a satisfactory answer to this question. The best candidate might be a pretty elaborate “choose your own adventure” guide to Bayes’ Rule (I’m not sure the link will still work). This was quality content that showcased various features of the Arbital platform, but it wasn’t a much better experience than what could have been created by linking together a few different pages on a platform like Medium or Wikia.
It takes one spike of value, not lots of little bits of value
When evaluating Golden and Arbital, I keep looking for just one article that is highly differentiated compared to anything that would ever have existed on another platform.
What makes bloated MVPs bloated is that they do a bunch of other stuff, they have all these little bits of value, but there’s never a concentrated single moment where a user receives a lot of value at once.
Launching a new product means trying to wedge yourself into a crowded market for people’s attention. It won’t work if your wedge is a breadboard full of little bumps of value. To wedge yourself into the market, you need a single sharp spike of value.
A bloated MVP can still have a kernel of value
Like many bloated MVPs, this platform did have some well-formed value prop stories behind it, it just was much more bloated than what would have been built if one was purely reasoning forward from the value props.
The content was the value. Arbital should have started with the value and built incrementally outward. Sadly, the vast majority of the effort went into building Arbital’s wiki platform, not writing the content. And the platform was never that valuable.
A lean MVP would have reasoned forward from the value prop: it would have started by putting up content pages on an existing platform like Medium, and then once those content pages started getting traction, building the fewest features needed to improve the publishing of each incremental piece of content.