Platforms are like waves and so can you
Platforms, like everything else, have life-cycles. A new thing is launched, cool kids download it, someone does something unique and interesting and helps to define how the thing is actually used, everyone catches up until that thing becomes the norm, this cycle repeats, an internal language develops among the users who are now in cliques and communities, and this thing continues to either grow, stagnate, or die, depending on the quality of the product and the people guiding its evolution.
Popular creators typically get huge on one platform, and then naturally move to others to increase their profile, spread their fans, and oftentimes just try to conquer something new. You may slay on Instagram but can you actually be interesting on YouTube or funny on Snapchat?
The multitude of platforms to make content can weigh on creators, many of whom are also trying to build a career off of their work.
This past weekend my colleague Ashley Ford and I traveled to Minneapolis for a conference called NerdCon: Stories. We went there to talk to creators about Matter and to learn more about the challenges, pressures, and anxieties they face.
NerdCon was founded by vlogger Hank Green who, with his big brother John Green, also runs VidCon, a wildly popular conference for video creators across YouTube, Instagram, and Vine and the legions of rabid teens that follow them. NerdCon is like VidCon’s awkward older sibling who prefers fantasy to celebrity and comic books to lip syncing videos.
Three million people follow Hank and John on their YouTube channel vlogbrothers, and they’re both famous for building communities and sub-communities among their fans. John talked candidly about how the size of their YouTube channel was actually stifling. Because as you get bigger, your brand grows to defines what you can and cannot do.
Consider the Viner who became known for that one thing they did in their bedroom two years ago that they now have to do every time someone recognizes them in a 7–11.
Or NerdCon panelist John Darnielle who jokingly said: “when people like thing you do, you can’t just stop. It becomes your job. You do that for a while. And then you die.”
That is definitely one way to live a life. John has been recording music for most of his life but he also moved into fiction and was nominated for a National Book Award in 2014. Which is to say, you’re free to try something else. John Green is still making YouTube videos with his brother but he’s completely fired up about his podcast right now because it’s smaller, there’s more room to invent, and it feels more intimate to him. As a platform, the podcast world is only starting to build. This means wild amounts of experimentation and captivating, unexpected voices.
And it’s a good lesson on how you too can avoid getting boxed in and surf the sweet sweet platform waves all across the Internet. Just do the thing you’re into. Do the thing that makes you laugh the hardest or cry the most. Communities will rally around the passion that you put into your work, but they can also sniff out content that has been made just because. Be wavy like the platforms. Ask yourself if you are having a good time. If you aren’t, try something else.