Interaction in a post-like world

Kt McBratney
OwnTrail Blog
Published in
4 min readMay 13, 2020

When things were getting serious in a co-founder way, I knew I needed to have a talk with Rebekah, OwnTrail’s CEO and co-founder. Because if I was going to leave a company I loved to build a new one, the person I was building it with needed to know what kind of business I would build. Part of that was understanding what type of business I refused to build. So one evening, we sat down at a neighborhood watering hole, ordered our drinks, and I pulled out my notes for what could be a deal-breaking conversation.

This (very real) was actually the blueprint for my founder's philosophy.

It’s nerve-wracking to show all your cards to your potential co-founder, to risk having someone decide you aren’t the person with whom to start a company because of your principles and priorities. But I knew that I owed it to myself and to her to be upfront and clear on what mattered most to me — building a company on the foundation of serving people, not serving them up on a platter.

I was not (and am not) interested in building one more platform where people are the product, engineered to clutch our attention at all costs and game interaction into a winner-takes-all daily habit.

I was only interested in building a company where we don’t perform our lives as offerings to the algorithm gods. Where we can use technology to share authentically for the purpose of human connection, not the number of ‘likes’ we may get. Where you don’t do it for the ‘gram, but because it’s your story. And fortunately, this was exactly what Rebekah had in mind for OwnTrail.

In the months since that conversation, we’ve had many discussions about intentional interaction on the platform. Could we encourage interaction to serve user needs first, then build the business around that? How might we create new modes of engagement that fall outside the attention economy? Where can interaction add value to authenticity rather than reward the performance of identity? All these meaty and sometimes philosophical thoughts led to a key insight — when it comes to sharing and acknowledging the trails we’ve blazed, the ‘like’ is lacking. It scratches the surface of sentiment. I like a good ballpoint pen. But I am moved by how a woman navigated fertility issues and the strain that put on her relationship. I respect how brave a woman is to share her experience of workplace harassment. I am inspired by how a woman switched careers to better align with her values and aspirations. To say I ‘like’ these stories is selling them — and the woman behind them — short.

So we forgot about the ‘like’. But we did not forget about interaction; interaction is vital in OwnTrail’s model of micro-acts of mentorship. When engagement came up (and believe me, it definitely came up in meetings with potential investors), Rebekah and I got very good at reframing the ‘like’ in terms of appreciation. Appreciation encompasses the nuance and depth of reactions to the milestones on OwnTrail. It acknowledges the giving of insight and the receiving. It’s not binary, but an action that can (and should) build over time. And it made perfect sense that showing appreciation be our first engagement feature.

When you appreciate a trail, you are sending a private notification that you found value in the experience and insights that woman shared. You are letting her know, in a meaningful but non-intrusive way, that you see her. She receives an email, and when she views her trail, she can see the names of the women who appreciate her trail. Over time, this list grows as her micro act of mentorship — sharing her path through life on OwnTrail—allows her to reach more women than coffee meetings or formal mentorship programs. (These have value too! But they don’t scale infinitely, no matter how much we want them to.)

In the weeks since we’ve launched appreciation, it looks like we’re onto something. We’ve received feedback about the language itself and the departure from the winner-take-all model, but we’re also seeing women embrace appreciation as a way to interact — half of OwnTrail users who’ve appreciated trails so far are doing so for more than one, and the reciprocal nature of giving and receiving is leading them not just to appreciate each other on a 1:1 basis but as a mechanism to explore the trails of others.

All this has me feeling extraordinarily appreciative. By using this first interaction feature, our community is telling us what they value — and what they might not— so that we can build out the next round of features that serve them. (Spoiler: stay tuned for some cool things with intersectional filters!) They’re letting us know that they’re not in it for the ‘likes’ but for something more meaningful and authentic. That as we move beyond likes, we can (and should) build this new, meaningful kind of interaction together.

That’s the kind of company we wanted to build with OwnTrail. And I appreciate that we’re doing just that, with you.



Kt McBratney
OwnTrail Blog

co-founder & chief brand officer @OwnTrail. aspiring jungle cruise skipper. @k_to_the_t.