4 trends from 2020 that explain why Pubray was founded
Bringing a new publishing platform to life is a serious endevour. Here are top signs from across the last year that have pushed me into making Pubray a reality and served to justify this ambitious mission.
Disclaimer: It’s vital for me to paint a reliable image of the foundation that we’re building on, so I’ll do my best to connect the dots with a solid amount of links to sources.
1. Rise of “no code” and superpower tools
We always strive to do more with less and, with more pressure than ever in 2020, the tech industry has surely delivered.
“No code” solutions constantly move the line of what’s possible without any coding. Tasks that have historically required months of training now can be done in purely visual manner, sometimes in a matter of days.
For online publishing, “no code” means:
- visual content editor (a.k.a. WYSIWYG) instead of writing HTML
- visual color picking instead of learning what RGB or HEX is
- built-in theme(s) instead of writing custom CSS
- built-in analytics instead of copy-pasting tracking scripts
But “no code” is just an instance of a larger movement — the rise of superpower tech, i.e. tools that give creatives and knowledge workers “superpowers”. This means:
- individuals doing things they couldn’t do before (on their own)
- teams tightening their feedback loops with fewer handoffs
- workflows getting automated
On top of that, a specific genre of superpower tools was born, with following traits:
- minimalist, beautiful design with well-polished dark mode
- opinionated, efficient workflow enhanced with keyboard shortcuts
- often built as modern alternative to a big legacy product
While these trends were developing for years, 2020 was a breakthrough year — a true eye-opener with many superpower tools getting wide attention and getting funded (like crazy).
Pubray has all of these “no code” and superpower goals imprinted deep in its DNA. It’s an enabler for individuals that may join for free with one click, publish a beautiful blog or website in their native language and even start earning with just a few more. Visual editor, image search and color picker invite creators without coding skills. Opinionated, minimalist, dark mode-enabled design and built-in stats boost efficiency without treating readers wrong. Teams, automations and editor shortcuts chase after efficient day-to-day collaboration and workflows.
Looks like we’ve checked all the above criteria 🚀. Ahh, there’s one more — so is Pubray a replacement to a specific legacy giant? It’s rather an opinionated mix of many — Wordpress, Ghost or Medium to name a few.
2. Downfall of ads, tracking and “free” internet
Social platforms were never associated with care for privacy. For years, we read disturbing news about aggresive tracking and personal data trade. For years, many were explaining what terrifying power these companies and their best bidders have over all of us. And for years, nothing changed. We were just fine selling our lives, reducing bloat with AdBlock and considering internet “free”.
But 2020 brought a turnaround. Following their previous iOS update that made blocking ads easier, Apple announced upcoming iOS restrictions over tracking users without their consent. This made Facebook, the biggest “victim”, respond with a “truly sincere” concern about wellness of human race with a choice given not to be tracked.
The benefit from that discussion was that it attracted lots of attention to the arrogance of platforms that we’re trusting with our lives. The outcome? Changes are coming, trend is already set and Facebook (along with ad industry) will have to deal with it (assuming they can’t reform). Internet users, especially the raising generation, are getting more self-aware and for sure they’re sick of tracking and ads. Especially after 2020 which made chaos-free information exchange so important and which has raised so many concerns about tracking people.
As awareness grows and as operating systems & browsers evolve, a diversity of new products appear to offer a privacy-aware alternative:
- e-mail services like Hey
- website analytics like Plausible (and many others)
- plug-in components like Commento
Still, the world is yet to see a platform that could build a new social contract between people and tech. This is where Pubray comes in. Our goal is to provide a platform that says many no’s for every yes, for the sake users. That’s why we don’t and won’t ever do ads or tracking.
3. Clickbait & curation — issue and opportunity
2020 brought us another US election that covered social platforms & their owners in controversy around their bias for candidates that play best with their interests and around their impact & control over this world-changing event. Many questions were raised about the ownership, boundaries and responsibility of content curation.
I could observe lots of stories in my Medium digests from across 2020 that have followed the same pattern. Interesting, considering that I’ve never subscribed to or even visited any political publications or stories. As much as I love Medium for delivering lots of quality content without pushing ads on me, they themselves admit that the amount of clickbait and amount of stories outside of user’s interests has gone too high. Of course we’ll never know if they’ve taken sides during the election.
Also, as a highly networked professional I couldn’t pass over how LinkedIn evolves in similar direction — ignoring the chance to accomodate pros that write blogs, pushing long-form content away from feeds and focusing on short-form updates only. A food, but not for thought.
So is there any escape from algorithms, manipulation, one-liners and clickbait? Well, it’s a subject of intense debates and, as ideas emerge, following themes seem to repeat:
And that’s what Pubray aims to achieve — to be an alternative, well-networked place for ambitious creators that may go beyond just one-liners. One that puts content curation in the hands of users (that may then earn from it too) in order not to play politics or take sides. One that doesn’t trade personal data or serve ads based on that data (or at all).
4. Struggles and changes on Medium
I’ve briefly mentioned Medium in the previous section, but its case is more complex and very much related to Pubray so I’ll cover it in detail. And 2020 was a busy, almost revolutionary year for them.
Medium’s noble quest since 2012 was to provide a platform that offers ease & connectivity of social network, yet values ideas and thoughts — a quality content written by competent authors. They came out to creators allowing to write for free with a minimalist editor experience and an earning model based on reader subscriptions, with a cut for writers based on reading time (at least now). For readers they strived to provide ad-free experience (although with a twist in 2015 later un-twisted in 2017).
This seemingly well balanced offering for both sides — backed by strong in-house content curation — resulted in building a healthy writer community chasing after a massive reader base.
But it wasn’t all perfect. General issues were (among others):
- no stability over core values proven by adding and undoing ads
- lock in without custom domains or access to subscriber emails
- promoting content that clicks best instead of subscribed authors
- weak author branding with stock profiles and weak cross-linking
- key web features missing from mobile app or reverse
And a separate bunch of problems related to earning:
- unstable model with rapidly changing criteria
- promotion only of content put by author behind paywall
- restrictions over alternatives (direct funding, sponsorship…)
- subjective content curation that affects earning
- limitation to selected countries
For years Medium was aware of these issues (most of the links above are Medium stories 🙂), and so were their competitors.
Still, I was truly surprised in 2020 to see them do what many tech giants can’t — reflect with an actual attempt to change. Guess what, now Medium prefers quality over clickbait, puts emphasis on stronger branding and “even” allows to export subscriber emails.
My stun was even bigger considering that at the same time Pubray was already in development not just sharing many of Medium’s values (minimalist, ad-free, balanced between needs of creators and readers) but also with choices made to solve their long-standing issues (subscribed content instead of clickbait, stronger author branding, no lock-in).
So did the Medium’s “strike back” complicate things for Pubray? No, because we go our own way with tons of much needed changes like earning freedom, community curation or unified web & mobile experience.
We also beg to differ on some of their recent choices, for instance:
- sidebar comments experience (with horrible nav between responses)
- creator’s ability to pick (often inaccessible) background colors
- followership counts in headers (go viral to join the cool club)
And as the past has shown, one can never be sure what “groundbreaking” path will Medium go tomorrow and how long will the positive wave last — they’ve already rolled back custom domains in the past and those invasive “open in app” popups were supposed to be gone yet I see them again…
Most importantly, our vision got confirmed. After all, if Medium makes such a drastic turn into “our” direction with all the brain power that they have, then we must be doing something right.
In the end, Medium has always seemed (and still does) to struggle between their core values and their specific business model (reader subs + partner program) which at the end of the day has to pay them off. I can’t blame them: Netflix approach is a promising (there will always be more readers than writers) and trending (look at Apple News, also in struggle btw) option. But if it goes in the way of their mission, is there a better way? Pubray’s here to prove yes.
I could easily extend this article with many more relevant observations:
- users don’t want to install more AppStore apps so hiding content behind them + making creators pay % to Apple/Google + fracturing web vs mobile experience may… not be the best idea
- dark mode has conquered the world of desktop and mobile apps — people love it, it’s a game changer for comfort and accessibility, but… on the web it’s still, well, in the dark
- it’s 2021 yet I see so many blogs and websites online that host great content posted by smart authors yet they’re confusing, ugly or half-baked (mostly built with Blogspot and static builders)
…and so on. But I’m sure you can already feel the driving force that has pushed me to build a new, different online publishing solution. One that starts fresh to meet the evolving needs of online audiences on a level deeper than just marketing schemes and performance charts. And — which is a leading theme of my entire career — one that brings technology closer to people.
My hope is that after crazy 2020 that has changed the world forever, Pubray will contribute in 2021 to building better online universe by helping everyone appear and earn on the web. And not just reaching readers, but doing it the right way.