A More Thoughtful Web?
A model of civil discourse: Hubski.com
In an Internet where conversation means cheap jokes, trashy entertainment, and serial rants, what in the web is hubski.com??
"It's a safe place on the Internet to have thoughtful conversations with civil people," says cofounder Steven Clausnitzer. "With so many Internet discussion groups what you get is a lot of vitriol. Life is who you surround yourself with, and if you go to nefarious sites, you'll think the world is comprised of nefarious people. You've got to find your place."
Clausnitzer and cofounder Mark Katakowski hope to make Ann Arbor-based Hubski that place. "It's our effort to bring intelligent discussion to the web," says Katakowski.
Perhaps the best-known attempt at intelligent conversation online is reddit.com, a social news and entertainment site where users submit content for others to comment on. Katakowski calls Hubski "a marriage of Reddit and Twitter. Reddit is a community of topic-oriented forums, and Twitter is a one-to-many message platform. With Hubski, you have a feed based on who you're subscribing to, and you build your own experience by who you're following and what you're commenting on and sharing."
A side-by-side comparison suggests Hubski's got the edge on intelligence over Reddit. Under Reddit's topic "What do you live for?" dogfapper writes "I wanna see breaking bad through till the end" and yangx comments "Oh shit what if I die before." Under Hubski's topic "What are you doing with your life, why, and how do you feel about it?" Isla_es writes: "I've finally reached a point in my life where I feel like I know who I am, what I want, and what I'm willing to do and sacrifice to get there. What I didn't expect, though, was this weird feeling that a clock is ticking somewhere."
Katakowski, thirty-nine, has a PhD in medical physics; his day job is doing brain tumor research at Henry Ford Hospital. "I started Hubski in the fall of 2010 as a way to teach myself programming," he explains. He
made the name from his last name and "'Hub," for the hub of information he hoped to create. "It was me alone for half a year, and then I met Steve through his wife. Steve doesn't know code. He's a people person, which is important when you're trying to build a community."
Clausnitzer, thirty-seven, has a degree in business management and does sales and marketing for a Fortune 50 company. "Mark asked me to check it out," he recalls. "At first I was reticent, but it's like hanging out with interesting people, and it's become a huge part of our lives. My role so far has largely been interacting with people as a community manager. As Hubski grows, I'll take on more of the business aspects."
"Now there're also Ben Buller, whose role is similar to Steve's," Katakowski adds, "and Kartik Agaram. Hubski is written in a lesser-known programming language called Arc, which is a subdialect of Lisp, and Kartik is my Arc sensei."
"When I started, Mark had maybe 500 users," says Clausnitzer. "We [now] get a thousand people a day, and our people tend to stay on longer, up to eight minutes per user. That's an eternity on the web. We're growing exponentially, and we don't spend any money on advertising. It's all word of mouth."
Katakowski says Hubski has users from "all over: New Zealand, Australia, China, Brazil, and Canada, though 80 percent are from the U.S." Clausnitzer adds, "a lot are referrals, and a lot come from Reddit. A couple of months ago, one prominent Redditor left Reddit and came to Hubski, and a lot of people followed him over."
The site is cheap to produce. "It costs about fifty bucks a month because it's not a lot of bandwidth," says Katakowski. That's good, because so far, the founders haven't settled on a way to earn money from it.
"There're several possible models for us," Clausnitzer says. "The most obvious is the advertising model. We could have ads, plus users could pay a small amount like twelve dollars a year to never see the ads."
"I'm not crazy about ad-based revenue," Katakowski adds. "An alternative would be if you have a blog or content site, you could pay a subscription to post on Hubski. 'You want intelligent discussion? We've got a platform for that!'"
[Originally published in June, 2013.]