Thoughts on Are.na in 2022
I love Are.na and think the world of the team behind it. I apologize if this feedback is too critical or not useful. I wanted to share my raw thoughts on how I use Are.na with the hope that it will be useful to any ongoing dialogues on these topics.
What I See & How I Use It
I think of Are.na as a social version of a file system. Channels are folders and blocks are files and everything is stored on a big public computer.
In the day-to-day, I use Are.na as a bookmarking tool. I wish I did more connecting but I rarely use that feature all that much.
Occasionally, I'll search Are.na to find resources such as spreadsheets or PDFs. I think this is where the community is important - I know Are.na's community is somewhat small and art focused/adjacent so the resources I find are often useful to what I do.
It took me a while to understand how this tool worked but once it clicked I was locked into Are.na's subscription model. I think this tool should be front and center and super easy to access and understand for new users. I have a feeling that it might be one of the best ways of converting users into paid subscribers.
I've heard that people really enjoy Are.na's community but I'm not really sure what this means other than the Are.na NYC community events, the blog, and the type of content that you come across on Are.na. I feel like it's rather hard to meet people on Are.na or explore the user base. I think one simple solution would be adding a directory/rolodex of everyone on Are.na. Maybe this is not the point of Are.na but I do think it would help create more of a sense of community across the site.
Are.na's user profiles could also feel a bit more personal to create a better sense of community. Right now the only personalization that users are given is in the avatar and "about" field. Every profile feels almost identical to every other profile on the site. Maybe users should be able to pin some of your favorite channels or blocks at the top of your profile. The profile could also be a good place to display recent comments, links, friends, and other social activity.
Organization & Structure
I wish there was more of a hierarchy to how information is displayed/sorted across Are.na. I remember hearing about the idea of "super channels" and I think this could be a great solution to the duplicate channel issue. It could also be cool if there was some sort of curatorial layer on top of Are.na. Maybe this is something that the Are.na coop could collectively run. Certain users would be given permissions to create & sort channels into these super channels. I think this could also possibly improve the search experience. Giving users ownership of parts of the system would not only make Are.na more valuable as a product but also create a better sense of community.
I love the open air feeling of the design but I question if this design system is helpful across every page. Maybe profiles could have a specific design and search a more a compact look? I also think custom viewing modes could be useful. I'm excited about table view but what about really specific customizations like a slider to change the size of blocks in a channel similar to the file browser on a PC. The current uniformity (lots of white space) makes the UI feel slow in many places even where it is actually not. The design could feel more like a playground where parts of the architecture make you slow down while others (say a slide) move you along quickly.
I wish there was a native Are.na app for desktop. I actually rarely use the mobile app. Are.na feels more like a utility so I prefer to use it on a big screen. It would be nice if it lived in my dock and was one click away.
I hope that this feedback is useful is some way. Let me know if you have any questions about anything here.Wind over water,