Many of us know what it feels like to binge on social media. Delectable, at first, as you feed on that ever-replenishing fountain of images and “likes.” But take in too much, and you start feeling overwhelmed, disgusted, and even guilty (“Did I just spend that much time traveling down an Instagram vortex?”).
According to Are.na
, an online platform started by artists, however, social media shouldn’t have to feel like junk food. “We want to build a safe space that’s about learning and being interested,” Are.na’s co-founder Charles Broskoski tells me from his office in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. “It’s not about keeping up with a never-ending, real-time feed.”
Are.na officially launched in 2015, the brainchild of Broskoski, who is an artist and developer, along with artists John Michael Boling, Dena Yago, and Damon Zucconi, and tech entrepreneur J. Stuart Moore. Since then, it has grown slowly but steadily, with a small investment in 2017 that’s boosted its development. Currently, Broskoski, Zucconi, Daniel Pianetti, Chris Sherron, and Chris Barley make up the team. (Full disclosure: Broskoski and Zucconi previously worked at Artsy.)
At its core, Are.na is a platform that allows its users to collect, curate, and share images or information that intrigue them. There are no ads or “likes” on the site—elements that Broskoski says encourage content (like selfies) that feed into people’s “insecurities and susceptibility to FOMO.” You won’t find never-ending streams of images, either, which can be distracting and “encourage passive consumption,” he continues.
In this way, Are.na bills itself as a healthy, creativity-boosting alternative to more traditional outlets like Facebook and Instagram. Are.na’s users have affectionately described
it as “social media for people who dislike social media,” “social media that doesn’t damage your brain,” or, my personal favorite, “Pinterest for nerds.”
Currently, Are.na’s some 33,000 users are mostly creatives—artists, designers, architects, and art directors—who mine inspiration from the internet. Artists like
are members, and use the site to gather fodder for future projects. Users also include the employees of advertising, strategy, and branding firms, like K-Hole and Consortia (whose founder, Chris Barley, recently invested in Are.na). Broskoski notes that companies like these organize research and build ideas for client pitches on Are.na.
The site’s basic building block is a “channel,” an optimized folder that hosts various types of media, including photos, articles, text, gifs, videos, and pdfs. Files and links can be dragged into a channel and annotated with notes (i.e. where you found it, why it’s interesting to you).
For Are.na’s members, channels act like a mood boards or, as one user described
, “playlists, but for ideas.” They use them to track themes in art and culture, visualize nascent concepts, or evolve more developed projects. Users have authored channels like “Club Architecture
,” or “Chess Motifs in Art
” and filled them with a wide array of compelling, and at times, delightfully weird content.