Like many software engineers and indie hackers, I dream of and experiment with different product ideas every now and then.
Five years ago, in 2018, I toyed with an idea where personas and expressions are the enablers for showcasing people’s talents and interests.
I called it, Persumi.
The original idea was to break the pattern of modern day social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, where every person is hidden behind a two-dimensional facade. Words and photos are often used to skew the way people see who we are.
After a while, everything becomes bland as information is being overloaded and people’s attention span starts to decrease drastically. The signal to noise ratio is so low that more and more algorithms and tracking are invented to help curate content so advertisers would keep spending their dime on those social media platforms.
It’s a vicious cycle. There is now even a term for it: enshittification.
Enshittification is when an online platform becomes more monetized and less user-oriented the longer it lasts.
With Persumi, personas and expressions are the key concepts to modernise content creation, curation and consumption in a simple yet meaningful way.
I set out a few goals for Persumi, in the hope to change the social media landscape for the better:
- Find ways to encourage the creation and consumption of long form content
- Make it easy for people to create vastly different topics without confusing their audiences
- Make it easy for people to follow different topics, rather than relying on following users
- Allow people to decorate their pages with their own personality and style via HTML + CSS, bring back MySpace!
- An API-driven, open marketplace that allows developers to build and extend advanced functionalities
Some example use cases outlined in my original “pitch deck”:
- social personas for friends, family, work…
- interest personas as a gamer, traveller, photographer…
- functional personas for travel plan, marketing campaign…
It kind of makes sense, but there is one problem.
The age-old “chicken-and-egg” problem of starting a platform that thrives on user-generated content - how do I get early-adopter users without a decent amount of users and content already?
These goals might be nice, but they probably aren’t enough to convince users to drop what they are used to for something experimental and without users or traction.
So I parked this idea…
Revisit the Problem
A few years have gone by, and with a whole pandemic thrown into the mix, this Persumi idea has all of a sudden awakened me yet again.
In early 2023, after wrapping up my last freelancing project I decided to tackle Persumi’s chicken-and-egg problem once more.
I reflected on how my own content consumption behaviour has changed over the past few years. Instead of reading physical books, e-books or blogs, I consume more and more podcasts and audio-books. Instead of consuming content fully concentrated, I often consume them while on the go or during my workouts.
Then a light bulb moment occurred - I don’t need to build a massive social network platform to compete with the likes of Twitter. I just need to build a “simple” blogging platform for my own use and my own content. If I find it useful, other people will find it useful too. It doesn’t need to go viral, it just needs to be steadly discovered by like-minded people who share my frustration and vision in content creation and consumption.
Iterate the Idea
With a few more years of experience of leading teams and building products under my belt, I thought about how to iterate on the original idea, and came up with three main “twists” if you will:
- Long form text content needs to be consumable in audio form, to suit the modern lifestyle
- An API-driven open marketplace is way too ambitious for a new platform, build the core concept first, then iterate
- An aura system that helps in both curating content as well as driving away bad actors
The rest of the original goals are still as relevant as before. In hindsight, these are pretty obvious product direction pivots, the result is an MVP that builds on a simple core concept - to turn long form text content into audio. And to make it easy to organically grow the platform and audience.
Build a Sustainable Business
With the chicken-and-egg problem behind me, it’s time for me to think about how to build a sustainable business to support my product ambition.
Interestingly, in Feb/March 2023, I was thinking about what the VC funding model did to the social media platforms we all love and hate, and why it’s a bad idea. The fact that then during the short few months of developing Persumi, both Twitter and Reddit seemed to be actively imploding themselves just proved my initial hypothesis:
To build a truly user-oriented platform, it needs to be built for users and content creators, rather than investors and advertisers.
That means, no obnoxious ads, no annoying pop ups, every visitor can view content without being forced to sign in, etc, etc… We do what VC-backed companies don’t.
If you’ve seen the landing page then you probably would have noticed a few things either available now or later to help create more value for users, such as:
- The hero feature - AI audio, will be a paid feature, however, every user will be able to listen to audio posts, as well as to preview their own content with audio
- Advanced expressions such as HTML and CSS for those who want to customise their pages to their own style
- Ad-revenue share and paid subscribers - coming later, to make Persumi a platform that shares its success with content creators
Keep on Building
The MVP was essentially built in three months in my spare time. It wasn’t easy juggling between having a day job as a CTO, and moonlighting on my side hustle every evening and weekend.
This is just the beginning. I have many things planned for Persumi, some of which are already mentioned on the landing page, but there are much more to come. Early alpha and beta users are also able to help shape what this platform can become.
In the next week or two I will write about how I managed to build Persumi in three months - the tech choices, architecture and feature prioritisation I went through to make this product a reality.
Like what you’ve read or listened to? Why not sign up and try the platform yourself, the Pro plan is free during the alpha and beta testing stages. Also check out Persumi’s founder @fredwu’s profile here to see what personas and expressions look like and can achieve.
Update: Read about How I Built a Mostly Feature-Complete MVP in 3 Months Whilst Working Full-Time, it covers the features, the tech stack, the global infrastructure and the machine learning…
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