LISBON—Code and Theory founder Dan Gardner and Social Media Week founder and chair Toby Daniels, a former Adweek employee, are launching a media company with 28 other founders next year called ON_Discourse.
Together, the founders make up a decentralized autonomous organization, called a DAO. DAOs have no central authority and, as a result, ON_Discourse members all have a stake in the company. Over the last year, the DAO met to discuss and debate emerging technologies’ impact on business. The group hatched a plan to launch ON_Discourse and publish curated, opinionated content for technology-focused business leaders.
The founders predict that readers will value peer-authored insights written to help technologists navigate the complex choices they need to make as emerging tech concepts like Web3 continue to capture the tech industry’s attention. These articles may have headlines such as “Why is no one asking, ‘why blockchain?’” and “Do DAOs suck?”
“The point of those examples is to show that it’s a challenge to the norm of what is being discussed. And the reason we’re able to get these types of topics [is] because we’re in it, building these businesses,” Gardner told Adweek.
At Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, Gardner announced the news on the PandaConf stage, where marketers coalesce to watch programming centered around advertising, marketing and its intersection with tech. Gardner believes the publication will fill the role of the all-but-extinct town square. Social media platforms like Twitter, which are theoretically designed to enable discourse, are criticized for stirring up conflict and often referred to as “echo chambers.”
Don’t expect coverage on the ‘next shiny object’
The new publisher wants to help its future readers understand technology’s risks and opportunities. It’s not a news platform, per se, and wants to focus on demystifying complex concepts for readers and offering insights that will influence business decisions.
Current ON_Discourse members hail from varied backgrounds and include DeShone Kizer, former NFL quarterback and founder of One of None, Raashi Rosenberger, head of brand at Meta Quest (formerly Oculus), and Matthew Sweezey, co-founder of Web3 Labs at Salesforce.
Discourse can “broaden perspective, because you’re actually challenging ideas,” Gardner said. “And it can really bring people together.” It flourishes in business environments, said the leader, noting the media landscape fails to reflect that and has become too friendly and palatable. Gardner fears that people automatically view authors—whether they be journalists, bylined executives or anyone else with a platform—”experts” in diagnosing technology trends despite most having no or limited business leadership experience.
Daniels feels similarly.
“Much of the content that’s out there is either written in a way that is designed to promote the next shiny object in technology, or written by people who have not got the decades of experience in building businesses that we think is necessary to be able to put out deep perspectives on really important topics,” Daniels told Adweek.
A membership-driven model that doesn’t yearn for clicks
The publication will not gate its content and will instead derive its revenue from members, who pay for the opportunity to engage in, well, discourse.
“We’re intentionally an incredibly small and highly curated group of people,” Daniels told Adweek.
Daniels declined to disclose membership costs, but confirmed there will be membership tiers that offer different benefits. Prospective members can apply to join when applications become available later this month. For now, founders urge them to sign up for its Daily Discourse newsletter to receive updates on when its membership waitlist will open up.
This isn’t to say that ON_Discourse will eschew digital advertising. It won’t. But it’s not necessarily chasing ad dollars. Instead, it’s focused on adding members that it can engage in conversation. Members will either write, or work with ghostwriters to write, the ON_Discourse content. Those members stand to benefit if ON_Discourse becomes a thought leadership conduit that can elevate their perspectives and expertise while veering far away from publishing the so-called “marketing speak” that fatigues readers.
“We don’t want to chase ‘eyeballs,’” Gardner told Adweek. “We want to chase ‘meaningful’ eyeballs.”