0.0 Context Setting
Oh my stars and garters it’s Thursday 21 April, 2022 and it’s sunny and bright outside, I can hear the birds signing and if I opened the window and held out my hand I bet one would fly over and eat out of my hand. I could even burst into song it’s that nice outside.
A brief Wired-style colophon:
Drinking: tea, in a gorgeous red mug received as a surprise present from tinyletter many years ago
Listening to: my morning pick-me-up, Carly Rae Jepsen on a stereo pair of Homepods Mini with which there is a terrible software experience on macOS
Things That Caught My Attention, Volume 1 is out now! Subscribers get 20% off. If you like this, you’ll like that, and Erika Hall has done just enough research to say that if you like good writing, you’ll like it.
Paid supporters get a free copy, which is excellent value for money. If you haven’t gotten yours, then drop me a line and I’ll make sure you’re sorted out.
1.0 Some Things That Caught My Attention
Metalabels, or: Geocities Brands
Yesterday I went to Near Future Lab’s General Seminar 20 on metalabels. I love going to these because they’re about 90 minutes of brain exploding and thinking-out-loud with interesting people and I always end up wanting to stay longer, the equivalent of lingering around in the hallway after a really good conference session with old and new people.
Anyway, here’s what the General Seminar writeup had to say:
Metalabels are groups of people working under a common identity for a common purpose with a focus on releases — distinct public works that communicate and manifest their goals. Indie record labels, the Whole Earth Catalog, A24, and MSCHF are all examples of metalabels.
The last one I went to was on Design Fiction, the general schtick is that Julian gives the attendees a brief and then we shuffle off to our assigned Zoom Rooms and then go think about it for a bit.
Yesterday I was paired up with M. Camille MacRae for the first time and it was super fun. Camille was helpfully on the optimistic future side while I found it too easy to do my usual thing of What If Now, But It’s The Future And Dystopic.
Here are some somewhat organized in my head at least thoughts that caught my attention about Metalabels!
- Yeah yeah, Metalabels are all about the vibe which frees them up from being product focussed (a la CASPER, THE MATTRESS STARTUP COMPANY or WARBY PARKER THE EYEGLASSES STARTUP COMPANY or THAT STARTUP COMPANY THAT DOES LUGGAGE BUT)
- Most Metalabels are in my head on the fuck-around-and-find-out end of the spectrum, and then there’s a bunch of others like MSCHF, which got a bunch of funding and appears to be relatively well capitalized.
- What does a “company” or metalabel on the fuck-around-and-find-out spectrum look like? Well it’s a bit like defining metalabels in what they aren’t: they don’t have HR departments. They don’t have accounts receivable. They definitely don’t have Proper Lawyers, especially if they’re not Well Capitalized.
- What do they have, if they don’t have those things? They use a bunch of APIs, so it’s the same old story of “internet lets more people fuck around and find out than ever before”, so they use Stripe and insert-startup-du-jour that makes it easy to put your brand – your metalabel – on OEM, own-brand, white-labeled atoms, whether that’s sunscreen or burgers-and-burger-vibe-things. So you can boringly describe them as Virtual Brands that do dropshiping or are likely to hold no inventory, are on-demand and a bit like fast fashion but not quite.
- I really loved a thing Camille realized. That – maybe in retrospect because metalabels have tended to be collectives – metalabels tend to be faceless and are definitely more about the vibe (sorry, that word’s going to come up a lot) and Definitely Not about a personality. Which made me wonder if they’re a reaction to Peak Influencer.
- Also, fuck around and find out as a creative/business/hustle outlet for things that are fun? Sure, I mean why not? Have you looked outside lately? World’s a bit shit.
- They’re ephemeral. Again, at least, this is the vibe (sigh) that I get, that they’re not intended really to turn into large businesses that scale? They’re mostly (long-tailish?) on the fun-fuck-around end of the spectrum, which means getting too big kills the fun vibe. It’s totally fine for them to be a thing, go viral, spread, and then burn out. That’s what viruses do. Brand viruses?
- In group discussion someone asked (reasonably!) what the deal with vibes were and the answer was pretty much a wide/aggregate consciousness, which ends up being the zeitgeist. No I am not going to link easily to That Vibe Essay. But then, is this whole vibe thing different from the zeitgeist? I mean, kind of? It’s internet-disrupted-zeitgeist, which means things like faster, more democratic, more bottom-up and most crucially I think shattered. Sure, a handwaves more general abstract vibe zeitgeist can emerge from the aggregate of Many Vibes, then.
- Sure there’s probably money in metalabels but if you’re eg a16z then there’s always more money in being the middle layer: the API for example that metalabels use to Get Things Done. So this looks like Stripe, this looks like The Best Logistics For Most Metalabels Is, The Best Discord Plugins For Most Metalabels Are, The Best Hacker News Microstartup Designed For Acquisition That Does A Tiny SaaS For Metalabels Is, etc. etc.
- And if you go down that route, there’ll be something like Adobe For Metalabels in the way that Adobe put together stuff and products for Influencers to use.
- Oh, re influencers: “if you see a ringlight, then it’s not a metalabel”
- Some other phrases that popped into my head during the seminar: “the viral video fracking pipeline from tiktok to metalabel” and associated outfits/consultancies that report on candidates for Established Institutional Companies to turn into their own in-house metalabels, “outputs are small, influence is large”
- Oh and my favorite “Geocities Brands” because oh my gosh the whole um vibe of group geocities websites turning into brands that do/sell Stuff
- “mystery box brands” not in the sense of companies that send you escape rooms/mysteries in the mail or even ones that send you curated surprises where you don’t know what you’re getting, but brands with drama built-in. And if there are characters (remember: one characteristic/axis of metalabelness might be an identifiable real world person as a face/focus), then they’re fictional or constructs. Max Headroom as proto-metalabel?
- A question of mine: if The Met or SF Moma or The Tate decided to do “a metalabel but for an art gallery” then what would it look like?
- And lastly, reporting on something that came out of the group: an evolution from private companies to B-Corps for public benefit and then *C-Corps for Cultural Benefit” which just instantly sets off my “oh, you mean a bit like the BBC and how it’s being intentionally destroyed in the UK? Like That?”
That was Many Thoughts On Metalabels and Vibes.
Old Mode, or Dark Mode But For Old People
I gave in and upped the font size on Mail.app on my Mac because I’m now not too precious to admit that I need to be able to read things. Which got me thinking: if we’ve got Dark Mode, then what does Old Mode for Internet Olds look like?
Potential Old Modes:
- text-only sports websites because Old Internet People remember when stuff loaded quickly and was just text and then evergreen example text.npr.org
- Make This Like A Chronological Feed For Me Mode for Old Internets who keep going on about some “Google Reader” and “RSS” and can’t handle intrinsically algorithmic/recommendation-powered feeds like TikTok
- So, you know, not just skins that make things look old, but skins that are interfaces on top of modern services that behave in certain kinds of old. Or interface aesthetics that work for Old People.
Just stuck in my head in the background now. Something interesting will probably pop out.
You all probably have ideas, too.
2.0 A New Irregular Bit: Interesting People
Hey, so you’re all really interesting and diverse people who do stupendously different work and care about stupendously different things. And I like connecting people! And I had an idea based on a friend reaching out to me.
2.1 Looking for group
Are you looking for a futures/foresight/professional or someone who’s got subject matter experience in futures, consumer and product trends, with experience leading year-long and short-term projects?
I have a reader looking for their Next Thing!
Just hit reply if you’re interested or you know someone interested and have some details and I can do some connecting.
And if you’re also looking for a Next Thing, also drop me a line and I’ll see how much of an irregular thing this turns into.
2.2 The… opposite of looking for group?
Are you looking for someone for a thing? What kind of person are you looking for?
You can also let me know by just shooting over a quick reply!
And, I don’t know, send me a picture of your dog or pet or other animal that activates the human nurturing/caring response.
Okay, this was longer than usual because it turns out I had A LOT OF THOUGHTS about metalabels, which was funny because I thought I didn’t like them.
I got two dogs and a rat yesterday and they were both GOOD DOGS and GOOD RAT.
How are you doing?