by Kavir Kaycee
Product Manager, Writer, and No-code Maker
May 1, 2021
How Polywork allows multifaceted creators and technologists to dive headfirst into the cooperation economy, and build value through connection, collaboration and monetization.
I have always identified as a generalist, and my career choices to date reflect that: first business school, which is a generalist course, then product management, a generalist role which comprises a bunch of skills in which you're proficient enough.
This need to be multi-hyphenated comes from my experience as a failed founder.
In 2019, I attached all my self-worth to being a founder, which meant if the company didn’t do well, I felt I personally didn’t do well. Through that, I had a realization that I needed to diversify my self-worth—not keep it in just one job, identity or relationship.
This feeling accelerated during the pandemic when things became fragile. If you lost your job and you didn’t have a backup, you had to job hunt in a tough market. My intention was to become anti-fragile by creating on the internet.
Polywork, a new professional social media network recently invested in by a16z, lends space to these ideas. People aren't uni-dimensional anymore. They write, host podcasts and Clubhouse rooms, invest in companies, advise others, and generally engage in many projects that paint a better picture of their full selves.
The platform allows you to show your work more than your designation, create identity blocks and collaborate with other creative people.
But before we get into what Polywork is, let's understand social in 2021.
Social is dead, long live social
The landscape for social has evolved since the days of Web 2.0, as evidenced by the image below. But for the sake of time, let's narrow this discussion to just professional social media networks.
LinkedIn continues to be at the top—but is slowly losing relevance and credibility, especially among startup people and creators.
On LinkedIn, you will mostly find copied content, banal comments and concocted stories. Under the pretense of automation and efficiency, the platform has lost its soul through a series of "Congratulations on the new job!" comments and automated LinkedIn Inmail outreach.
LinkedIn was also built for a different time. It was meant to be the Online Resume where your designation and company mattered more than the work you did. It was built before the creator economy, when people’s professional lives were unidimensional.
Then there are vertical communities catering to different roles. Dribbble and Behance for designers, Github and Stack Overflow for developers, and Product Hunt and Indie Hackers for indie markers/product people.
Twitter is the only other horizontal play to LinkedIn, and it caters to a more tech startup/creator economy audience. However, on Twitter, you have to dodge the landmines of polarization that are news, politics and sports.
A gap exists for a platform that offers all kinds of creative people a place to showcase their work. The magic lies when these creatives cross collaborate.
And if you thought social was done, a16z has a counter take to it. We've seen it with the rise of social apps like TikTok, Clubhouse and Discord that have become massive in the last few years.
With this backdrop established, let's get into what Polywork is.
What is Polywork?
Polywork is a fresh take on a professional network. Think of it as a personal website that's connected to a network of personal websites.
The first thing that stands out for me is the fun, playful and futuristic design theme. It’s a delightful deviation from the dull interfaces we’re used to.
With Polywork, you can fill out your profile with badges, post highlights, rag them with activities and get discovered.
Let’s unpack what these features are, what design decisions stood out for me and how I am using the platform.
Profile and badges
You are guided during the onboarding to create your profile by friendly AI bots. You get options to add professional and personal badges that describe who you are and what you do, including fun badges like Memer, Dog Dad or Trekkie. These form “identity blocks”—meaningful ways you can describe yourself.
The badges explain the multi-hyphenated you. For example, I am a Product Manager, but I am also a Substack Writer, No-Code Maker, and so on.
You can fill out the positions you work at—but in stark contrast to LinkedIn, the focus is on the highlights you post on your timeline versus your job titles at a given company.
Highlights and activity tags
Once you're done with the onboarding, you can post things you've accomplished as Highlights and index them with activity tags. Each activity is linked to a badge. In the below example, I shared one of my Subsatack posts and tagged it with the activity "Published a Substack post," which is linked to my badge of being a Substack Writer. These activities are meant to signal and serve as proof of your work. It'll be interesting to see a Github-like representation of how often you've posted to keep the streak.
What’s notable is that Polywork doesn’t have any vanity metrics like "shares" and "likes," and doesn’t intend to. Research has shown that social media has a deleterious impact on our mental health and turns every post into a performative display (looking at you, Twitter and Instagram).
DMs are opt-in, which means that you need to accept the request from the sender. LinkedIn doesn’t do this well, with every message reaching the top of your inbox. Twitter does this better.
All these design decisions make it clear that it's not another Twitter or LinkedIn that’s performative. The real world value will come through connections, collaborations and monetization.
To achieve that discovery is key, and that’s where Space Station comes in.
Space Station is collaboration central. You get to select what kinds of collaboration you are open to. For example, I selected that I am open to contributing my writing, mentoring others, and collaborating on side projects. This is where you can monetize through collaborations, paid gigs and so on.
The more you post highlights and tag them with activities, you will be featured in relevant lists. Anecdotally, I have seen that if I publish more updates and tag them with activities, they show up in the lists. Once Polywork hits scale, the team will have to prevent people from gaming this system and posting just to get discovered in the featured lists.
Space Station ties in well and support the idea that we are living in the Cooperation Economy. Packy McCormick, who writes Not Boring, explains the Cooperation Economy best, saying:
“It’s easier and smarter than ever for talented people to work together. Transaction costs are decreasing. As the atomic unit of commerce gets smaller, there is more surface area for cooperation, more room for more people to pursue the same opportunity as a group. Individuals can cooperate with each other with much less friction than companies can.”
This rings true for modern professionals who work in startups or create on the internet. Polywork aims to bring this together.
So far I have been approached by three people through Polywork—one from Polywork for this post, one for a sponsorship spot for my newsletter and another for a collaboration. Once strong network effects kick in for Polywork, I can see a collaboration boom.
How does Polywork aim to make discovery easier? I asked Peter Johnston, the founder of Polywork about this:
"The more the AI bot gets to know you, it will surface relevant notifications to you on potential opportunities it thinks are a great match, like sending you a text saying ‘I think you’d be great for this speaking gig, wanna accept?'"
Challenges and the future
The main challenge that Polywork faces is to get people coming back. The feed in legacy social media networks brings users back. But I don’t find myself scrolling through the Polywork feed the same way, which has been validated by a few non-creator friends that I have spoken to. They like the concept of a profile timeline, but without any activity, it is hard to keep coming back.
Network effects, the AI bot sending you notifications, and the first connection can be strong functions to make this the network to build your internet home on.
It’s still early days for Polywork. Peter explained their vision of the future:
"Democratization of opportunities to connect to people and opportunities. No gatekeepers, no friction. Just a platform with a level playing field that can help people connect to the kind of opportunities they want to, not the ones they have to.
While previous social media networks were built for the attention economy, new social media networks like Polywork are built for the creator and cooperation economy. With decreasing transaction costs and more virtual trust, Polywork could be the new place to meet people and do work together.
Want to check out Polywork? You can use this link to skip their waitlist