Full stack writing (and publishing): Welcome to Hi
March 25th, 2014, 3pm in Tokyo, Japan
We'd like to welcome you to Hi: A community of writers, journalists, journalers, illustrators, photographers, travelers, poets, and musicians exploring the world, and sharing those explorations through images and text.
Hi has been in private beta for the last eight months, but today we're opening to all. We'd love for you to join:
What is Hi?
Hi is a writing platform with each piece begining on your smartphone. We illustrate it thusly:
Hi is what we call a "full stack"1 writing and publishing platform. Just what is a writing stack? Capture. Write. Publish. is our summary of it, but really it breaks down into five parts:
- Sudden inspiration!
Some platforms provide tools for parts of the stack.
Hi gives you tools for the full stack.
All the pancakes.
All the pancakes
What advantages come from having all of your pancakes in one place? The biggest advantage is that it's easy to weave community into each stage of the writing process. This creates a unique intimacy with an audience. It also makes building an audience feel accessible. In fact, writing on Hi feels less like using a set of tools and more like having an increasingly deepening, extended conversation.
In service to this, much of the work we've done these past eight months has been explicitly focused on community building. For example, we have a Welcome Committee at Hi. (Of course, please join if you feel so inclined.) And all conversations for each Hi member are consolidated under a single stream called, unsurprisingly, Conversations.
As you post sketches (our term for short snippets that then turn into longer stories), our community gently prods you to Tell them more. And as you publish finished stories, our community responds with a chorus of Thanks. It may not sound like much, but those two, simple actions create a powerful feedback loop predicated on guidance and optimism.
Behind the Photo on Hi
Taj Mahal sunrise, 12-hour round-trip journeyby Dan Rubin in Gurgaon, India
Sense and sense making
Another advantage of having all your pancakes one place is that as a moment moves from sketch to published story, the address (its URL) stays the same. Sketches and stories intermingle. We like to describe sketches as sensing and the full stories as sense making. On Hi, the sense and sense making happen in parallel.
Which points to another key attribute of Hi: Real-time. Because Hi and our community encourages lots of sketching, we've made sure Hi works where inspiration hits — on mobile platforms.2 Location is an integral part of any Hi moment.
What happens when you give a community real-time and mobile friendly tools? They "narratively map the world."
Thomas Clark in his epic travel poem, In Praise of Walking, describes variously the traversed routes of the world:
Always, everywhere, people have walked, veining the earth with paths, visible and invisible, symmetrical and meandering.
Give folks the proper tools and those veined paths — both as etched into the earth and into our minds — suddenly become more concrete, real, with each sketch or story on Hi existing as a marker in time and place.
Finally, Hi acts — prosaically yet powerfully — as a mailing list. Readers who have asked a writer to "Tell me more" are notified by email when the writer has, indeed, written more. And a writer's subscribers will similarly get an email when they publish a new story.
In other words: the full stack writing experience on Hi is, at its core, an interlocking set of feedback loops built atop our great community.
For example, when poet Lia Pas sketches about a new iPad, we want her to Tell us more, and so she does:
Or when Luis sketched rather cryptically about a graveyard in Tokyo … he told us more and it was a doozie:
holy places, past lives
"And the legend says you shall come back where you once were born. Or there where you once died."by Luis Mendo in Tokyo, Japan
Writing and rewriting
Does this full stack of publishing pancakes work for all types of writing? Of course not. Certain writing doesn't benefit from an everything-public, community-everywhere stack like that of Hi. In fact, certain writing can only be accomplished off the stack. Which is to say there is a meditative quality that presents itself when you move away from an environment like ours.3
But! Many types of writing benefit from, and thrive, within Hi's full stack.
Travel writing — writing with location at its core — obviously feels at home on this full stack. Real-time, iterative journalism (the covering of protests, emerging and evolving stories, etc) benefits from full stack tools wrapped in community.4 Journaling or chronicling feels particularly comfy on this full stack.
Behind the Trip on Hi
travel, street art
The graffiti in Reykjavik is subtly different than from elsewhereby Colin Wright in Reykjavik, Iceland
Uniquely, writing almost has to happen in stages. An instagram photo may be finished as soon as its taken, and a sketch on Hi might be worked out the instant it's posted, but, a longer story? That (usually) needs much more time. E. B. White is famously quoted, "Writing is rewriting." If you're looking for thoughtfulness, a piece of writing needs multiple passes. 5
Which is why we've deliberately embedded enclaves of calm into our stack. The capture process happens with whatever device you have in hand, as soon as inspiration hits. But the followup or drafting or sense making — the more meditative processes of rewriting — can happen either on that same device, a tablet, or on the desktop. And it can happen minutes, days, or months later.
Which is to say that life happens in real-time but thoughtfulness happens in slow-motion, requiring appropriate time and distance from an event, an insight, a moment. The tools of any full stack writing platform should understand, respond to, and respect that.
Hi is a community. A community both narratively mapping the world, and making sense of their everyday lives, their loves, fears, joys, insights — all as connected to place and bound together by topic.
We've had a blast these past eight months working on Hi, straightening out the kinks, tightening the feedback loops, making the community feel stronger and more easily connected to one another. Hi is still not perfect, and it's not for every kind of writer, but if sounds interesting to you, we'd love for you to join us at the table. There's pancakes aplenty.
I'm publishing this from my account but really this essay was born in equal part from ideas and suspicious questioning by Chris, Cassie, Amal, Alban, Christine, Nicole and Max, Peter, and many others, a list too large to fit into the margins of this page.
This was written in a number of cafés around Tokyo, in airplanes on the way to and from San Francisco, and in San Francisco, too. But it was mostly written, discussed, and prodded at Anjin Café atop Tsutaya at T-Site Daikanyama, Tokyo.
We've mulled over this terminology for months now. "New Stack"? "Full Process"? "Holistic writing"? We ended up on "full stack" and quite literally today — the day I was set to publish this — a little birdie sent me a link to Chris Dixon's wonderful post from just a week prior: Full stack startups. Pancakes everywhere. ↩
Strangely, hilariously, incongruously, we have no native mobile app. We are web only (for the moment) for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is being accessible to as many people around the world as possible. We believe in the potential of cheap Android devices making their way across Africa, India, and South East Asia, and wanted to be sure to allow those voices equal access to Hi. Were we native iOS only, for example, would Sammy have been able to share with us 11,000 words about his life in Accra, Ghana? Absolutely not. ↩
A general rule of thumb is: The closer anything gets to networked connectivity, the less meditative it becomes. ↩
There's yet to have been much deep journalism on Hi, but it seems like such an obvious genre for a full stack system that our tagline for months was "Real-time Journalism & Storytelling." Aspirational? Perhaps. But also grounded in knowing the power of capturing the genesis of certain kinds of writing in real-time, and of having the sensing and sense making next to one another. ↩
This essay has been re-written from scratch, for example, at least 3 times. And this draft is iteration number 10 or so of that final base re-write. ↩