"The goal is to make you act like less of a jerk online."

There’s an oddness to working on a project that most people don’t (yet) understand. And the last year (or years!) of working on ThinkUp has definitely been permeated with that oddness. As fiercely proud as I am of the work, as absurdly convinced I am that this is a product with purpose and meaning, there have been many times I’ve had to reckon with the fact that, well, most people have no idea what the hell we’re doing and why.

But most new things that end up succeeding have a bit of that “Gradually, then suddenly” pace to them. We launched ThinkUp to our initial backers almost a year ago, yet only in this last week has it felt like some more normal, objective observers are starting to get what it is. Most notably, there was Farhad Manjoo’s piece in the New York Times:

Some of this may sound trivial. But after using ThinkUp for about six months, I’ve found it to be an indispensable guide to how I navigate social networks. …

Thanks to ThinkUp’s nudging, I tend to amplify more people in my feed — that is, I retweet and share insights from people with fewer followers to expose their ideas to the people who follow me. Because ThinkUp alerts me to changes in people’s profiles and reminds me when people are being congratulated, I’ve found myself more plugged in to what people in my network are up to in their lives.

I know people are supposed to complain about the way media represents them, to obsess over the things that are wrong or inaccurate. But honestly, I feel like I’m learning about our work by reading how others respond to it. When Charlie Warzel at Buzzfeed described his year online as “sobering” thanks to data that ThinkUp gave him, I thought, “That’s kinda great, even if it’s uncomfortable.” When Whitson Gordon said, “ThinkUp can give you insights on how to use social media better, which I didn’t expect.” I came away thinking that maybe it’s great an app can still surprise even tech experts.

The truth is, most of the things I work on are a bit insular, and not very approachable. My justifications and reasons for them are personal, and I generally don’t feel the need to explain them. But truly having the impact that I want my work to have might require explaining more of the story, and connecting more of the dots so that others can help me improve and refine my thinking.

So thanks to those who still take the time to write about, or reflect on, the work that I get to do. Whether it’s big media outlets, or just the normal people who reply to me on various social networks, I’m realizing anew how much I have to learn. The beginnings of years are about big thoughts and big goals, and maybe that can be one of my big goals for this new year.