SOCIAL MEDIA

A Visit with Eruditely Founder and CEO Michael Samson

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Image courtesy Michael Samson

There are all kinds of people in the world. There are doers and there are watchers. There are collectors and there are creators. Of the creators, there are musicians, artists, writers, chefs, inventors and a host of other channels of creation.

What I’ve observed, in myself and many other creative people, is how their later work draws upon multiple channels of expression. For example, Steve Jobs took a calligraphy class in college, which later re-appeared as an important feature of the Macintosh design. That is, for Jobs the look of the text on the screen became as important as the content itself.

Michael Samson is the founder and CEO of a new social media platform called Eruditely, which is dedicated to expanding human knowledge and connecting people and ideas around common interests.

You can visit Eruditely before reading this at https://eruditely.com or wait till the end where I include another hotlink to the newly launched site.

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Courtesy Michael Samson

EN: Eruditely appears to be another place for creating and sharing content. How does it differ from Medium and Quora?

Michael Samson: There are many differences between all three of these platforms; Eruditely, Medium, and Quora. Medium is focused on full length articles, while Quora is limited to only asking questions. By contrast Eruditely has a flexible publishing system that enables members to post in a wide variety of formats, including articles, ideas, images, galleries, videos, audio, links, and questions.

We designed our publishing system to allow people to fully and freely express themselves in a format that best suits their particular content. Writers can publish articles, photographers can share photos, musicians can show off their music, educators can show videos, and the list goes on. The publishing system on Eruditely is far more flexible than almost any other platform I’ve seen.

Eruditely is also very different in how it presents the content. We designed the platform with a responsive masonry grid, that puts the focus on the media. Our grid presentation makes it easy to quickly browse the wide variety of posts and media formats, and to look at the posts that intrigue you the most. When viewing any of the posts in the grids (we call these “cards”), you can view the media independently without leaving the page.

If you want to dig in deeper and see the details of the post, each card then links to its own post page where people can comment and have conversations. This type of presentation is completely different from how you browse content on Medium and Quora. We’re also soon going to be providing alternate viewing modes on Eruditely, for users who want other options. You’ll be able to view content in our original masonry grids, a single column format (similar to a news feed), or in an optimized view for faster loading times.

Another important difference between Eruditely and these other platforms is how it is structured. We designed Eruditely to resemble a tree of knowledge with an infinite number of branches. The branches of this tree are the topics that one can learn about.

When you create posts on Eruditely or specify your knowledge and learning preferences, you are creating new topics in the process. Each topic has its own independent page that anyone can say they’re knowledgeable about, learning about, or subscribe to. Through this process the platform grows itself in size organically as people post and interact with the features.

When you browse Eruditely, we are presenting you not only with posts, but with the most relevant topics and members relative to the page you’re currently on. This enables you to constantly be exposed to new information and people that you can learn from.

The more you browse the site and navigate this “infinite tree,” the more opportunities there are to learn and connect with other members. This purposeful design separates us from many other platforms, and the intent is to enrich our users and always provide them with opportunities for learning. The tagline of Eruditely is “Because Knowledge Belongs to Us All,” and every single feature and tool we have built is designed to serve this purpose.

EN: What is the motivation for writers to contribute here at this stage since there are so few readers and people write in order to be read?

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Screen capture courtest Michael Samson

MS: I should start by saying that every platform that exists today started with zero members. There are platforms that grew fast, and others that took years to grow large. I remember reading a story about the founder of Pinterest, and that he personally wrote to the first 5,000 members of the platform in order to get them to join (including providing his phone number apparently). This is something that I can relate to, as I’m now going through that same process of reaching out to people one by one and convincing them to give Eruditely a try. It is always an uphill battle when launching something new and trying to convince people to use what you have built. It is far easier to build products than to get people to use them.

With that said, there are many motivations for people to join and contribute to new platforms. Being a founding member of a platform provides a unique opportunity to help shape the community that it becomes. The posts that you make act like seeds that help to shape the vision of the site and influence how future members will contribute. Being one of the first members also provides more exposure for your content, since there aren’t huge numbers of posts to push your content further down the page.

There are many people I’ve spoken with who are simply interested in trying something new or are particularly interested in our mission; the sharing of knowledge. Many people today are turning away from the larger social media platforms (ex. Facebook) due to things like privacy and security concerns. They are looking for more enriching environments in which they can both connect and learn. In fact, more people today are learning from social media than from traditional sources. This provides a unique opportunity for us to fill in this gap and create an environment that is both educational and inspiring.

I also want to mention that we do have plans in the works to provide our members with rewards for contributing to the community. I don’t want to go into details yet as it’s too early, but suffice to say we’ll be providing members with strong motivations to participate! Good things are worth waiting for!

It seems that the aims are ambitious, and you have spent three years developing the site. Are your sufficiently funded to maintain the site? Even with a billionaire behind it, Medium is “down” occasionally… and Facebook as well.

MS: You don’t have to be a billionaire to create a stable and scalable application infrastructure. But let’s talk about the funding first…

For the last three years I have personally financed Eruditely. It is a six-figure endeavor. We spent nearly three years developing the platform so that when it launched it would be dependable, refined, and capable of competing with far more established platforms. We have to compete with companies like Facebook, Pinterest, and Medium that have millions (if not billions) of dollars behind them. People have now become accustomed to highly refined and sophisticated applications. It wasn’t good enough to produce a minimum viable product. I knew that we had to create something that would impress people from day one. This is what we accomplished over three years, and I funded this personally and in a very efficient manner.

In the coming weeks are going to be launching an equity crowdfunding campaign, in which anyone can easily invest in Eruditely and help us to take the next steps. We’ll likely be setting this up at either WeFunder or SeedInvest (we haven’t chosen yet). I would highly encourage anyone who is interested in this investing opportunity to watch those two platforms in the coming months. I can also be contacted directly on Eruditely via our private messaging system (my username is @Michael).

Our first step in raising these funds is creating an informative and inspiring video to tell our story and explain what Eruditely is all about. We’re working with an amazing video production company (Sparkhouse) in Southern California to create that video. Once the video is ready, we’ll setup the funding round and start marketing to investors. It will be a one-million-dollar round, so even if we’re only partially successful it will enable us to move the company forward.

Regarding ensuring that Eruditely is always available, that depends upon the infrastructure behind the platform. I spent nearly two years working on our infrastructure which is setup at Amazon Web Services (AWS). We’re using a variety of highly available and scalable services, including Docker containers, Elastic Container Service (ECS), Amazon Aurora (database), and CloudFront (CDN). Our infrastructure stack is deployed with CloudFormation and is easy to adjust and improve. Most importantly, we have created a stack that can easily scale as the platform itself grows.

Of course, this all takes funding to maintain. So long as we can keep our growth at a steady pace, and inline with our funding sources, we should have no problem maintaining a stable infrastructure. We’re lucky to have created this company at a time when such amazing cloud computing technology is available to almost anyone at a reasonable price.

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Screen capture courtesy Michael Samson

EN: How did you originally become interested in tech?

MS: I have always had a strong interest in technology and the sciences. This stretches back to my childhood. For as long as I can remember I was always interested in how things work and in building and creating things. When I was in middle school, I used to spend a lot of time inventing various contraptions and gadgets.

Many of these “inventions” often landed me in the principal’s office, but they were rather clever for a middle-schooler. Some of the more notable inventions were a television signal jammer, a gigantic powerful spotlight, and my most infamous of inventions — an electric zapping device made from a hand-held camera flash. As I said, these inventions often got me into trouble, but I think they also demonstrate I was not the typical kid.

My interest in computers reaches back to the mid-1980’s. We always had computers at home when I was growing up; starting with the Commodore 64 and then later the Apple Macintosh. In fact, I can remember writing a program on the Commodore 64 from the instructions that shipped with it. As I recall it created a small ball that would bounce around the screen (similar to the game “Pong”).

This was in the 1980’s of course, so back then such things were considered to be cool. By the time I made it to high school (in the mid 1990’s) I was diving deeper into computers and the early stages of the internet. But looking back on all of this, I’ve simply had an interest in technology and science my entire life.

EN: What is your background and what prompted you to attempt such an ambitious project?

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MS: My professional background and history in internet technology in particular is an interesting story. This story starts in late 1997 when I attended college at the University of Maryland at College Park.

I had brought with me an old Macintosh Quadra that used to belong to my father. As I recall it was barely able to play the first mp3s and had a 250 MB hard drive. But this was the computer that I started to learn web design with. I used to spend hours on end teaching myself HTML by looking at the code of other websites and from a handy HTML bible. This has the unfortunate side effect of keeping my roommate up all night (his bed was next to my computer), and this is probably why he didn’t spend the second semester with me. I was really obsessed with creating a website for myself, and I spent a lot of time in that endeavor.

My very first website was called “The Nexus” (Nexus1.net) and was primarily a Star Trek fan site, although it also contained content from my other favorite science fiction shows at the time like The X-Files and Babylon 5. I spent years working on The Nexus and built it up to be one of the largest Star Trek fan sites in the world. Amazingly you can still see this site today using the WaybackMachine (I visit it now and then for fun).

During my college years I also started to build my own custom PCs, which lead to my interest in computing “modding” (modification). Years later that lead to my creating a computer modding eCommerce business (ArcticMOD.com).

I was in college a little too early to take courses in web design; such courses were just starting to become available as I graduated. So, I focused my degree on Fine Arts with a specialization in Graphic Design. My background in graphic design has served me very well over the years, and to this day is something I consider one of my strongest skills.

Almost everything that I know in web design and development are skills that I either taught myself or learned from other people during the course of my career. I have always tended to learn things on my own terms, through direct experience, or because I had to learn those skills out of necessity.

After leaving college I worked in a wide variety of jobs, and not all of them were involved with the internet. In fact, for a short while I designed wrist watches for a notable company (E-Gluck Corporation). I also worked for someone who had started a watch company (Timing Trends / Figaro Milano), first designing watches for them, and then later focusing on their web development and marketing.

In the years that followed I did a number of freelance jobs developing websites for small business clients. When I was in my mid-20’s I was hired by a large hardware and houseware manufacturing company (Howard Berger Company) to lead their technology and internet needs. I worked in that position for nearly 5 years, while simultaneously building my computer modding company (ArcticMOD.com).

After two years of building up ArcticMOD I decided to sell the company, as I could no longer handle the load while simultaneously working my day job (which was paying the bills). Ultimately, I left that day job to pursue a career in music. In addition to my interest in technology, I am also a musician. I have been involved in music my entire life, starting with playing the viola (in school), and later learning to play the piano privately. In college I had started writing my own solo piano compositions.

Years later I had accumulated a lot of original music and wanted to pursue that interest full time. I recorded two solo piano albums simultaneously (“Until Tomorrow Comes” and “A Still Motion”) and released them as my professional debut. My second album (A Still Motion) did quite well on the new age charts reaching the number 6 spot. A few years later in 2012 I released my third album entitled “Rapture,” which is my best work to date.

At approximately the same time I was releasing my third solo piano album I decided it was time to get back into business for myself. I had grown tired of trying to make a living in music and knew that I needed to separate my music from the process of making money.

It was at that time that I founded DigitalRage (DigitalRage.com), a highly diverse digital marketing agency catering to small and medium sized businesses. DigitalRage was unique in that we were offering a wide variety of services in an eCommerce environment. Our customers were able to purchase anything they needed on our eCommerce platform, ranging from websites, to hosting, logo design, and various forms of marketing. It was during these years that I cultivated many of the skills that enabled me to ultimately create Eruditely. I sold DigitalRage in early 2017 after deciding that I wanted to do something more ambitious with my time.

The main reason I created Eruditely was because I wanted to build something amazing for both myself and the world. After nearly 20 years of designing and building websites for other people and businesses, I wanted something that I could call my own.

I have always had an interest in deep learning and thought that this would be a great type of platform to build. I wondered, what would it be like to have a platform as diverse and thorough in content as Wikipedia but combined together with the type of social experience you see on sites like Reddit. This was how Eruditely started, as an attempt to make a platform about all possible topics in a more social environment. In effect, I wanted to build a platform that reflected my own personality and embodied the drive and desire to always learn more things. Eruditely is also very much a return to my roots in web design; building something for the purpose of reaching out to the world!

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EN: When you got involved in web development in 1997, what excited you most at that time?

MS: The thing I remember most about my first experiences with the internet and starting to create websites was the excitement of creating something from my desk that could be seen by anyone, anywhere in the world. It seems like a quaint notion today as we are all so used to this amazing level of connectivity that the internet provides; but back when the internet was new this was an amazing concept! I built my first website “The Nexus” (Nexus1.net) because I wanted to share my passions and interests with the world. As mentioned earlier, The Nexus was a Star Trek and science fiction fan site.

During those early days of working on The Nexus I vividly remember how exciting it was to hear from people all over the world. I was in touch with other Star Trek fans who were praising me about the website, and also talking with other fan site owners, and making partnerships with them to further extend our reach. It was just so much fun, and it only made me want to work harder to make that site the best it could be.

The other aspect that excited me was simply the act of building and creating something. I really enjoyed learning HTML and working with early graphic design programs (it was Photoshop 4 at the time). Just like when I was in middle school and building all those crazy inventions, I was creating something original from the ground up.

That process of creating and building is an integral part of who I am. I have to be creating something, and usually something ambitious, in order to be happy. Whether it is writing solo piano songs, creating new businesses, or creating something as large and ambitious as Eruditely, it is the process of creation that gives purpose to my life. I can’t imagine living any other way!

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Screen capture Michael Samson

EN: Since things are always changing, how does one keep up?
Good question! I’ll let you know when I figure that out! 😉 j/k!

MS: Well, I’ve been keeping up with technology for my entire life. There is no trick to this. To keep up with technology you simply have to stay involved with technology and always be open to learning more. It takes hard work to be on top of things, and to be informed about what is the state-of-the-art. Part of my strategy to keep current is to surround myself with the most talented, smart, and informed people possible.

No one person can really keep up with technology forever; it simply moves too fast! Eventually you do have to depend upon the skills of others. Therefore, as Eruditely grows I intend to make sure I surround myself with the right people, who can ensure that we remain on the cutting edge. Eruditely will no doubt grow, evolve, and change with time. If we’re smart and adaptable, we can keep Eruditely current with the world around us. In effect, this is technological Darwinism, and I intend to make sure that Eruditely will survive and thrive in the years that come!

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj

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