The internet, as a reading experience, is mostly terrible. The heavy pages riddled with ads and trackers, the unexpected pop-ups, the bespoke designs that in too many places end up broken. Over the years, many have tried to fix this problem — Google with AMP, Facebook with Instant Articles — and none have succeeded. It can often feel like things just keep getting worse.
Ben Springwater certainly felt like things were getting worse. In 2016, he was working at Nextdoor, lamenting with one of his colleagues, Rob Mackenzie, that reading on the internet was so complicated. The reading experience was part of the problem, but so was the internet’s unlimited supply of stuff. “It completely boggles the mind that so much of this stuff is really excellent, this life-changing stuff we could read,” Springwater said. But there’s only so much time in the day. “So we have filters: We go to Twitter, we check the headlines or what comes into our inbox. But those decisions for most of us are really suboptimal, relative to the potential of what we could be reading.”
The more Springwater and Mackenzie thought about it, the more they thought they could build a better way. What they built became an app called Matter, a combination of a read-later app and a discovery engine for great content. Ultimately, Springwater said, it could be even more. “Reading right now is really simple,” he said. “It’s text on a page. But why can’t you seamlessly switch back and forth between reading and listening? Why can’t you see the highlights and annotations and marginalia from people you know, overlaid? What can’t you jump around, like through a table of contents? If you’re reading a long piece, why can’t you see the 1,000-word version or the 100-word version? There’s all this crazy potential for reading technology, but it’s never really been developed.” That’s what Matter aspires to be, really: a reading technology company.
Note: Direct to Matter (Register for Early Access)