Code and Theory’s Dan Gardner Reveals New Media Venture

LISBON — Code and Theory founder Dan Gardner and Social Media Week founder and president Toby Daniels, a former Adweek employee, are launching a media company next year with 28 other founders called ON_Discourse.

Together, the founders form a decentralized autonomous organization, called DAO. DAOs do not have a central authority and therefore ON_Discourse members all have a stake in the company. Over the past year, the DAO has come together to discuss and debate the impact of emerging technologies on business. The group hatched a plan to launch ON_Discourse and publish curated, insightful content for tech-focused business leaders.

The founders predict that readers will appreciate peer-reviewed insights written to help technologists navigate the complex choices they must make as emerging technology concepts like Web3 continue to capture the attention of the tech industry. These articles can have titles such as “Why is nobody asking, ‘why blockchain?'” and “Do DAOs suck?”

“The purpose of these examples is to show that this is a challenge to the norm of what is being discussed. And the reason why we are able to get these types of subjects [is] because we’re in it, building these businesses,” Gardner told Adweek.

At the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, Gardner broke the news on the PandaConf stage, where marketers gather to watch programming focused on advertising, marketing and its intersection with technology. Gardner believes the publication will fill the role of the nearly extinct town square. Social media platforms like Twitter, which are theoretically designed to enable speech, are criticized for stoking conflict and often called “echo chambers”.

Don’t Expect Coverage on the “Next Shiny Object”

The new publisher wants to help its future readers understand the risks and opportunities of technology. It is not an information platform per se and wants to focus on demystifying complex concepts for readers and offering insights that will influence business decisions.

Current members of ON_Discourse come from a variety of backgrounds and include DeShone Kizer, former NFL quarterback and founder of One of None, Raashi Rosenberger, chief brand officer at Meta Quest (formerly Oculus) and Matthew Sweezey, co- founder of Web3 Labs at Salesforce.

Speech can “broaden the perspective, because you’re actually challenging ideas,” Gardner said. “And that can really bring people together.” It thrives in commercial environments, the executive said, noting that the media landscape does not reflect this and has become too friendly and acceptable. Gardner is concerned that people automatically see authors, whether journalists, executives, or anyone else with a platform, as “experts” in diagnosing tech trends, even though most have no experience or limited experience in business management.

Daniels feels the same.

“A lot of the content that’s out there is either written in a way that’s designed to promote the next shiny thing in tech, or written by people who don’t have the decades of experience building businesses that we think needed to be able to present in-depth perspectives on really important topics,” Daniels told Adweek.

A membership-driven model that doesn’t suck for clicks

The publication will not shut down its content and instead derive its revenue from members, who pay for the opportunity to engage in, well, a speech.

“We are intentionally an incredibly small, highly organized group of people,” Daniels told Adweek.

Daniels declined to disclose membership fees, but confirmed that there will be membership tiers offering different benefits. Prospective members can apply to join when applications become available later this month. For now, the founders are urging them to sign up for its Daily Discourse newsletter to receive updates on when its waiting list of members opens.

This does not mean that ON_Discourse will avoid digital advertising. This will not be the case. But it’s not necessarily the hunt for advertising dollars. Instead, it focuses on adding members it can engage in conversation. Members will write or work with ghostwriters to write content for ON_Discourse. These members stand to gain if ON_Discourse becomes a thought leadership channel that can elevate their perspectives and expertise while moving away from publishing the so-called “marketing discourse” that fatigues readers.

“We don’t want to chase ‘eyeballs,'” Gardner told Adweek. “We want to hunt ‘meaningful’ eyeballs.”

Cathy W. Howerton