Side Projects

News.Me’s Little Experiment: Smart People Share the ‘Last Great Thing’ They Saw Online

Clay Shirky kicks off the ephemerality.

screen shot 2012 04 30 at 11 52 01 am News.Mes Little Experiment: Smart People Share the Last Great Thing They Saw Online

Much like Lena Dunham on last night’s episode of “Girls,” New York technophiles seem to be embracing their “experimental” side. Some side projects are more facetious than others. But a new leisure pursuit from News.me general manager Jake Levine and designer Justin Van Slembrouck released today falls into the more utilitarian camp. Welcome to the Last Great Thing. Each day for a month, the duo plan on featuring a single link to the last great thing someone saw online.

The twist is that the site is “purposefully ephemeral,” Mr. Levine told Betabeat by email. “There will be no archive. What’s visible on Tuesday won’t be findable on Wednesday.” As far as gimmicks go, the disappearing link tops “by invitation only” in our book. We already feel a sense of panic over missing something great! Today’s entry from Clay Shirky is off to a stellar start.

Mr. Shirky links to a YouTube video from a Muslim-American college student Tasneem Afridi called “I Don’t Understand White People,” that delves into the some of the issues explored in recent essays about “ironic racism” or those Shit ___ Girls Say videos, but in a more intimate, personal way.

Tomorrow’s entry will be from Hilary Mason, chief scientist at Bit.ly. “We want contributions from people that move conversations forward. And we want to provide a kind of space for reflection that’s missing from other types of aggregation,” said Mr. Levine. The idea was to give submissions a “focus that’s missing from our fast-moving streams,” he said, citing Mr. Shirky’s video entry. “It hasn’t made it’s way into the “memestream,” but it’s incredibly important. There’s not a single person who wouldn’t benefit from watching Afridi’s video.”

Mr. Levine said he was inspired by Branch, a fellow Betaworks startup making its prodigal return to NYC soon, and Robin Sloan’s new iOS app Fish. “Lastgreatthing is for something abnormally good, something personal, something to love, something worth returning to,” he said.

It’s not all fun and hobbies, however. “If it ‘works,'” said Mr. Levine, “We’ll be looking for hints as to how we can scale and distribute this type of content throughout our product suite. The experiment in some ways at the intersection of our editorial efforts (Getting the News series) and the applications we’re building.”

And yes, in case you were wondering, this side project is also tied to the learning-to-code fever currently infecting Silicon Alley. “I’m particularly excited for it because Justin, our designer, and I built it without dev help!” Mr. Levine exclaimed. “Part of the reason I ended up at Betaworks,” he added, “is because I made a little app and sent it to John Borthwick.”

What’s that? We think we just heard the sound of 100 new sign-ups for Code Year.

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com