An Anti-Algorithm Manifesto


Last Wednesday, Jack Conte, the founder and CEO of Patreon (and former co-creator of 2010s YouTube-viral band Pomplamoose), dropped a flashy, musical, vloggy video explaining his company’s new vision and platform updates. The 39-year-old-creator-turned-entreprenuer shows himself mixing beats on keyboards and drum machines, passionately explaining that the company was no longer going to be just for the monthly subscription services it’s known for. It’s changing, and in “big” ways.

Why? Conte claims the company is shifting gears to become a more all-encompassing social platform, as opposed to just being a monetization tool. He says the company is pivoting because creator communities are “under threat” — by the big, bad boogeyman known as the algorithm.

From now on, Patreon will grow its tool to be a total social experience for the New Age, harkening back to the early days of MySpace. As always, Patreon content feeds will continue to be completely curated by who we follow, not by an algorithm. But now, rather than only offering paid membership tiers, users will be able to browse creators’ feeds on free tiers, which will be curated by creators. Creators can then customize their followers’ feeds with unique colors, fonts, and logotypes.

The platform, of course, will go beyond the simplicity of a platform like MySpace and will feature the functionalities we’ve come to expect from major social platforms and that Patreon already offers — paid subscription services, e-commerce tools, chats, comments sections, and video uploads (no in-app video editor though sadly like TikTok and YouTube offer). Plus, Patreon offers the added bonus for creators to be able to see their subscribers’ email addresses, allowing them to more directly “control” their audience. 

What once could have appeared to be a default — that Patreon lacks the discoverability features and ease of audience growth provided by other platforms — now is being presented as a new “vision” backed by an anti-algorithm manifesto.

Conte specifically throws TikTok under the bus for introducing the AI-driven “For You” feed format, which really changed everything about how we engage on the internet. YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and even Snapchat have all copied the algo feed. Now, what most social media users consume is carefully crafted by our personal data. Platforms prey on what we’re most likely to click, share, spend time watching, and swipe quickly past.

This new feed revolutionized the internet, for better or worse. For creators, there’s certainly an upside: Even if you have zero followers, if your video is clicky enough, the algorithm could make you a viral sensation overnight. Yet there’s an obvious downside for creators too: By shifting users’ attention away from their following feeds, fans are driven away from content by creators they respect and trust the most. 

Deep fandom, originality, and artistry are not necessarily rewarded by the algorithm. Many creators who make the best content see no long-term success from their creativity. As Taylor Lorenz noted in her new book, “Extremely Online,” when 2020’s viral “Renegade” dance picked up steam on TikTok — with hundreds of teen dancers and celebrities copying it — its original creator (14-year-old Jalaiah Harmon) did not receive any credit or financial reward for the dance’s explosion. It wasn’t until after Taylor Lorenz reported on her story that Harmon was able to get the credit, brand deals, and business opportunities she deserved.

As Lorenz also notes in her book, platforms have done a lot since 2020 to try to be seen as more creator-friendly. On the heels of a pandemic-related boom in venture capitalist interest in the creator economy, more and more social platforms are throwing money at creators to incentivize them to use their platforms. We’ve seen the creation of TikTok’s creator fund, Twitter’s ad-share and subscription monetization services, Instagram Reels incentives, etc, etc.

Yet, as people try to make a living off their content, the priorities of each platform’s algorithm, as well as each platform’s rate of payment, often change mercurially on a whim. This makes building a career as a creator unpredictable and stressful.

Patreon knows how public sentiment has turned against algorithms, and is now looking to position themselves as an alternative. There’s an understanding that fans and creators alike want a break from their tailor-made algorithms, which prey on their data and deepest insecurities. People will perhaps seek respite in a platform that reminds them of the humble roots of the internet, where creators eschewed viral traction in favor of deep audience bonds and meaningful connections.

But, Patreon has certainly had its historical missteps that alienated creators — including outraging creators by increasing fees from 5% to 8-12%, and most importantly failing to properly deliver upon its primary function by having serious payment distribution and technical errors. With this latest change in Patreon’s vision, people who make a living off Patreon income could be threatened by an overall distraction from the core functionality the site is known for: subscriptions.


On the Silicon Valley side of things, Patreon has seen a huge increase in VC funding and therefore growing pressure to make money. It’s faced a slowing rate of growth, a drop in valuation, questionable layoffs, and even settlements over allegations of gender discrimination by former staffers. Conte himself has been accused by former employees of being a poorly organized and difficult boss to please.

Really, this new PR video from Conte is just the latest shiny rebrand of a product in an effort to boost interest and engagement. Still, Patreon has one of the most generous revenue-sharing options on the market. And Conte’s humble creator-driven roots have garnered it a much better reputation than companies like TikTok, Twitter, Google, or Meta.

Patreon is a platform that it claims has over 250K creators and 8 million users who depend upon it. There is a dedicated user base that will no doubt buy into this spun-up message. Many Patreon creators will put in some elbow grease and see if they can pry their fans’ eyeballs off the addicting algorithm and toward their siloed, custom-designed communities. Others will continue with business as usual.

Only time will tell if Patreon’s great anti-algorithm experiment will stand the test of time.


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