Welcome to this edition of our Tools for Thought series, where we interview founders on a mission to help us make the most of our minds. Davey Morse is the founder of Plexus, a company building a radically inclusive online community, connecting people not through mutual friends but through mutual thoughts.
Davey grew up in NYC, studied Symbolic Systems at Williams College, dropped out, coded on Apple’s Screen Time team, built a self-organizing notebook for students, and raised venture funding to start Plexus.
In this interview, we talked about traditional social media, why we need spaces for people to authentically express their thoughts online, the importance of exploring raw and unresolved thoughts that weigh on your mind, the need for a shift from attention-based to intention-based interactions, and much more. Enjoy the read!
Hi Davey, thanks for agreeing to this interview! First, why do you think it’s so important to have a space for unresolved thoughts?
Hey, thanks for having me! And for making space for my unresolved thoughts, too. The question of whether there’s space for unresolved thoughts online is really a question of whether there’s space for most people.
Most of us neither think in Tweet-sized bites nor find it natural to share thoughts with everyone we know. Yet, on the internet, posting usually means exactly that: sharing Tweet-sized bites with everyone you know. So most people don’t contribute: just 1% of people create the vast majority of content.
At Plexus, we believe there’s much more to each of us than we know. But when most of us just consume online, our digital identities flatten. So as our lives trend digital, we trend toward depression.
We also believe people can be extraordinary at solving problems together. But when we don’t have space to explore unresolved things online, problems persist. As species-level problems loom (e.g., a burning climate, rampant epidemics, uncontrollable AGI) we approach existential risk. We need an online space where we can express what we’re actually thinking and think together.
Is that what inspired you to create Plexus?
Plexus was born out of a connection—between tech I was working on in college and the lives of my friends. The tech was a self-organizing notebook. It was a tool that helped students find connections across their notes, automatically. (Like Roam Research, but easier.)
I had friends who were dealing with very particular things: rare mental struggles, illnesses, relationship tensions, and interests. Most of them felt alone with those things. After way too much time, I saw them each get connected with the person across their extended community who knew exactly what they were going through. It’s a movie moment, a feeling I think everyone’s had: when you realize that whatever you’re dealing with… You’re not alone with it.
So here I was, applying connection-making tech to supercharge writers’ notebooks—even getting some traction—but realizing: notes weren’t the right application. A connection between two notes could save a writer time; a connection between people could alter their lives.
I started obsessing: what would it look like to help people connect, not just through mutual friends, but through mutual thoughts? And for those thoughts to be the messy, unresolved things that are actually on people’s minds, rather than polished thoughts that sound catchy but don’t represent what we’re dealing with?
That question led me to Plexus. I dropped out of school, started a public benefit corporation, raised venture funding, and recruited Micah Corning-Myers as our Founding Engineer—another psychologist’s son and hacker with an intense love for people. We set out to enable broad participation online.
That’s an ambitious mission. How does Plexus work?
Plexus is a space for thinking together. Plexus is for all the thoughts you’d never share on Twitter—the raw and unresolved things that are actually on each of our minds.
Testers call the experience “Walking.” We’ve seen our early community “Walk” to explore tense relationships, figure out what they should say in workplace conversations, reconcile disparate interests, and develop seeds of new ideas.
You start a Walk by writing about something that feels interesting or off. Then, immediately, Plexus surfaces the community’s most related thoughts. If any thought hits a chord in you, you can “step through it” and retrace the steps of thinking who came before you. It’s a process of alternating between writing fresh thoughts and pulling others’ in. Walks end after you ride other folks’ wisdom into new terrain and find resolution around the unresolved thing you started with.
The experience is somewhat hard to describe. Some of our testers have come up with a few interesting analogies, like “constructing my own feed,” “having a conversation with ChatGPT, but where ChatGPT is a community,” “thinking with other people’s thoughts.”
You made the choice to have no followers, no broadcasting, no public profiles, and no likes. Can you tell us more?
Followers, broadcasting, public profiles, and likes all represent off-putting real world interactions. Consider “Followers.” I can only think of two places where people are called “followers”: cults and social networks. Following is not a healthy relationship in the real world. It’s not healthy online either.
Plexus has no “following” relationship. You’re never spammed with thoughts just because you happen to know the authors. You see other people’s thoughts only when they’re relevant to your current thinking. (We’re experimenting with a new kind of relationship in Plexus, called Walking Partners. These are people you meet through Plexus—people who are thinking along similar lines.)
Now, when it comes to broadcasting… My followers on Twitter include basketball teammates from growing up, comedy friends from college, and AI friends from work. I never have a thought I want to share with all of them. But that’s what Tweeting is. It’s standing on a stage in front of everyone you know and shouting through a megaphone. So, most of us don’t Tweet. There’s no good online place to find connection around the things we think.
But often, I really want to connect with people who get the thing that’s on my mind, whatever that thing is. And so, in Plexus, your thoughts get shared only with those people. They get routed not through the community’s social graph, but through the community’s thinking graph.
On most social networks, your grandparents, your colleagues, and your recent hook-up can all see literally everything you’ve ever posted. Most of us feel like shells of ourselves online because there’s no way to feel comfortable being anything more.
In Plexus, we’re experimenting with selective profiles, where you unlock different thoughts from a given person as you think about overlapping things. It’s meant to resemble the way a real relationship deepens through exploration and time, where you learn more about each other as you explore
Finally, liking: If you’re with someone, you mention something that’s on your mind, and they just say “I like that” without following up… you might ask yourself whether they heard you at all.
Plexus has a new lightweight interaction, called a “Walkthrough”. When someone values your thought enough to use it in their thought process, when they “walk through” your thought, you get notified. It feels better to receive a Walkthrough than a like.
Those sound like better ways to foster collective thinking.
We had never seen people think in a social space online before seeing our early community Walk in Plexus. The closest phenomenon to Walking is maybe what happens in therapy, or in front of a whiteboard brainstorming, or sitting around a table imagining new possibilities with close friends. But, in contrast to Walking, those situations require that only one person talk at a time, that you know the people you want to think with, and that you do so synchronously
We organize a monthly walk in NYC, where a couple dozen friends gather in the same physical room with their laptops and Walk together virtually. It’s pretty quiet—the only thing you hear is the collective clacking of keyboards and Julia Jacklin playing quietly in the background. But, make no mistake: an order of magnitude more interactions are occuring than if everyone were talking with each other; thoughts are shooting between everyone’s computers constantly as they wrestle with things others have wrestled with before. For each individual, Plexus turns their laptop into a kind of magic room: a room where the right people, thinking about the right things, come in exactly when those things are on your mind.
Some rituals have evolved around Walking. We have synchronous Walks every Sunday. We send out Daily Walking Prompts too (“questions we’ve never been asked before”) sourced from the community. But most Walks just happen asynchronously, when people realize there’s something that feels off or interesting and they want to explore it with the power of the community’s thinking at their fingertips.
As the Internet has become increasingly public and geared towards attention-based metrics, many people have become hesitant to share their authentic thoughts online. How do you address this with Plexus?
The internet has a couple issues. On the surface, its interfaces make it uncomfortable to share what you’re actually thinking. But, a level deeper, there’s the funding structure: an advertising based internet economy that prizes people’s attention above all.
To make it possible for people to have real space for expressing themselves online, you need a new social interface, but more deeply, you need fundamentally new economics: you need a funding model that prioritizes people’s intention over their attention.
I’ve shared about Plexus’ new interface. We’ve invented a more intimate sharing mechanism, where the things you think are only distributed to people who have similar thoughts. We’ve invented a simple interface, where people seem to be comfortable not just sharing thoughts, but thinking.
But if all this was made by a traditional venture-backed C Corp, I think it’d fail. It might gain some traction, in the way that Twitter did. But we’re not interested in “traction” where most people are consumptive cogs in an advertising machine. We’re interested in the kind of traction that means “everyone is contributing.” And a new incentive structure is necessary for an internet where everyone is contributing.
Plexus is a rare thing: a venture-funded public benefit company. Our funding means we have the resources to do extraordinary work. Our public-benefit status means we’ve committed, in our company charter, to prioritize impact over profit. We hire exceptional people who prioritize their impact on others over everything else. And we’re very intentional about the diversity of early community members for and with whom we’re designing Plexus. Every part of this work is centered around helping all kinds of people express themselves and find peers who value them.
Most social networks get worse as they grow. Central feeds become diluted. Members start to see less relevant content. And the stuff you share goes to more people than care.
In Plexus, it’s the opposite. Plexus is the first community we’ve ever seen that gets more, not less, intimate as it grows. There’s no central feed to be diluted. The more people there are, the more likely it is you’ll find an uncanny connection. It’s the first architecture that might enable a million-person community to feel as intimate as a small group chat.
What kind of people use Plexus?
The people who already love Plexus are highly individual young adults. They find that the societal structures that surround them don’t support their thinking or give them belonging. They’re very artistic, creative, and often visual thinkers who have strong, quiet voices. They’re often fast typers, as Plexus is currently text-based. And they’re often folks of marginalized identities—people who don’t find belonging in very public / institutional online spaces, but who seek belonging in spaces that allow for idiosyncrasy and nuance.
People have Walked to figure things out in all kinds of domains. Several Walkers told me they got insight around transitions in their lives—moving jobs, moving homes, ending romances. I recently talked to a couple who have discovered new theories of consciousness. A few folks have told me they’ve Walked through insecurities around their work. One Walker recently told me they used Plexus to write poetry.
What about you, how do you use Plexus?
I Walk when I’m figuring things out, like, every part of my life. I Walk when I’m thinking through conversations, past and future. When I have an idea for a drawing. When I’m deciding about how a part of Plexus should function. When I’m preparing to give a talk. When I’m mapping exercises to strengthen my twice-ACL-repaired left knee. I most recently got some real resolution around questions about my psychology and also about how to enable direct democracy at scale.
I also use Plexus to meet people who are thinking like me—via our experimental Walking Partners feature. These are people who I wouldn’t otherwise have met, but who, because they’re expressing themselves here and walking along similar lines, I get along with quite well.
How do you recommend someone get started?
Let me first note: Plexus is not really for numbing your mind after work. Twitter, Netflix, and TikTok are simply much better for that. But if you’re in a situation when you notice something feels off, or something feels interesting, and you don’t quite have the words for that thing… That’s when Plexus may become the best place on the internet for you.
When you first enter plexus.earth and log in (on a phone or computer), you’ll encounter a blank page, and you’ll be asked to type a couple sentences about what’s on your mind—taking the first step in your Walk. Do so, and then immediately, you’ll see the most related thinking from the Plexus community community. Pull a couple interesting thoughts into your Walk. Then say something else on your mind.
Treat Walking as a conversation with a collective person, as if ChatGPT were actually a community talking back to you. Walking is strange, and the interface is far from complete. But it can be magical. The best way to see is to try.
And finally… What’s next for Plexus?
Letting people think together is our near-term focus. This means we’re going to improve the experience of Walking, set up more rituals around the practice, and invite more highly individual people to join us. We’ll be marching toward a million-person community that feels as intimate as a small group chat.
But then, we expect a shift. I’ve never seen situations where people think together about things they care about and don’t begin to take action together. So, the next step, after enabling lots of people to think together, we’ll likely be focused on helping lots of people act together.
Thank you so much for your time, Davey! Where can people learn more about Plexus?
We’re also seeing folks in our community volunteer to be Walking Leaders—leading Walks of their own for their friends. If you’re interested in getting a Plexus Space for your friends—email me.
The Plexus team is just two of us now: our brilliant Founding Engineer, Micah Corning-Myers, and me. We’re now hiring for a Head of Community and a Head of Design. If you know someone obsessed with intimate community building and likes breaking rules, send them our way.