For every learning journey: Puzzles and people

Jonathan Libov

Jonathan Libov

Jonathan is the Founder & CEO of Antimatter

If you were to reflect on the last thing you succeeded in learning via the internet, you might think of solving problems on Khan Academy or Duolingo, watching a video on YouTube or reading up on something on Wikipedia. But all those experiences were preceded by a spark, an interaction with someone that encouraged you to go learn that thing.

One of the grander puzzles in life is wondering how things would be if you had some new set of knowledge or skill. At Antimatter, we’re building a platform where every learning journey begins with a puzzle, supported by people in your surroundings and around the world who can provide the necessary sparks to achieve mastery.

Antimatter itself began with a spark. I joined the r/physicsmemes subreddit, and realized it was the third learning meme community I had become a member of, after @historymemes_explained on Instagram and @UpdatingOnRome on Twitter. I eventually came to learn that there are thousands if not tens of thousands of learning meme communities (including Etymology Memes for Reconstructed Phonemes, 113K members strong). The memes themselves are puzzles of a binary sort: You either understand the puzzle and feel part of the in-group, or you don’t and you’re motivated to go learn more.

What I then came to realize is that the discussions adjacent to these memes are where you can begin to learn more. If the learning meme is any good, it will invite at least one person to ask the community to explain the joke. And that spark often ignites a discussion between learners and experts. The experts, of course, may be students themselves, but they participate in those discussions as teachers in situ. Learning with peers makes learning more accessible, relatable, and motivating.

You get an accelerator and you get an accelerator! You all get accelerators!
by u/0827Jake in physicsmemes
by u/AgentHimalayan from discussion You get an accelerator and you get an accelerator! You all get accelerators!
in physicsmemes
by u/mdmeaux from discussion You get an accelerator and you get an accelerator! You all get accelerators!
in physicsmemes

I began to wonder if all learning should happen this way in more formal learning environments, when I learned that it already did. Teachers in classrooms around the world have been asking students to create memes long before Antimatter, because you have to really understand the subject matter to tell a good story, or a good joke.

If this all sounds like a grandiose interpretation of memes, you should at least be sure you’re thinking of a meme and not a reaction gif. Reaction gif’s are the most amount of pixels you can use to express the least amount of information, whereas memes are the shortest form of storytelling that humans have yet invented. It’s the tippy top of Bloom’s Taxonomy made expedient, which is why there’s no underestimating how influential memes are in shaping the lives of anyone growing up today.

U.S. Senator Uses Uno Card Meme to Demonstrate Point About Federal Spending

We launched our classroom product at the beginning of last year. See "Antimatter brings shitposting to the classroom". Since then tens of thousands of teachers and students have used Antimatter to support their curricula. Most commonly, teachers use Antimatter at the end of the unit as a means of formative assessment, to query and spur their students to show what they understand. Naturally teachers also use Antimatter to run fun, diversionary activities—at this time of the school year they’re running end-of-year, post-exam meme competitions to celebrate everything they’ve learned.

What students and teachers create on Antimatter are always explosively creative. Personally, with a front row seat to these creations, I often find myself kicking out to Wikipedia to understand a meme about chemistry or math—topics I really don’t need to spend time learning about as a busy startup founder and father to two, but I can’t help it, the puzzles are too magnetic. Of course I’m biased, but this is literally the most unadulterated joy I experience on the internet today.

Memes created in Antimatter classrooms have even made it to the top of subreddits. Among our core beliefs is that the world’s learning material should be written by both teachers and learners. They’re complements: Among the many goals of a teacher in a classroom is to help facilitate peer-to-peer learning: This is a win-win-win:

  • Teachers get a service to spur their students to gain mastery
  • Students and learners get a service to help them through their learning journey
  • Because the teachers’ and students’ creations are published, the world gets more learning material
light is lit - student made memes
by u/idontpayforgas in physicsmemes

A final note on Antimatter in classrooms: We now live in a world where learning material is totally abundant. ChatGPT is a part of it, but I'm also old enough to have watched my friends paraphrase their way through a five paragraph essay via Microsoft Encarta. This 30-year arc has continued through Google, Wikipedia, YouTube and TikTok. The abundance has changed the nature of education, which is increasingly adopting the Flipped Classroom in part or wholesale. In the Flipped Classroom, because learning material is now so abundant, teachers use more of their scarce in-person time for synthesis. We’re building a home on the internet for inspiration and synthesis, and are aiming to make it as abundant as learning material now is.

To that end, our product offerings are multiplying.

Experiences beyond the classroom

Our iOS app, now in TestFlight, is the very best memegen on the iPhone, is a companion to our desktop activities, and will soon support games, challenges and discussions for learners to continue their learning journey beyond the classroom. We envision a world where every learning journey is a series of irresistible puzzles, scaffolded with people who are learning the same thing, or know just enough to help them solve those puzzles.

Internet-based teaching

We’re building activities, like Courses, that are designed for post-classroom learning: Useful for cohort-based learning groups and anyone else who teaches on the internet.

Antimatter Courses

Antimatter for organizations

We’ve opened the waitlist for our enterprise product. A business is in many ways a collective learning exercise, and companies like Google, or any startup with a #memes channel in their Slack, already knows that memes and other internet-native creations accelerate that collective learning.

If you’re interested in any of these new products, reach out and we’ll give you a tour about what’s soon to come.

This expansion of our product offering is supported by our investors, which now includes Version One, who is leading our $2M seed round, supported by existing investors Haystack and Compound along with new investors Spacecadet and Ordinary. Additional investors include Scott Belsky, Dan Romero, Patrick Mandia, Balaji Srinivasan and Greg Levey. It’s certainly no coincidence, but we nevertheless feel very fortunate to be backed by investors who are genuinely, intensely curious about our product, business and vision of the future.

As I mentioned earlier, we didn’t invent Antimatter, we discovered it, and we’re continually discovering it. The “we” refers to a hard-working team that is each uniquely connected to the mission:

  • Cameron Moreno, engineering, accelerated through his academics by treating school like a video game, which he learned from both playing video games and poking and prodding around internet forums from a young age.
  • Esra Flora, community, is a polyglot who appeared on the Turkish Who Wants to be a Millionaire? at age 19, and previously served as a Director at a virtual tutoring company.
  • Matthew Blackman, advisor and occasional front end engineer, is a veteran high school physics and game development teacher who built the best physics simulations on the internet.
  • Brian Richardson, engineer, is among the best students that Matt ever had.
  • Richie Lokay, design, is a father of three and board game enthusiast (among a number of other enthusiasms). Ask him about one of those enthusiasms and you’ll learn too much.
Meet the team

We are only half-joking when speaking of our mission to empower the world’s C students to become C+ students. There is an increasing abundance of tools on the internet that will help you improve your understanding of a subject matter, and hence your test scores. That’s vital, of course, but we’re more focused on helping students grow closer to the subjects they’ll follow for life. We’re building a place where learners can turn to for discovery and synthesis, and the joy that it inspires.