Into the Cobble-Verse: Creating and Collaborating on the Internet
Written by Emily Chang on February 10, 2022
In a school of nearly 50,000 talented students, how in the world do you connect them all? This was the question that led fourth-year film major Jawan Ali to birth Cobble.Page, a social media site for UCLA students to share and find collaborators for their artistic pursuits.
I first stumbled upon Cobble at the Enormous Activities Fair, among a smorgasbord of organizations. Intrigued, I checked out the website, finding a diverse array of posts: pixel art of Royce Hall, painted denim jackets, and deep-fried haikus, all set in place among a clean yet colorful layout. Eager to learn more, I met with the team to fall deeper into the Cobble-Verse.
Cobble came into conception in October of 2019 when Jawan, founder and head of outreach, needed help finding artists for his film. “Movies require all sorts of moving parts,” he explains, “and there wasn’t a place on campus conducive to finding all the [writers, actors, editors] and bringing them together.” Wanting to fill that niche, he shared his plans for the website in February of 2020 with cofounders Carson Kim and Shreya Chatterjee, both fourth-year Linguistics and CS majors. Site development began in September of that year with a development team of Carson, cofounder Oliver Melgrove, a third-year stats major, and Athya Uthayakumar, a fourth-year CS major. Going live in February 2021, Cobble’s site has been evolving ever since.
As for the snappy name, team lead and social media manager George Owen, a fourth-year Linguistics and CS major, explains how the original name was Creative Hub, which went through several iterations including Bonfire, before ultimately settling on Cobble, using a cobblestone road as a metaphor for the site’s collaborative design and built-to-last quality.
Take a scroll down the Cobble-stone road and you’ll find unique projects from students of all backgrounds. However, Cobble’s main mission isn’t just for people to share what they’ve made, but for them to collaborate with others and create “lightning in a bottle,” as boldly stated on the site’s About page.
“The dream is for the Beatles to find each other on Cobble,” Jawan explains. “It can connect artists from polar ends of campus that wouldn’t have met each other otherwise.” Differing class schedules and extracurriculars all pose barriers to creative interaction between students of starkly different majors; Cobble offers a platform to bridge this gaping divide between North and South Campus. Beyond individual students, the site is also a great place for clubs to share their projects (check out Artscience UCLA’s page here).
Despite being relatively new, lightning has already struck on Cobble. A songwriter reached out to collaborate with Jawan on his movie, while Carson has found a drummer he plans to perform with for Spring Sing. A musician who posts his music demos on the site, he opens up about how Cobble allows him to be more vulnerable as a musician, which is often difficult to express, especially to strangers. “It’s about being comfortable in your own skin and being comfortable working with other artists.”
In addition to connecting artists, Cobble offers an alternative to the often bureaucratic, hyper-specific nature of many clubs and projects on campus. A common sentiment echoed amongst the team was that within these clubs, there’s frequently too much focus on their own internal structure that they lose sight of their ultimate goals. For artists especially, it’s difficult to find a group that meets their personal creative needs. Cobble aims to be different by putting emphasis on its members rather than its leaders. “What’s on Cobble is far more important than Cobble itself,” Oliver stresses. This is particularly prominent in Cobble’s weekly newsletter that Shreya creates, where there are project spotlights to highlight users’ work.
“Cobble is a place where everyone is included and there is no barrier to entry. Everyone can and should share their work.” – Shreya Chatterjee
As for Cobble’s interface, the development team took inspiration from Instagram and Reddit, working with UX designer Julie Lely to create the site’s personable look. Users tag their posts under a certain discipline (visual, literature, performance, cinema, music, tech) and topic (recruitment, idea, project update, etc.). Longer post cards allow for a full display of content, with everything embedded to create a smooth transition from the main feed to individual posts. A unique part of the site is its projects feature, which allows users to organize their posts how they best see fit. When deciding on Cobble’s features and usability, the team heavily consulted their UCLA peers for what they wanted out of the site, since they were ultimately creating something for the community.
Browsing the site, I can tell that the team crafted it with heart, embedding quirks and easter eggs within each section. For example, when making a post, users have the option to click a crystal ball icon to generate a random title (mine was Scoinson Cosmonauts – a fitting name for the shoegaze band I’ve always wanted to form). Cobble’s aesthetically pleasing email digests also have fun taglines. My personal favorite reads, “I’ll be here a while, so sometimes I fight dirty or read from my giant clear book” (“It came to me in a dream, and I take it to heart,” explains Oliver). Another sign-off? “Welcome to Facebook,” a quote from David Fincher’s film The Social Network, a mandatory training video for all Cobble board members.
As an avid fan of the film myself, I can’t help but draw parallels between Facebook and Cobble: both university-specific websites made for connecting people. Similar to the original Facebook, Cobble is accessible to only UCLA students in order to foster a sense of community. Should they expand to other campuses, they would still want to limit Cobble to that community to keep the website more personal and collaborative.
However, there’s one notable aspect of Cobble that sets it apart from most social media. While on Facebook and Instagram there’s an unfortunate tendency to get lost in a rat race of likes and interaction, Cobble is all about earnest engagement. To prevent the site from falling into the toxic culture that typically shrouds social media, the team opted for emoji reactions on posts. Inspired by Slack and Discord, emojis allow users to be specific about why they liked a piece and what it means to them instead of mindlessly double-tapping.
At a current count of 298 users, Cobble’s primary goal is growth, hoping for an increase in users’ posts and community engagement. Looking beyond the website itself, Cobble also has exciting plans for UCLA’s campus, with George sharing their goals of holding eye-catching exhibits on campus, such as art gallery popups, sculptures around courtyards, and performance art in front of Royce Hall. If you get caught up in a production of Romeo and Juliet on your way to a lecture, that might be Cobble’s doing. For students looking to get more involved with Cobble, Athya, the head of events, recommends joining their Discord server and participating in their events, such as painting socials and writing jams. She tells me, “We really want people to be socializing with each other, since forming connections is such a key part of college.”
“Think of Cobble as a polyamorous cupid who is obsessed with the arts,” Carson chimes in, drawing out smiles from the others.
Finally, after diving deep into the Cobble-verse for the past half-hour, there was one more probing, Social Network-inspired question I was dying to ask.
“So which one of you is most likely to get your shares diluted to 0.03%?”
The team breaks out in laughter, with Carson being the first to break the Zoom mute: “It’s gotta be me, to be quite honest. I think it’s uncontroversial, I’ve accepted my fate. My involvement in Cobble has receded recently.”
“While we’ve been developing the site in California, Carson’s been busy in New York riding subways six hours a day, looking for advertisers,” says George, a far-away look in his eyes. “You’ll be speaking with our lawyers soon,” Oliver tacks on. I can almost hear Trent Reznor’s and Atticus Ross’s profound piano score playing in the background.
While I eagerly await the Oscar-nominated dramatization of Cobble that will come out in roughly ten years, in the meantime I’ll be admiring the creative and diverse posts on the site. Cobble is like an enzyme that makes it possible for creatives to initiate their collaborative process. With sharing any type of art, there’s a certain amount of awkward nakedness that comes with it; Cobble wants you to embrace that exposedness, to put your work and yourself out there. Good artists copy, great artists steal, but the best artists work with other artists to create lightning in a bottle. Talking to the team, I can easily tell that each member is not only passionate about the arts, but also about spreading that spirit around UCLA. With so much zealous ingenuity, there’s no doubt that they’ve built something to last. Jawan leaves me with this:“I see Cobble as the growth of an artistic culture, a new wave where the output is inspired and collaborative. lf you’re an artist at UCLA, I hope that you take yourself seriously and develop that muscle. If everyone does that, we’re on the verge of an artistic revolution.”
Long live bureaucracy, conventionality, and silk scarves. Cobble is here to break things. How fast will you be moving when the revolution arrives?