Press Space to Enter

Networked Communities 4 - Musings on digital gathering spaces

This is post 4 in the networked communities blogchain with Brendan Schlagel. To recap briefly:

We’ve talked a lot about spaces. But what kind of spaces are we talking about?

In my post building a digital garden I talk about the idea of streams, campfires and gardens as different kinds of digital spaces:

  • Streams are for information discovery and banter. Think fast feeds like Twitter.
  • Campfires are gathering spaces, connection forming spaces and places to think. Think plces like blogs.
  • Gardens are long-term memory palaces, remembering spaces, archiving spaces and knowledge growing places. Think wikis.

Of course, no analogy is perfect and the uses of each platform vary wildly and overlap. But broadly speaking the Campfires analogy feels most at threat (perhaps?). The idea of spaces to actually hang out online, not fully public like twitter but faster than blogs?

Algorithms vs Sidewalks

I think this might be one reason why algorithmic feeds betray us - they destroy the notion that we’re in the feed together and instead make us together alone.

Instead from the perspective of the platforms (“seeing like a platform”) the “right” behavior is to create private group chat threads (e.g. whatsapp groups). But these are private, not semi-public like sidewalk spaces need to be.

Of course this idea isn’t new:

There is a large graveyard of websites, apps, startups and ideas that have tried to crack this digital sidewalk / digital campfire space. Perhaps they’re forever doomed to be built, abandoned and reinvented over and over again. Maybe that’s ok.

After all - coffee shops and local sidewalk spaces shift and change all the time.

Conductor Networks

There’s a temporal problem here though - streams are “always on” and blogs/wikis are basically completely async.

What if there’s a new way - by windowing our attention to time windows to create attention, draw people together and form community. This is the “campfire” section of the analogy but with a deliberate attention to being present at the same time - something blogging really lacks today.

This idea is explored in depth by Cody Brown in his post Conductor Social Networks If you don’t have a Medium account remember they’re always free to read coming in via Twitter :

There is a human scale feeling to the space that is so completely lost when I sign in to Twitter each morning. It’s like the difference between entering a concert hall and waking up in The Tower of Babel.

he goes on…

Alt Shift X uses fairly run of the mill broadcasting software (an app popular with Twitch streamers) but I think he’s tapping into something big that feels like an emerging category on the rise. For lack of a better term, I call this category, “conductor social networks.” A musical conductor’s job is to artfully pull music from an orchestra, and in this case, a conductor does the same but for information, conversation, and/or whatever the conductor desires. Conductor social networks have two core features:

  1. The conductor has a real time ability to drive an audience to whatever space they want them to be in.
  2. Once the audience arrives, the conductor has a baton and a podium. They have an ability to communicate, listen and keep order however they choose.

Press Space to Enter

These conductor networks and communal hang spaces are fascinating to me. While we’re all busily engaged in seemingly real-time feeds there’s very little communal real-time hanging out online anymore.

And there’s a graveyard of these “real-time” hang spaces.

Anyone remember

Well there’s a new kid on the block:

Anyone else enjoying right now? It’s a fun

This idea of concurrency is powerful:

This is what I assume is the driver behind so many people thinking about intentional digital third places. Carving out a pool that they can control more with a sense of discovery that isn’t overbearing… yet can accommodate the flexibility of asynchronosity (that’s the word deal with it) that we simply expect. Waiting for the signal that the water is fine.

source: The Concurrency Pool

Music is the glue

Remember the campfire analogy? There’s a reason music is a key feature of the campfire chat. To keep people hanging around in real-time you need one of two things. Focused attention or ambient attention. Focused attention is something like a specific conversation or debate, perhaps a performance of some sort. Something that requires you to be there.

Ambient attention is something like music - it allows for drops in the conversation and focused attention so that you can stick around comfortably in the same space but without words. Just hanging.

I’ve been following this one electronic music radio station since 2009. And there’s a reason this community has been so sticky - despite


But, what if there’s another way to keep a community small - not by limited members but by limiting the time window?

Cody recently explored the idea of “pop-up social networks” in his great piece conductor social networks:

There is a human scale feeling to the space that is so completely lost when I sign in to Twitter each morning. It’s like the difference between entering a concert hall and waking up in The Tower of Babel.

It’s a mistake to think of a twitter thread as a blog post equivalent.

While some twitter threads become immortalized and evergreen mostly the distinction between a twitter thread and a blog post is that it’s real-time in the feed.

This is an important distinction.

Barriers to Entry

That said - maybe there’s light at the end of the tunnel. As software gets cheaper and “easier” what if we can build our own little sidewalk spaces? makes this trivially easy. There’s an example on Glitch that shows how to build a real-time chat room using

I forked that to make my own chatroom. If you’re reading this post “in real time” I’ll be hanging out here - come say hi:

Or, if you prefer to stay on the page

Making my own POOLPARTY:

On enter check for music, video

/music URL /video URL

Construct music like this.

Gossip’s cafe John Palmer with his spatial chat room at the end of his post