Y2k-20 Will Come In 3rd Place
Raged and been a fool, when I shoulda loved and repented…
- Jack Keroauc
Life is balance. As we pushed into digital documentation on Instagram, we edited our photos to look grainy and nostalgic. A reverence to family photo albums of old. With the rise of streaming music, collecting vinyls came back into the mainstream. As we spend more time online, more offline social options have grown/emerged: Soho House, Spring Place, The Wing, Ethels Club.
The clarity of physical spaces cannot be denied. The location and structure is clear. The members and guests are registered. You have your corner, with your peers.
The nature of space makes for a good source of meditation. It is the setting for flow. The vessel for congregation. And helps creates context for self.
I believe that 2020 will be known for two abstractions in consumer internet:
The abstraction of presence, facilitated through voice/audio interaction.
The abstraction of what we look like in digital spaces through avatars.
Both of these abstractions will create more mechanisms for digital 3rd places.
To have everyone on the same page, I’m going to synthesize / copy-paste some wikipedia info which is primarily from Oldenburg:
1st Place = Home
2nd Place = Workplace
3rd Place = social surroundings that aren’t those two (church, cafes, clubs, etc)
The opposite of a third place online would be Instagram: conversation is not the main activity - not low profile - not leveling - no sense of regulars.
Snapchat’s playful push into gaming is creating more and more of a third place, the sense of accessibility within SnapMaps is creating a third place, the playful AR filters - ephemeral everyday photos - and focus on conversation with close friends is creating a third place. But to me… something is missing, perhaps to do with the entire “Discovery” page.
Another good contender out of the social giants would be Twitter. Conversation is the driver - although there are twitter celebs, it is leveling and equal ground - the regulars are apparent… you get it.
So what will building new digital third places look like? Here is a simple framework to find ideas, the examples will focus around audio/voice.
What am I trying to recreate or abstract?
What is the excuse / enabler for gathering?
Who then has access to gather?
How does conversation happen?
This should be able to end in a somewhat simple sentence:
“We are recreating the bedroom hangout, where you listen to music and talk with close friends after school / work.”
“We are recreating the voicemail box, where you send audio snippets to your friends throughout the day and it unlocks to listen to every night.”
“We are recreating bookclubs with podcasts, where you schedule a group-listening session and after the episode is over it turns into a group call.”
I think what this shows is you can have a lot of the elements of a third place, but it comes back to the vibe you’re trying to unlock. This comes from approaching the right group that can manifest into a crowd.
Still Operating Under Connection: The algorithmic nature of Instagram allows us to see through the facade of images. We understand we are being left with a residual and therefore we are default skeptic. It is consumed, and it vanishes into the feed.
Rawness Of Process: The joy of TikTok is the majority are recorded in teenagers messy bedrooms, leaving us with the ease of non-aspirational aesthetics and fluid expression. However, more and more I’m coming across worked up production. So I wonder if my “Mobile Youtube 2.0” theory will come true, and TikTok will lose it’s sense of lo-fi teenage hijinks.
Some Sense Of Co-Presence: Twitter, the place for public conversation out of these examples, does not operate through a “consumption - disappearance” relationship. What makes Twitter (almost) a compelling third place is capture and amplification of the daily zeitgeist. Pushing conversation is the only goal. However, the vying for status often sucks out the fun. And so we run into a lot of other problems.
There are several great scenes in Her that demonstrate the nature of presence with voice / rooms. I couldn’t find the clip of my favorite, which is “choke me with the dead cat”. However, I think this is the next best thing.
Theodore: Are you talking with anyone else, right now? People? OS’s? Or anything?
Theodore: How many others?
Although we cannot fracture ourselves into 8,316 simultaneous conversations (yet), the understanding that this is happening concurrently is fascinating to me. It shows the power of presence as Theodore winces at the understanding he’s simply one of those conversations. Not the one.
Beyond the concurrency that allows us to understand our space in the crowd / group. Voice is unique in which is doesn’t dictate position.
Video and photo has a frame. Voice is frameless. I am never out of your view. I am with you and I am cooking. I am with you in the park. I am with you whenever you want to be in my ear.
I think this was the first superpower of radio. I turn a knob, and I know what the weather is across the country. What happened in that town. And those faces feel a little more… there.
The nature of abstracting your identity’s representation in digital space, is an incredible leveling agent. My new Twitter avi (the photo above) gives no sense to my true physical nature. When you first come across my profile, you have no sense if I’m black, male, straight. You are forced to interact with the tweets I produce, on the merit of those tweets. The downfall here is there still context to who I am and what I do… but what happens when you build a new space where all identity is abstracted in this surrealist way.
It allows for the freedom of fluidity. A new mechanism of expression that is no longer limited by your awareness of consumption happening after creation.
Hopefully, we can build a product that allows conversation, for conversation sake. Environments that foster that sense of playfulness that is inherent to building out a third space.
What is very clear about both voice and avatars, is if you can own that social form factor. The core value is huge, and the tangential opportunities as you continue to scale are very compelling.
I’m going to pause here, and pick it up next time. I wanted to roast some people, but I’ll save that for a drunk twitch stream… that I will get to…. eventually.
Thanks so much for giving me your attention. I hope it was worth it, if not… unsubscribing will not hurt my feelings, and will give you back time you literally cannot have back.