How might we analogize urban planning to social media and digital spaces?
When technologists refer to platforms like Facebook and Twitter as “walled gardens”—environments where the corporate owner has total control—they’re literally referring to those same private pleasure gardens that Whitman was reacting to. And while Facebook and Twitter may be open to all, as in those gardens, their owners determine the rules.
“Public spaces are so generative precisely because we run into people we’d normally avoid, encounter events we’d never expect, and have to negotiate with other groups that have their own needs.”
Friction is essential to public space. Rapid growth can quickly overwhelm and destroy it—as anyone who has lived in a gentrifying neighborhood knows.
There is also a nuanced labor of governance and maintenance—finding the balance between welcoming everyone and providing safety and comfort for everyone—is critical to the health of online communities
Internet Studio Gardens
- Places where they might drift over to peers in adjacent spaces for the chance – but not the obligation – to respond or otherwise reflect upon, completing the loop at the speed of a lazy river instead of a light circuit (see: friction, pace layers)
- There might even be different seasons of play: periods of divergent planting and nurturing followed by collective harvesting and pruning (see: exploit explore)
- Just permeable enough to be discovered by those curious enough to add their own drawings and words. Details just hidden enough to be carefully unearthed by the intentional visitor
Creating Digital Spaces
Can we create digital common spaces like parks and things without everyone online needing to be exceedingly intentioned?
Commons should be safe, low pressure contexts for random interaction. They are public spaces where a lot of people coincidentally share the same space for a short period in time. It has the same energy as commuting — a familiar yet ever-changing context.
The park and the trees may stay the same most times you visit yet the people on the benches and walking on the paved paths are always different. One can sit and observe all the people moving by, wondering what their life is like..
“What would it look like to do that with your favourite internet neighbourhoods?”
This is a small reflection on potential new avenues to explore for digital spaces. Not to say that any existing ones are bad but I am interested to see what new direction we can take to explore how we use technology to further human connection.
Serendipity in Public Spaces
Serendipity is bumping into new people you otherwise wouldn’t have talked to or sought out. It’s the casual bus or subway chatter, the queue neighbour, or stranger reading on a park bench. It’s the opposite of intentionality.
Are there ways to be less intentional with digital interactions?
If you want to meet with someone you need to schedule it or visit a link, etc. There is no ‘random’ interaction. Even algorithmic experiences are like being carried away by the TikTok or Facebook algorithm rather than something out of the blue. Though these experiences may seem random at times, they are explicitly curated with an end goal in mind.
Are there any spaces that don’t have ulterior motives and are just places of gathering? The only example that comes to mind where ‘coincidental’ interaction happen is within currated interest groups like online network forums around games or technologies or early communities lead by superconnectors like the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link (WELL). How can we recreate these public ‘watering holes’ for people to gather around?
Permanence in Private Spaces
Permanence means that the environment reflects that people have been there. A shared garden to tend to, a bookshelf to work through, a guestbook of all the people who have dropped in and out.
So many of our mediums have now tended towards real time in an effort to replicate the fleeting nature of face-to-face conversation; vanishing messages, video chats, and audio rooms. Yet, rarely do any of these platforms leave any indication whether a conversation ever happened between two people.
Is there any way we can create shared artifacts that are permanent and can be grown over time? A digital indication that a space is lived in and occupied?
As of now, most platforms keep a primative chat log or history but thats it. What if there was a way to create digital gardens to foster and maintain existing relationships? A commonspace you could both take care of, share, and contribute to. Completely private common spaces often allow users to put whatever and allow people can construct their own digital nooks and cozy spaces.
Maybe this involves having a shared calendar, todo list, books. Or even just a space to co-live and co-exist in virtual worlds. Most online RPG games (think Animal Crossing, Minecraft, Stardew valley) give the option for users to have a shared space to exist and build together (and where both people don’t necessarily both need to be present for the space to function). Why doesn’t this exist outside of the gaming sphere?
Can we create permanence of artifacts without sacrificing ephemerality in medium?
Tools for Digital Spaces
Given that there are so many different types of digital spaces, I wanted to explore how different tools are supporting and facilitating different sorts of digital human interaction. Can we use urban planning to help us plan digital spaces?
The hope is to be able to move away from the ‘feed’-based model of browsing the social internet and to create safe spaces to interact at different scales.
The “feed”–an archaic form of content consumption that is effectively just a direct visual manifestation of the data structure that powers it – is a medium that is effectively designed to be consumed alone. —Humphrey Obuobi
Many-to-many relationships like clubs, families, larger interest groups.
- How do we ensure that people feel connected in large groups and find what they are looking for?
- Should communities be gated or public? Does this matter?
- How do we moderate content while ensuring individuals feel safe?
- Forums → Gathering based on interest
- Game lobbies and public squares → A temporary bringing-together of otherwise completely unrelated individuals
- Meeting rooms and Gather.town → Intentional spaces to meet and mingle with coworkers and friends
One-to-many ‘broadcast’ relationships.
- How do we ensure these relationships are healthy for all parties involved?
- Should content be moderated in this relationships? Is this the responsibility of the individual, the platform, or the viewer?
- Twitch, Celebrities, and Internet Figures → Gathering around a single person because of personality/content
- Newsletters and personal sites → Public places of exploration and self-identity, self-owned corners of the internet
Spaces for one-to-one interaction.
- Almost all of these mediums are on a sliding scale of how ’real-time’ the medium is, yet none of them are obsolete. Why is that?
- Who has power in the channels? What tools are there for safety?
- Letters and Mail → Completely asyncronous text based communication
- Messages → Instantaneous text or audio based communication with a history log. No immediate urgency to reply
- Calling → Audio/video based live communication
Field Guide to Digital and/as Public Space
Public spaces are virtual and augmented realities. They are filled with marks of inhabitation and habit, desire and unfinished stories. The challenge in digital public spaces is that such traces are not always easy to leave or feel. When, for instance, you visit a website, rarely does anything about your visit change the site. Your presence doesn’t leave a mark, the way walking on grass does. A website registers an impression of your visit, but there’s nothing inherently virtual about that. How do we make our desires felt in digital spaces?
The publicness that is created in online spaces is still a relation between actual offline bodies. What’s actually happening in an encounter in a virtual world? Two offline bodies are using flickers of light travelling across wires of sand and metal to make each other’s bodies feel and perceive things. One thing that digital networks have done to public spaces is to intensify the capacity of distant relations to affect local spaces.
There is always only IRL - transformed, layered, and intensified by digital techniques
(All digital publics as overlay networks onto IRL networks?)
In architecture, adaptive reuse is about repurposing old sites to new functions. Factories get converted to lofts, industrial districts to cultural zones, shipping containers to ghost kitchens, or the underneath of expressways to public spaces. What does adaptive reuse look like for digital spaces? How can we make the aesthetic of repurposed but worn spaces appealing for the digital? What is the brownstone of software?