To design a social space, we have to reflect on what kind of space we want to create.
I myself like to explain how we think certain spaces work with a series of analogies I call “Bedroom to Broadcast”.
Let’s start with the Bedroom: It is the place where we are (usually) the most private. We talk to our partner in confidentiality. In bed, we expect that no one listens in to this conversation. We assume that our conversation is not going to be shared with others.
We don’t start pillow talk with “you cannot share this” or “let’s check that no one listens”. Such things we simply assume by the setting.
The next step on the scale is the Living Room. Here you invite family and close friends, to play games, hang out and have conversations about everything that comes to mind. Politics, personal, life advice or simply cracking jokes. In this space, we let our guard down, we are open but not necessarily intimate.
And again, no one bothers to check if anyone listens in. For most of these conversations we don’t remind others over privacy. But occasionally we may say things like “I know something about Peter, but don’t tell anyone!”
Thanks to our social bonds this usually works well – and if it doesn’t, we don’t blame it on our couch but on the person that actually spilled the beans!
The Pub Counter is an interesting place: It is at the same time private and public. We might rub elbows with people we’ve just met, but they are loosely part of our social space. Or they might be a close friend, a friend of a friend, or just someone who recently moved into the neighborhood.
We still talk at ease, but there is also no deeper expectation of privacy. Anyone can listen in, although we also assume that no one unexpected will pay too much attention. And we certainly don’t expect anyone to call in a few dozen strangers to bolster them in any given conversation.
If people want to get heard by a wider audience, they’ll might take a soapbox and yell it to everyone passing by on the Town Square. Maybe they also bring like minded people and make it a proper protest. This is often where things stop being a conversation: There is no way that a few hundred people can all have all their few hundred different and nuanced opinions heard and answered.
Instead, they band together to convey a comparatively simple message. They (often literally) shout it to everyone who walks by and can hear it. Feedback or rebuttals aren’t only optional, we do not even expect them nor are there ways to handle them at volume.
Broadcast takes this to the logical last step: Here a few talk to millions, either by newspaper, radio, or television. There is no real feedback channel. As with the Town Square protest, the important part is that as many people as possible get the message. No one wants to actively exclude some people from the message:
I broadcast because I ideally want everyone to hear what I say.
Most online conversation fall into one of these places. Some might sit in-between.
The problem is that most online platforms don’t know where they are exactly on this scale.
And to make things worse: What you posted on the digital equivalent of your Living Room might suddenly turn into a Broadcast when someone with a huge online following picks up on it.
The challenge before us is not easy: We need to build an online platform that informs us in which space we are. That way we know what kind of assumptions will hold true.
This is hard, but we at Darcy will make every effort to keep you in power over your own digital life!