Why little collisions are a good thing

Why little collisions are a good thing

Recently in the betahaus Café I spoke with a friend about what makes up a community.

He is a filmmaker and he said he was mainly interested in working already existing, strong networks of people. People, perhaps, sharing the same space, such as the betahaus for example. At betahaus, people may not all work on the same things, and they may each have entirely different points of view, but they bump into each other on the stairway, eat the same food in the betacafé and read the same books and announcements while waiting for the constantly jammed elevator. Although not every individual knows all other individuals in this network, the interconnectivity is very high.

Interconnectivity through a shared space with physical boundaries – kind of like a village with only one bar, one supermarket, a limited number of bus stops and even fewer busses to take you into the next larger town.
Except people aren’t born in the betahaus, they choose to come there because of the benefit of the specific infrastructure it offers.

Needless to say, we both soon agreed shared space doesn’t need to be a physical space. Space is a metaphor: wherever people bump into each other, riding along on a shared infrastructure of vlaues, words, and technologies, there is a shared space.

The interconnectivity – and thus strength and efficiency – of a network rises as more and more bumps occur. A few days later another friend told me about his experience studying at the d-school in Potsdam. He complained that he felt that in his second semester, the general atmosphere and sense of mutual inspiration declined. Not because his fellow students were more boring or the staff less motivated: simply because the second semester of studies took place in a new building. The new space, he said, was simply too large. Two stairways directed the flow of people in a circle, so that they never ran into each other. The architecture wasn’t designed to create “bumps” – and apparently, those bumps were relevant.

For those who professionally builds or manages online communities, I think the metaphor of creating a space or a shared infrastrucutre that allows for frequent bumps is one which can help us build stronger and ultimately more effective communities.

3 Replies to “Why little collisions are a good thing”

  1. i don’t entirely agree with this paradigm of virtual space. why limit yourself with confinement in a theoretically infinite space? i understand you are simply making an analogy for the purpose of language. but language pervades our thinking and funnels our reasoning. the “bumps” you mentioned were spoken of as being equal, whereas in real life there are interactions of varying quality. the phenomenon you wrote about is not due to the size of the space, but rather the design of the space. some spaces are more conducive to interaction, inspiration, and even happiness. can these perfect spaces be planned? only to a certain extent. so it is a better strategy to have an open architecture which evolves and reinvents itself quickly.

  2. yea, you do have a point that it is about the design of the space, not it’s size, especially when we’re talking about virtual space. size is in fact not a valid dimension whatsoever in virtual space. But can the quality of different interactions in “perfect spaces” be transported into virtual spaces? And could you tell me more about the idea of an open architecture? I’m curious about evolving spaces, but I’m also sceptical if a constantly evolving space will offer enough structure and sense of security to its inhabitants. After all, I need to be able to rely blindly on where things are in my space, to feel comfortable. no?

  3. if we continue with the architectural metaphor, an open architecture building is one where there all the interior walls are non structural. this allows inhabitants to move the walls around for convenience. eventually, the ideal pattern emerges. traditional chinese and japanese houses were constructed this way, although they prefer the western style now. i have only suspicions about what a perfect virtual space is, but a self shapable community will eventually evolve its own solution given enough time. obviously most communities can’t last that long.

    you are correct to say community interfaces need some consistency, but the space explored through that interface need not be static. that’s what a good search function is for. a lot of the dinosaur communities like eBAY have slowly evolved to the point where they are not recognizable from their infancy. from the standpoint of a researcher, it is best to study virtual communities with very short lifespans. like the biological equivalents, it takes many generations for evolution to take place through survival of the fittest. i would like to generate many iterations of short lived communities from a common template, and mate the winning versions together for the following generation of communities. the ideal test platform would be temporary communities for introducing upcoming television and theatrical releases. one could even launch multiple similar communities for the same show/film and compete them against each other.