Imagine going to a party where you wear a blindfold and your mouth is taped shut. The only interaction you get is someone whispering in your ear, “people who ate chips, also drank punch”. You can imagine that this party is pretty lame, but often this is the experience of shopping online.
Recently I was asked to lead a team in defining what “Community 2.0” is and how we should strive towards bringing that focus to our product.
After pausing to consider all the possible interpretations of that phrase (there are many, and little direction was supplied), I started to remember a scruffy couch of dubious origins wedged into the small lobby of the Studio Theater at Portland State University.
We called it “The Lounge” and it served as the central location where you could find a friend, discuss the weather, drop off your stuff, review the new plays, post messages, or sleep off whatever you’d done the night before. Though the janitorial staff would regularly sweep the floor and empty the trash cans, the rest of the it was left to us.
The bulletin board was moderated (for better or worse) by anyone who saw fit. Extra couches and chairs appeared (and sometimes disappeared) with regularity; the microwave once miraculously morphed into a newer non-RadarRange model over Christmas break. We were proud of our small corner and railed against anyone who upset our little haven.
To me, this was the ultimate source of community while at school. Any free time I had, I’d wander over to the Lounge and usually find a friend and a hug, if not Doritos or a free-form improv in full swing. It was a place where everybody knew your name.
Such spaces are few and far between on the corporate-sponsored internet. Afraid that something that someone says will offend someone else, the floors are swept and waxed every night, and the walls stripped free of any bulletins. Living in constant fear that people will scare away other people (and therefore lose revenue), e-commerce sites often tie our hands and blunt our senses so that we don’t interact in an inappropriate manner.
Unfortunately, this antiseptic life is also missing all the grit and realism which makes it worth living. So go ahead, make spaces that get a little dirty, and let people clean them up. It will give them a chance to have a sense of ownership in what they’ve done, while enabling community in a way you’d never imagined.
People have been interacting with other people for much longer than the internet has been around, so give them the tools, and set them free.