Scott Hanselman

The Developer Theory of the Third Place

July 26, 2007 Comment on this post [36] Posted in Microsoft | Musings | Programming
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coffeerepublic There's a theory that says that for everyone there's Home, Work and a Third Place. If you ever watch the American TV show Cheers, that bar was the Third Place for many of the characters.

Some examples of a Third Place are various Places of Worship, Community Centers, The Mall, The Gym, The Park, and Applebee's. It seems for many people the Internet is becoming a Third Place, although some argue that Television has become the de facto Third Place and the Internet ranks as the Fourth Place.

Fred Gooltz gives this formula for a good offline Third Place:

These are the sorts of public spaces that I crave --online and off. Some essential ingredients for successful offline third places include:

  1. They must be free or relatively inexpensive to enter and to purchase food and drinks.
  2. They must be highly accessible, ideally one should be able to get there by foot from one's home.
  3. A number of people can be expected to be there on a daily basis.
  4. All people should feel welcome, it should be easy to get into a conversation. A person who goes there should be able to find both old and new friends each time they visit.

However, in America there are fewer and fewer Third Places that don't cost money. I personally feel guilt sitting around Starbucks too long so I end up ordering a Guilt Coffee - and I don't drink coffee, ut just sits there getting cold, assuaging my guilt.

Starting in September, while I'm building a home office, starting with a stolen borrowed stapler, I'm going to be tasked to engaging deeply with the community, more than ever before - ironic indeed that I'm currently leaving the community that energized me in the first place! I will probably work some percentage of the time in a Third Place.

Here's some of the things I'm going to try in order to "stay frosty" when it comes to things development:

  • Continue work on real world Open Source projects that are used by thousands.
  • Schedule visits, probably a few a month, with development shops and ask them if I can "come and hang out." While I'm there, I'll ask them how they develop, what they use, what problems, war stories and trouble they've caused and if they are having fun in the process.
    • (If you're in a Portland/SW Washington dev shop, invite me! If I'm visiting your town, I'll let you know on this blog and I'd like to stop by! I'll post in my Facebook Profile where I'm going, and probably on Twitter as well.)
  • Find Third and Fourth Places offline and online and listen.
  • Have as many conversations as I can with developers.

As to Third/Fourth Places online, there's a four year old, but very good, paper on Social Software by Lee Bryant where we says:

It seems ironic that one of the most individualist industries (internet development) in the most individualist cultures (e.g. US, UK) has spent so much time discussing community. As Meg Pickard points out , this perhaps reflects an anxiety with our own social fragmentation and alienation, a search for meaning, or possibly a yearning for a sense of community that has been lost with the decline of the "third place" – public spaces where people would normally meet and interact physically.

It's interesting to read an article "so incredibly old" (in the Internet world) because the MySpace/FaceBook world of 2007 gets to look back on the last four years with the benefit of history. While the Internet has always, kind of by definition, been social, it appears that 2003 was when Social Networking really took it to the next level.

There's a fine Social Networking Sites Timeline at pbwiki, started by Danah of U of Berkeley that documents that 2003 was (possibly) when LinkedIn, Friendster and MySpace started. While I don't think of it as strictly a social site, slashdot started in September of 1997, many many years earlier. It is more of ~news site, its comments and moderation system is very sophisticated and it's certainly a very social an energetic place.

Fast forward to today. I'm on LinkedIn and FaceBook. One for business and one for personal, from my point of view; this may change.

However, while these are interesting places to poke around, and the "dashboard" view in Facebook is certainly interesting, neither of these places really feels - to me - like a community. Neither is a Third Place. They're more like a Social Brain Dump and they are still Walled Gardens.

Where do Developers hang out? Where do they hang out online? Is a community or a mob? My first thought was that blogs, like mine, like yours, were a place to hang out. I certainly hang out here some and I enjoy the community. Then I thought about dzone,, dotnetkicks, and others, but started to think that raganwald is right when he says (emphasis and clipping mine):

A popular blog post can generate hundreds of comments. When those comments are attached to the post, you can read them right on the post. Anybody finding the post finds the comments. That's value added to the post. Search engines can index them.

But when the comments are in instead of on the blog post, what happens? ...And what if the company owning the comments blocks search engines, or goes out of business? The value is lost forever.

Those comments are on the Internet, but they aren't on the web. The web is composed of pages with contextually relevant links between them. Social bookmarking applications subvert this basic structure. They are unraveling the web itself.

In this case, the value of those potential third places diminishes greatly - again with the walled gardens. I'll still continue to use, because it is just so delicious, but I have decided that Digg and Digg-Clones really provide minimal value to me over having you, Dear Reader, email or chat me links you know I'll like - because you know me, the Digg Mob doesn't. Moreover, now that I know that there are comments out there about my posts, these social sites are actually taking value away as they fragment the conversation. Thus, they aren't good places to hang out.

Is the Blogosphere, the real linked web, the Third Place for the Developer? Is there a place on the Internet that hasn't been created yet, or a specification that's missing to really bring a sense of community - of Third Placeness - to the Web, or do we already have everything we need?

Where is your current Third Place?

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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July 26, 2007 6:08
-- Have you seen my stapler? --

I practically live inside my Google Reader (my third place), only venturing out into FaceBook land or "real work" for social interaction.

I find that as a MicroISV style developer, the social developer interaction (read: information streams) out there are really only "one way": blogs, podcasts, webcasts, etc.

This is partly due to the exponential entry curve - the quality of discussion and contribution from guys like yourself, Ayende, Jeremy Miller, etc. etc. etc. is pretty much 10,000 feet above developers like myself. I have no problem absorbing, leveraging and using your ideas / practices / code in my projects. The difficulty is that right now I can't really provide much value back.

In time, I hope to be involved a little bit more in some Open Source projects (I have one brewing). Again the .NET user groups are an aim of mine too. Maybe in a few years more, I will be a "craftsman" who can bring something valuable to the rest of the guild. In the meantime, I'll keep learning from the masters and adding to the "IOU" list in my brain.
July 26, 2007 7:00
As someone who is the only coder for the company, and works from home, and doesn't have any other developer friends it can get really lonely sometimes.

Back in the old days when MSN chat was free and popular a few of us hosted a web dev chat room and that was our third place. Chat rooms slowly died off for some reason (maybe it was the spammers) and we moved over to hosting a web forum. It took a long time to build that community and eventually one of the others admins took it over and tried to make money off it. The rest of us branched off to started a new add-free home (, and it's now the place I go to celebrate some coding victory or commiserate about my problems.
July 26, 2007 8:03
We would love to have you at our developer shop whenever you are next visiting India :)
July 26, 2007 9:07
I worked at Starbucks for 5 years and the Third Place was a mantra, so I feel the need to clarify the coining. I may be flamed by those who would correct me and I welcome it.
July 26, 2007 9:16
Online third place: - goodness, this is more useful than MSDN.

Offline third place: Borders Cafe (Seattle's Coffee)-- My Wing, my books and I (laptop stays at home-- too distracting) are there for 2-4 hours every single day after work to study something. Not all of us can master a book by looking at its cover, like you, Scott.
July 26, 2007 9:31

I don't see LinkedIn as a combination between your 'third place' and 'work'. LinkedIn is simply a hugely popular address book with pointers to other people's address book. It was only when they added the very interesting 'Answers' section to their website, that something finally started to happen.
Before that, you simply got the occasional mail of a long lost colleague that found you on linkedin and asked to join their network. But that was that.

I believe that our new site offers a lot more than LinkedIn for the 'third place' function. As it is restricted to the virtual walls of the company (you need a company email address to register), you are sure that the people that hang out there are ok.

It certainly conforms to the fourth condition 'All people should feel welcome, it should be easy to get into a conversation. A person who goes there should be able to find both old and new friends each time they visit.'. Unless you are not welcome on your workplace ;-)

Let me know what you think.

Read more on our company blog on
July 26, 2007 10:18
Scott: has been down for a few days.

One problem of the web is the fragmentation of where people keep their stuff online. Photos on Flickr or PicasaWeb or Yahoo Photos...etc videos on YouTube or the like, whereabouts on Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce... etc tags on Delicious.. etc, Personal page in Facebook, Myspace... etc, their blog in one of the gazilion blogging sites. It's a mess.

I think online users should maintain a single page with consolidated links to all their stuff. Something like is practical.

Borders or B&N is where I hang out once a week.

July 26, 2007 10:36
I feel I should check myself as to the origin of the "third place". It has been used many times in different contexts. I came into the term while at Starbucks. From wikipedia...

Starbucks uses the term the third place in its marketing because it vies to be the "extra place" people frequent after home and work. This idea came from a marketing concept by Howard Schultz. In an attempt to make Starbucks a "home away from home", the café section of the store is often outfitted with comfortable chairs, as well as the usual tables and hard-backed chairs found in cafés. Free electricity outlets are provided for patrons, and many branches also have wireless internet access, provided on a charge basis by T-Mobile. Many larger retail stores also host "mini-concerts" for local musicians.

July 26, 2007 12:47
The link doesnt work, it has the hanselman blog link in front of it.

Anyway, I dont see the attraction of sites like facebook or pownce. I checked them out, but dont see what I am supposed to do there ;). As for a programmer's third place, I guess blogs do count, and I read quite a few of them, but I dont really feel like I am part of a community or in a virtual place. Maybe I should start contributing to one of the many open source projects to get more of that.

I think MMORPGs are a third place now for a lot of people. In a game like Eve - Online there are a lot of IT-people playing / hanging out in their guild's chatroom.
July 26, 2007 13:24
Channel9 is a good place to hang out if you're a .NET developer... not quite a "third place" (interesting term btw)... it's still related to work, but as a true geek what will you do :)
I like to "hang out" in good old newsgroups as well, and of course, there's IM (MSN messenger, IRC etc)

July 26, 2007 13:56
My 3rd place? Well many moons ago it was the Compuserve Forums, which moved over to the various newsgroups and maillists (which are still useful - I well remember some really good discussions back on comp.object somewhere around the mid 90s when people like Grady Booch et al regularly got involved, this was where you learned and could question your programming beliefs. Today things have moved onto RSS, and then either using comments (as here) or trackbacks to create a conversation.

I find all my 3rd places tend to be somewhere where I can engage in the worldwide community and not just the local community, especially as in the smallish town I live in here in the UK has no real physcial place for dev types to be. And after all I would rather interact with people like Chris Sells, Grady Booch, Kevlin Henney, Scott Hanselman (!), at al.

July 26, 2007 16:58
I originally thought mine was MSDN as I spent so much time there. Lately I realize the only developer site that I truly feel a belonging to and garners all my minuscule extra seconds is The site has a great balance of reader contributed articles and forums, including a very friendly programmer centric lounge area. As I don't know many programmers outside of work, I find that the lounge is a great place with people with similar interests and humor.

You should give it a shot!

July 26, 2007 17:01
I agree with several readers here in that none of the social networking sites feel like a third place to me. For me a "third place" has to be somewhere that is both accessible and where I create friends. A third place should enable me to get to know someone on a "personal" basis. By that I mean each individual in that third place comes to take on a certain personality. That is hard to do when you have tiny fragments of comments spread out over months.

Even with the blogs I read, I only comment on a small handful of blogs. Out of every 5 or 6 blogs on I may only comment on one. Blog comments seem too disjointed and disconnected. The conversational tone of blogs is like when you are at a party and wander over to a group of people in a conversation. Shortly after you "join" the conversation, it breaks up and everyone wonders off and creates new "mini-conversations". I miss the back and forth of a normal conversation where people can really explore and discuss a topic, and eventually they will branch off on some tangent and the group just goes with the flow.

For me my third place is forums. For a long time it was the forums at ASP.Net but shifted a couple of years ago to the forums. I have met a lot of new people in both of those places and have gotten to know some of them outside of that environment. Heck, I even started a business with a couple of them. I still have friends that I made at ASP.Net that I seek out at conferences and still IM on occassion even though they are not part of the DotNetNuke community where I normally hang out.

One of the hallmarks of the relationships on Cheers was that although the patrons seemed to be mere acquaintances, over the years you began to see the relationships grow to include portions of the characters personal lives outside of the bar. That is how I want my third place. I want to grow to know people, whether online or offline, and eventually for close acquantances that should grow into deeper relationships.
July 26, 2007 17:40
Lately I realize the only developer site that I truly feel a belonging to and garners all my minuscule extra seconds is

I feel the same way, I've been a member at CodeProject for almost a year now and it is definitely my 3rd place. When I went in for surgery on 02JUL I started spending more and more time there (as I wasn't able to work). This site is a great place to find answers (in one of their many programming forums), tons of reader articles, then the lounge, where it's a place to lounge around and communicate with other like minded developers like myself.

I don't know a single developer outside of work so I'm always looking for places to "hang out" with other developers, and it usually ends up being online as I live way out in the country.
July 26, 2007 17:56
I use NewsGator Online as my aggregator and I was very disturbed when I clicked on the "Comments" link that started showing up at the bottom of stories. It didn't bring me to the original website's comments page as I expected- it brought me to a discussion forum hosted by NGO. As I look at this post, I see at the bottom "13 comments" (from your feedburner insert), and just below it a link for "0 comments" (which is from NGO). There is no obvious distinction for me, the reader. This feature is a total "value subtract" for the community. The only way I would see it as justified is if the original website did not allow comments.
July 26, 2007 18:17
I don't like to think that the internet (or more specifically certain sites, forums, chat rooms or even multi-player games) is my only option as a developer for a "third place". If I examine my own life, I know that's the current truth, but I wish there was something different.

I'm going to have to think about what I can do to make that "different" happen. There's got to be something more. Someway to give a developer a place they can hang out, gather the information they crave, be a geek but still give a very real social experience (goodness knows if there's one things the traditional geek needs it's a place for them to go to work on and improve upon real world social skills).

Anyone got any ideas?
July 26, 2007 18:33
Google Reader has definitely become my Third Place. I "hang out" there pretty much any time I have a few free minutes.
July 26, 2007 18:45
"A popular blog post can generate hundreds of comments. When those comments are attached to the post, you can read them right on the post. Anybody finding the post finds the comments. That's value added to the post. Search engines can index them."

Regarding the search engine part: bollocks. Reddit posts and comments are indexed by Google as well. is the same to google as is--if anything it's even more of a playground for google what with the rediculous amount of linkage. is no more of a walled garden than is.

July 26, 2007 19:13
Twitter has become sort of a 3rd place for me. When I get on the computer in the morning it's like walking into a bar. I look forward to seeing what crazy antics my friends have been engaged in. "Wow, Bill over there had a coffee! Sweet!" Seriously though, it's like one big chat room. It's the party line done right.
July 26, 2007 19:13
Not to holy-roll or violate Rule #4, but since you ask, I think "Places Of Worship" fits the bill pretty well:

1. They are free to enter, and many have free food and drinks. If you frequent, you may choose to donate 10% of your income to pay rent for this third place.
2. In many areas in the US, there are one or more on every corner.
3. Depending on the flavor, there may be people daily, or at least often enough to qualify. They are usually open on weekends.
4. All people should feel welcome, and constantly meeting and making friends. Some third places of this genre are better at this one than others.

Of course, there's more to Starbucks than the fellowship- the life-giving methylxanthine is important too- but a happening coffee shop is evidence that the coffee's doing it's trick...
July 26, 2007 19:25
@Steven - You don't think that comments that are stored in a totally different place from the post lessen the whole experience? If reddit goes away, the comments do too! Same with Newsgator like Joshua says...that really fragments the experience, IMHO.

@JoeBrinkman - What can be done to the comments here, or the comments on a blog to make it more "accessible" for discussion?

Should I create
July 26, 2007 19:49
A forum here would be very nice I think. The people that comment here seems to be a very nice bunch, hardly ever do we see a flame war here (think the alpha geek blog post was the only one that came close).
July 26, 2007 19:59
I would say Panera Bread is my 3rd place. They have free wifi and decent coffee. My husband and I sit in that place every Saturday morning for a good 2 hours.

Congratulations on the new position at MS. I listen to Hanselminutes and visit this blog often. Keep up the great work!
July 26, 2007 20:23
I have a suggestion for comments Scott. E-mail notifications on new comments. I think all blogs should have that feature. Just a little checkbox when you leave a comment that says "e-mail me when a new comment is left". Kind of a subscribe to this post feature. So instead of creating forums, just make blog posts act a little more like forum threads. Optionally of course, but what a nice feature to improve conversations around blog posts.

More efficient too. Not a fan of coming back and checking old posts all around the blogosphere where I have left a comment to see if new comments have been added that contribute to the discussion or are maybe even responding to my own comment.
July 26, 2007 20:36
@Scott H: I have always wondered why blogs which allow user comments do not follow the threaded discussion metaphor used in forums or Usenet?

If I reply to someone, I have to mention their name and then when someone reads the comment, they have to scroll up and remember what the original post was and then when people start replying to others, it becomes a mess. You see names flying around and you have to jump around the discussions. @this person and @that person !?

I feel some blogging software including dasBlog does it wrong or at least not suitable for open discussion type of blogs.

If I had my own blog, I would just use a forums software instead of a blog software. I think CommunityServer is the proper hybrid.
July 26, 2007 20:41
I think it's important to change your third place. Otherwise, it will inevitibly evolve into something that can no longer be considered a third place. I used to spend a lot of time at the ASP.NET forums helping out people. The site's redesign was more than enough to make me put a stop to that. It turned helping people out into more of an annoyance than a pleasure, not to mention that some of the moderators were pissing me off. So I started spending more time working on my blog (almost done) and playing Counter-Strike Source. Instead of helping people, I am coding and killing. BOOM, HEADSHOT!
July 26, 2007 20:50
Is a walled garden so bad? Some of the biggest problems on the web are due to the fact that it isn't a walled garden and there is no accountability. IE SPAM of any flavor, malicious sites, etc.

Authentication removes this. I think this is why the youth of today use the Social Networks in place of email (because there is no spam [assuming you alter your privacy settings])

There is certainly room for both.
July 26, 2007 21:10
I think your "third place" depends on the person. You mention home and work, but some of us (I wish I was in there!) work at home... so home is no longer really an escape from work. I don't work at home, but do a lot via remote connections (coding, testing, general 'didn't get it done at the office' huge violation of 8 hour day concept stuff).

Another idea would be segmentation of a specific environment. I love reading outdoors. My old condo had a balcony that looked out over the park and river--truly awesome. I had an internalized rule that I'd never bring my laptop out there and would use it to relax, read a book, or just generally chill. It helped keep me centered and focused--inside was 'work' whether it be home or office work--but the balcony was relaxing.

Online and social environments are an interesting avenue for the online third place. I spend a lot of time blogging, reading blogs, newsgroup posts, and research... and while I don't think I can accustom it exactly to Cheers, it's amazing how... engrossed you get. We blog about everything (even as techies)--from our office achievements and challenges to the birth of our children and their celebrations. Our community, if nothing else, lives vicariously through each other. Is that even healthy? LOL Maybe, maybe not... but it seems to be our current culture.

@Scott H et al regarding Forums: The blog comments are nice because, if nothing else, it creates direct association. Story -> Feedback. Forums are another step. You have part of the "story" here on the blog and then a link to the forums. It creates a disconnect that relies on both systems staying in tact to get the whole picture. I'm sure there are some things that could be "forumed," but I can press CTRL-F and search (or let Google do it for me) just as easy. :) I think many people do not give searching and indexing enough credit in today's information overload.
July 26, 2007 22:21
My 3rd place is definitely IRC. Yes, you remember -- *that* IRC. It's still alive, and it is still just as enjoyable as it was 10 years ago. The key, of course, is finding the right channel for you. I log in when I get to work and I log out when I leave - some days I spend a lot of time reading and chatting and other days it may be a minute or two. My 4th places are online forums, which are a great medium for disconnected communities.

Interestingly, my 3rd and 4th places all revolve around motorcycles, rather than programming. Perhaps that's because I develop and converse with developers all day long - and I want my "other" places to be just that ... "other."
July 26, 2007 23:14
@Scott- I definitely think better threading and the ability to be notified of new comments would help. But I also think that blogs should have a central forum-like hub. Each blog post would essentially kick off a new "thread" and each blog category would equate to a forum group.

Part of the problem with blogs is that the conversations tend to be very time sensitive, yet many of the topics being discussed on a particular blog are not time sensitive at all. I often run across blogs weeks or months after they were written. I would love to leave a comment but with the way blog comments are handled now, the conversation is over. The crowd has moved on. It is like watching last years American Idol finale in re-runs. Try as I might, the voting is over and no matter how often I phone, I cannot change the outcome. The same is true of old blog posts.

I look at posts from bloggers like you and Jeff Atwood who often post on timeless topics. For example Jeff's recent series on PC modding. Why should the discussion on those blogs end after 3 days or 3 weeks? The only reason that I can see is that blog software is not designed to promote group discussions. To me the ultimate blog software for building a community would basically allow the blogger to kick off a conversation, but then the conversation would seamlessly shift to a medium that is designed to handle conversations.

I am often frustrated by the philosophy in the blogosphere that promotes answering a blog with another blog. Why should I have to "move the party" to my house to continue the conversation? Conversations are contextual, and answering blogs with blogs breaks down the contextual nature of a good conversation. And yet I often find that I recieve as much insight on a topic from the comments as I do from the original post, but when those comments are spread out on 100 different blogs then I will often miss most of the conversation which means that I am missing a lot of value in the conversation.
July 26, 2007 23:55
Fascinating! A "third place" is exactly what I'm missing; something I really hope to find eventually. I didn't realize there was a term for it! (I think I must be too picky, because the likely candidates alway seem to fail.)

Some blogs and and forums are kind of close to that for me, but not quite. And while I am compulsive in my use of Google Reader, I get no sense of "place" from it...
July 27, 2007 0:07
The 'Third Place' is now the 'Fifth Estate.'
July 27, 2007 4:15
My third place is most definitely the basketball court. My buddies are generally there. It does not cost anything. And it is within walking distance from home.

Since I spend most of my waking hours on a computer, I could not say any place I go there as a third place; it is more of a first place.
July 27, 2007 6:04
What is the matter with you twenty-somethings? Don't you know Usenet?! Usenet news groups are *the* place to hang out. And they run on a protocol, NNTP, you know, that's *not* proprieatary. So it's not some out-of-college stupid ass "community".

You mentioned walled gardens. Well, you blog is gonna last what? 5 years, tops? before you move onto to other stuff (wife and kids, for instance). The Usenet is just this timeless (sorta) archive.

I usually look at the younger folks and I see that somewhere along the line, they are getting wrong ideas about the net. I read recently that "E-mail is dead" and a kid said "I mostly use Facebook or instant messaging to talk with friends." That is really stupid. E-mail is a protocol. Fucking Facebook is a business. One day, it'll go out of business. Enjoy while you can and they're still around.

The Net is about freedom. And freedom is about open things, open standards. Recognize things for what they are. Fads.

My 2 cents.

July 27, 2007 8:22
I think Mr. Gooltz misses one essential aspect of Third Place, and that's the reason why people go there to begin with. You go to a coffee shop for coffee, but you stay and return because of the people. True, it's the community that makes it personally important, but you still need a reason to be there. You go to the rec center to play, and you go to your place of worship to worship. A Third Place needs a compelling topic to build the community around. That's why my online Third Place is flickr, (and everything2 before that) and I'll never join a Social Networking site. I go to flickr to see photos, and post photos, and discuss photography, and my friendships grow from those conversations. I go to the coffee shop to get coffee, and read, and work, and flirt with the coffee girl, and my friendships there grow from those activities.

Without a central topic, you don't get a community, you get a party, social interaction for its own sake, and that excludes many (most) abstract thinking introverts, which happen to be a lot of your developers.

July 31, 2007 0:58
Please come by next time your in Fort Worth, Texas. We would love to have you come and visit our team. DynCorp International.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.