The Developer Theory of the Third Place
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:
- They must be free or relatively inexpensive to enter and to purchase food and drinks.
- They must be highly accessible, ideally one should be able to get there by foot from one's home.
- A number of people can be expected to be there on a daily basis.
- 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.
- 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 Programming.Reddit.com 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, del.icio.us, 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 programming.reddit.com 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 del.icio.us, 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?