Context and Community: Seeing the Empty Spaces

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Bix had wandered across my earlier entry. I keep vaguely meaning to put in permanent links to my Write.as blog, and maybe even my “suitable for employers” public appearance WordPress Blog, but I realized something:

Those are both currently built as “public facing” sites, which isn't what I'm trying for here. Bix talks about “friction” in maintaining communities, and I like the metaphor. It sparked an idea in me that I couldn't quite put into words. Fortunately Edie Brickell popped up thanks to the almighty algorithm™️ and gave me the words I was looking for:

Me, I'm a part of your circle of friends And we, notice you don't come around.

Eureka!

Current online systems are good at showing you when someone does something, posts or tweets or toots or comments or whatever. But the endless scroll hides the absences. Not out of any malice, I suspect, just because it's harder to show people when someone doesn't say something. What would that notification even look like?

Something like this, maybe:

Right around here Nate thought about saying something but deleted it.

But that feels intensely creepy, as it should.

It's not really something I can fault the makers of social media sites for, but it's something that happens naturally in real circles of friends, and we need a way to re-create it in our online spaces.

How?

Ah, you ask a good question, straw man <h2> question. I really don't know. But here's my first thought: We get lost in large social networks. There is always enough going on to fill anyone's wall or stream or whatever you call it. It's so easy to get caught up in the minutae of third-tier friends that you don't notice the absence of a first-rate friend.

So what if we had smaller social networks? The general consensus is that you can have about fifty “actual” friends. Imagine a social network that is that small; small enough that when Alice is quiet for two days Bob notices and reaches out to Alice directly. Write.as almost has this, but as it stands there's no way for me to reach out to another user quietly, unless they've gone out of their way to include direct contact information.

I'm imagining a slightly different type of social space. A network that is intentionally enclosed by default, where comments aren't immediately put out into the public web. Inside jokes could grow up in such an environment, real connections could form as people grow to feel safe with each other.

And terrible stuff could grow up in such environments too, I'm alive to that possibility. But just because an idea can be used for evil doesn't mean it can't be a good idea.

I don't quite know how to form this kind of online community. Forums have had some of this, but up until now the goal has always been to grow, to make bigger and wider nets.

It might be time to reverse that trend.

If you have ideas about this, if you happen to see this, reach out to me. I'm @nate@frogmob.life on Mastodon.