Like anything that's only widely embraced when the world is in turmoil, the prospect of spending more time online, or more time using online platforms, has been firmly relegated by many of us to the league of I-never-want-to-do-that-again-even-if-someone-paid-me-and-even-though-I-can-do-it-in-comfy-pyjama-bottoms activities. Especially as, in the UK at least, our 'physical' lives, and our general habits and hobbies as we knew them in the before-times, start to trickle back — it seems as though many of the lessons we learnt about what we were doing wrong have gone out the window.
Despite the enthusiasm, the various pledges, promises, and all the valuable pondering that comes with rethinking how we do things — online is becoming a hard sell. This seems like an almost paradoxical thing to say, given just how 'online' most of our lives are at the minute anyway. From Airbnb, to Netflix, Monzo, Reddit, Twitter, and all the other usual suspects; we're clearly on board with the fact that the digital sphere can complement, and better our lives. So what do we even mean when we say online Space? Don't these 'spaces' already exist? Why do we need new places to meet and share? What are online communities, and communities in general, missing out on by clinging onto 'virtual' as we know it?
Well, we're glad you asked.
At Tevent, when we say Spaces, we mean exactly that. Flexible, non-prescriptive areas to house people, and customise as you so please. Think of literal space, but, of course delivered in an online medium; making it not only easier to use yourself, but much easier to open up to others. They're more than just an account, or a profile, or a single page. Everyone is represented in realtime, and can actively move in, around and between different areas — mingling with as many, or as few, online communities as they're interested in.
In a fun way, this dynamic is reminiscent of all that made Club Penguin, albeit not uncomplicatedly, great. Founded originally in 2000, by 2008, unsurprisingly given the calibre of fun times to be had, the platform had more than 30 million user accounts and was named by Nielsen as a top eight social networking platform in the United States.The usual trajectory was to graduate from Club Penguin onto the 'cooler' platforms, and thus by 2015 the traffic began to wane. Whilst the temptation is to simply shrug this off as the natural demise of a game essentially just for kids; Club Penguin's rather miraculous resurrection tells us otherwise. In the same year that the original Club Penguin was closed down, Club Penguin Rewritten was launched and had reached one million players after only eight months. New Club Penguin was then released in July 2020, and, though there is some debate on which is better, both emulate the original version almost exactly.
Spaces keep us coming back, time and time again — clearly sometimes even years later, because we realise how freeing the ability to go off and do your own thing truly is, whilst riding the wave of other user decisions too. Whether that's pretending to be a penguin-cum-secret-agent; decorating your igloo; spontaneously hanging out in the 'pizza parlour' with fellow penguin friends; or, bouncing between the different Rooms of a new community group on Tevent (wink wink). Online Spaces make the things we enjoy, easier to access, and be a real part of.
And frankly, we aren't very surprised that so many people were rushing to re-build, and get back involved with, the game they had known and loved. We've talked before about the not very social nature of social networks, and the tyranny of the unwieldy 'tech states' seems to only be growing stronger. On the one hand, Facebook itself has released a new 'Widely Viewed Content' report, detailing the most popular media shared on the site, 'presumably to push back against the perception that it was a far-right cesspool'. Remarkably, the data they've chosen to highlight actually reveals that 'the platform is absolutely flooded with crappy meme spam'. Ouch. On the other hand, the once humble Instagram feed, used way back when to share aesthetic sunsets and dog snaps, has now become the plaything of the rich and famous. When not flexing their wealth, they're encouraging us normies to part with our own. The ever-increasing shopification of the platform has taken centre-stage, altering, alarmingly, the fundamental purpose of the app. To extend the earlier comparison, you didn't have to be a social influencer penguin with a brand deal to have a good time. Where we 'live' digitally, and where our communities and friends congregate online is not actually serving lots of us in the way they often seem like they are.
Even platforms that have boomed in popularity more recently, privilege the one-to-many relationship, over the more dynamic, and less linear, way in which a whole group of people meet and connect with each other, on a level playing field of sorts. Sure, there is a time and place for tuning into one's favourite Twitch streamer, but if, when we want to find like-minded people, or host an event without needing wads of cash to hire out a venue (or pay people's transport costs), we find our best option is the impermanence of a hacked-together Zoom job, or the awkwardness of a new group ruled by stalking from afar — something is amiss.
We spend lots of time shimmeying between various digital apps, and 'spaces' already; but these spaces (as in general areas) are not Spaces (as in deliberately open and multi-functional areas). As we've seen, with the former, interactions feel flat, and things aren't intended to facilitate long-lasting and rich socialising. The latter is not just another foray into this world of 'social apps'. It plugs a hole that sometimes fades into the background of our everyday lives, but — as is evident from the recent Club Penguin revival saga — is no less wounding. We need variety online, and crucially we need platforms that users can chop and change to suit their needs at any particular time - not just more of the same rigid virtual. Because we all lose when the only thing stopping us meaningfully connecting is our tools. That's why we need new online Spaces.
Tevent Labs Ltd is a London-based startup founded in July, 2020. Since then, the team has grown from 2 co-founders to a remote team of 16, with over £1M in funding to date from established investors and executives from silicon valley tech firms like Medallia and Salesforce. We're building a better distributed future by building intuitive and enjoyable tools that bring groups together.