Sunday, April 6, 2008

Third Places Online

TC3's "Learning Commons"

I'm not starting a new conversation here, but read these excerpts from Ray Oldenburg's 1989 The Great Good Place:

"The individual may have many friends, a rich variety among them, and opportunity to engage many of them daily only if people do not get uncomfortably tangled in one another's lives." (p.22)

"Third places exist on neutral ground and serve to level their guests to a condition of social equality. Within these places, conversation is the primary activity and the major vehicle for the display and appreciation of human personality and individuality. Third places are taken for granted and most have a low profile. Since the formal institutions of society make stronger claims on the individual, third places are normally open in the off hours, as well as at other times. The character of a third place is determined most of all by its regular clientele and is marked by a playful mood, which contrasts with people's more serious involvement in other spheres. Though a radically different kind of setting from the home, the third place is remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends." (p.42)

Oldenburg was writing about physical spaces outside of work and home (the first two places), but to me the third place he's describing is facebook and myspace and all the other online communities where people go to socialize and goof off.

At first I thought libraries could be third spaces, but they're not. At least, they shouldn't be. The space libraries provide is related to work. But librarians have been looking for a way to think about social sites, and this fits. Although the tools may have for-profit applications, the communities formed by the tools are third spaces. (Which is why facebook's decision to allow advertising to its users may be its downfall, and why 'places' that cater to the trendy crowd are similarly without a future.) 

Oldenburg laments in his book that for a variety of reasons third spaces aren't really present in American life, but here they are, alive and well. 

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