10.02, Thursday 8 Oct 2015

Almost a decade ago, there was a florescence of ambient awareness. Because the web was small, we used websites to share our activity in a way that would be overwhelming now… but back then, provided social peripheral vision, creating a sense of togetherness, no matter where we were.

Some of the tools I used:

  • which would share what music I had on by scrobbling tracks to a website
  • Jaiku which put a free/busy indicator - and message - right next to my friends in my phone address-book
  • Instant messenger away messages… like a one-time-use status update. My favourite was to write 4!!! then see who messaged me to say 4 what? At which point I’d update my away message: 5!!!
  • Dopplr which simply said what city I was in right now and where I was planning to be next. Serendipitous meetings with friends in foreign cities, there’s nothing nicer
  • (Any more I’ve forgotten?)

My own take on this was Glancing – eye-contact for small groups, only online. I reached prototype, and I’ve tried to build it again since. But never managed to get it quite right.

All the weird side-effects that happened! Having to turn your scrobbles off when you’re playing an embarrassing track… or not: You gotta embrace your inner midget.

It’s all Presentation of Self in Everyday Life and face and FoMO.

Complex, lively, the hurly burly stuff of life.

There are a couple of services which have evolved.

  • Flickr had an element of “what I’m up to right now” but it went all Pro Photography. Instagram leapt in on that low-friction, scrobble-my-view, ambient-awareness thing… but I’ve noticed in the last few months I’m beginning to miss stuff. My community there is too big.
  • Twitter used to be, for me, this lovely way of having coffee with people because we both happened to be in the same part of town at the same time. And then it started acting more like old school blogging with this general awareness of what people are up to. And now it’s all about self-marketing, and so busy that unless you’re in the same timezone as someone, you’re going to lose touch.

Facebook does a bunch of these things, but not well. One big room with terrible acoustics.

Hey Facebook’s new campus has the largest open plan office in the world. NO SHIT.

Can I say something? Email used to be different. You’d spend hours crafting florid, multi-paragraph epics, full of emotion, humour, and anecdote. Imagine giving that much of a shit about an email today.

The web is busy now. No bad thing. But much too busy to have a single place to gather my friends around photos, another around status updates, etc. I used to have one community online, and now I’ve got a hundred. And while I can shard them by app (business on LinkedIn, family on Facebook, my global village on Twitter), it’s a lot of effort to maintain that. And it doesn’t make any sense.


Tom Coates invited me to join a little community of his in Slack. There are a handful of people there, some old friends, some new friends, all in this group messaging thingy.

There’s a space where articles written or edited by members automatically show up. I like that.

I caught myself thinking: It’d be nice to have Last.FM here too, and Dopplr. Nothing that requires much effort. Let’s also pull in Instagram. Automatic stuff so I can see what people are doing, and people can see what I’m doing. Just for this group. Back to those original intentions. Ambient awareness, togetherness.

Nobody says very much. Sometimes there’s a flurry of chat.

It’s small, human-scale. Maybe it’s time to bring all these ambient awareness tools back, shared inside Slack instances this time.

You know what, it’s cosy. I’ve been missing this. A neighbourhood.

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