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Towards Small-Scale Social

Brendan | 2024-01-05
essays
a powers of ten style diagram shows how people and spaces connect on hyperlink at different scales
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What do we want from our online social spaces?
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What do we need, and what do we only reach for out of habit? What exhausts, and what nourishes?

Social environments on the internet provide a bountiful — and sometimes incongruous — bundle: conversation, riffing, jokes and shitposts, entertainment, learning, distraction, inspiration, meeting interesting people.

It's a beautiful bundle, to be sure! It's also fragile, and chaotic, and becoming increasingly clear that no platform can sustainably deliver all that we need. And the priorities of the biggest social media platforms are very different from the parts that actually benefit our lives.

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Social media's in a bit of a crisis.
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Maybe it always has been, but the present vibes feel particularly precarious. This is destabilizing, but also primes us for what comes next. Twitter clones abound; fragmentation is expected; love and hate relationships are the norm.

We think we want better chat, better blogs, better Twitter, better Discord…but it's hard to articulate what this means. When we think about these platforms at their best: they're about connection, meaning, friends, sparks of delight and provocations and resonance.

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Yearning, seeking, inventing, asking for more…
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These days many of the best online social experiences happen in very small-scale environments. A few friends, a loose microcommunity, a cozy corner with the right vibes.

It's in the air, thick with it, even, in certain places — the cozyweb, the indieweb, the slow web; tiny internets and run your own social; independent creative communities, local learning spaces, small schools and squads…and beyond.

a compass and map

Mapping What Matters

What are the parts of this that actually matter? Social goals are different for everyone, but the things we value and find most energy in include:

Conversely, there are some things we don't want, because we know they're at odds with the above! If we're moving towards small-scale social, we're pushing back against:

Give us group chats, but with purpose — where we can focus energy towards meaningful collaboration, meetings of minds. This is hard, because it's way easier to browse and scroll — so we need a lot of activation energy, lower friction for creative experiments.

Give us online social environments that are non-algorithmic, purpose-driven, intimate, and intentional — grounded in simple acts of being and doing things with friends, yet with space for serendipity, room for emergent social pathways to wend their way from loose ties to collaborative circles.

Give us places with edges, boundaries, doors and walls — with legible changes, finite and countable updates. Where we can explore cool projects with people we know, and start new things together.

a small stack of envelopes and letters

Shared Society of Small-Scale Social

We're not the only ones who want this. There are a number of others doing great work on small-scale social internet experiences, platforms, and tools:

And of course, individuals wield the tools available every day to create beautiful shared spaces for friends — surfing and subverting platform norms, carving paths, setting examples — making things work, somehow, through sheer force of will:

We're happy to be a part of this ecosystem…

…and we also want to figure out ways to play together……to weave together these different kinds of spaces, this whole set of tools, this library of experiences and ways of exploring and…and………and…………

Network Topology of the Small-Scale Socialverse

Just for fun, and for the sake of illustration, let's map a small corner of this interconnected web — people and projects and social clusters, which might manifest as Spaces and Studios on Hyperlink, but are interesting and worth following no matter where they live!

We drew a smaller snapshot for our post about the initial version of Studios — a map of learning and projects for the three of us on the Hyperlink Team.

a diagram of the spaces that are shared among the hyperlink team members

Let's sketch a wider vision, how the clusters we're part of, and adjacent ones, might fit together. Aside from the Hyperlink Team, I'm connected to a variety of local sub-graphs, including both:

a diagram of al the spaces that Brendan is a part of

…and that's still just one corner, the one where I tend to orbit :)

Other identifiable clusters, based on early Hyperlink activity, include:

The map continues to grow!

a more vibe-y diagram of the whole ecosystem at a high level

From our vantage point, this is the next level to explore — but we can imagine zooming out further, panning to other areas of the global map of internet learners and creators: other fields, other tools, other types of activity.

Small-scale social doesn't mean the entire social graph is small, just that it's made up of many local clusters, of varying size, interconnected in ways that make your local position feel more personal and cozy.

It's more like a network of small friendly neighborhoods that form a walkable web of a larger vibrant city, rather than an enormous mall you have to visit in order to meet your friends.

a forest with a house at its edge and a path leading into it

Hyperlink's Role in the Small-Scale Socialverse

So, we're building in this space — but where, exactly? What are we trying to make; what experiences and abilities do we want to enable?

Hyperlink's area of focus is something like small-scale social for collaborative learning and creative exploration.

In particular, we're all about making environments and infrastructure for doing ambitious, creative, agential work together with people we care about.

Some of the things we're working on to align with the above tenets of great small-scale social environments:

We hope these things can help us direct attention together, encourage positive feedback loops, find serendipity, do meaningful activity, hype each other up, spend time well, and nurture big ideas and dreams.

Going Big on Small

We've been playing with collaborative projects, environments for group work, and a variety of small experiments. We've been thinking about what it means to design your own campus, network, creative home…

What's next?

Right now we're thinking about how we can better support groups gathering on the internet — from community events and meetups, to tiny conferences and cohorts, experimental workshops, and more.

Convening to do things together…and doing things slowly over time. Hosting a garden party…while also tending to the garden.

For those of us seeking to explore this space, we can:

We hope Hyperlink can play a role — a place to gather, organize, tinker on projects, and share our work. Of course, we encourage using any tools and platforms and spaces that work for you.

Join us in exploring small-scale social spaces on the internet! 🌱🌐🌀