The Cafe is an informal gathering place open to all members of the CIP. Like many Cafes it's open at all hours.
It is the least structured of the activities and conversational practices in the CIP. However, it has more structure than a typical Lotus Notes discussion database. Our design attempts to find a dynamic balance between:
- overviews of everything and focused access to what's of interest to you
- ways to skim conversations and ways to dive in as desired
- individual autonomy and responsibility to others in the group
In The Great Good Place, sociologist Ray Oldenburg says that to have a rewarding life, each of us needs three places -- a home, a work place, and a "third place" where we can gather to relax, hang out, and socialize. The "third place" is the English pub, the German biergarten, the French sidewalk cafe and bistro, and the Japanese after-hours private bars or cocktail clubs. Conversation is the main entertainment.
"The Third Place provides its guests with novelty, perspective on life, a spiritual tonic (Oldenburg's phrase), and friends by the set -- that is, friendships with an open and inclusive group that are more important than any one relationship between specific individuals," says corporate change and transformation consultant Richard Pascale in "The False Security of 'Employability,'" Fast Company, April : May 1996.
So, too, in our on-line lives. In addition to the virtual workplace, we need virtual third places. Hence our CIP Cafe.
In a cafe the physical arrangement of tables and chairs organizes social energy and attention differently at two levels, each with a distinct, essential function:
Translation into Cyberspace
- Dynamic exploration: supports wandering among the tables, sampling conversations on the way through, and perhaps even offering a passing remark. Social norms and the spatial arrangement work together to make it easy to walk by a table you are not interested in without saying a word.
- Focusing/committing to a table: supports pulling up a chair, sitting down at the table, and joining the conversation. The attentional focus of the table, all chairs facing a common center, encourages conversation, and norms and the spatial proximity of others make it difficult to disengage without saying something. The architecture embodies a commitment to the social whole of the table.
Our groupware design for the Cafe attempts to create a similar pattern in cyberspace. The Cafe Guidelines suggest social norms similar to a cafe, encouraging wandering as well as respectful engagement and disengagement from a table. The software offers two levels of social interaction:
Cyberspace is both more limited and limitless than physical space. We can't see or touch each other at these Cafe tables, but in this Cafe you can sit at as many tables as you like at the same time!
- wandering among the tables to sample the tables
- joining a table to engage in conversation
The Cafe is similar to a Notes discussion database, with tables (topics) and comments (responses). It also has several enhancements to that traditional design:
The Imaginal Realm
- A facilitator software agent invites you to join a table after viewing its topic opener.
- A button lets you join any table of interest -- to "pull up a chair and sit down."
- A button lets you leave a table to let others know you have gone.
- A view shows who has joined which table, so anyone can see who is there.
- A view of all tables you have joined helps you focus only on topics of interest and reduce overload.
- A view of all members provides an overview of the whole Cafe by showing for each member how many tables s/he has joined, and how many tables and comments s/he has created and read.
To suggest a Cafe, we have used some graphic touches on the navigator and table and comment forms: red-checkered table cloth, vase of flowers, coffee cup.
Because cyberspace is much more limited than physical reality, we connect in a different way, using our minds and imagination instead of rubbing shoulders and sharing food and drink. Intention and practice help. So do well-chosen metaphors and appropriate graphic images. But like a good novel, they are never as rich as what we see in our mind's eye.
Cyberspace is limited to what the computer can render. We talk of meeting in cyberspace, but we are not inside our computers or the optical fibers that connect them. We meet in another place that is paradoxically inside our minds and everywhere, all at once.
From the 1996 Awakening Technology Community of Inquiry and Practice (CIP)
Content and Groupware Design © 1996 Awakening Technology.
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From www.awakentech.com on 10/20/2020 ---- item last modified on 05/31/1997.