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What does Church, the bar, the coffee shop, the barbershop, the library, and the gym all have in common? They’re all what’s called a third space. Your office, your home, and then the third space – where you attend to your hobbies and interests. They’re arguably the most important locale to your being because it’s where we all go for emotional maintenance and social belonging. It’s how we stay sane. It’s where we find community.

Over the past two decades, we’ve seen a massive migration from these communities to digital third spaces – replacing the physical connections with digital bonds. Although it’s too early to know if it’s a good or bad transition. Regardless, it’s given rise to many businesses in the Community-as-a-Service category.

For example, GameStop was the traditional third space for gamers. As a youngster, I’d ride my bike there and hang out for hours, listening to the older kids talk about Super Smash Bros. and Grand Theft Auto. As I grew up, I became one of them. Now Twitch is the third space for gamers. More than 15 million people gather there every day to chat about video games and watch some of their favorite gamers play.

Likewise, Peloton has transplanted the third space for group workouts from physical studios to a digital connection at home.

Our Third Spaces are increasingly becoming digital. I don’t think there’s a single community that is immune to this transformation. Especially considering Gen Z is growing up with a non-traditional sense of community. And they’re the next generation to inject their ideas into the world.

Community Technology

Originally, we thought social media would be the unanimous place for digital third spaces. But the pursuit of major profits knocked social media off this course, leaving a huge gap to fill. As a result, there’s a variety of platforms designed for building communities.

Here are just a few technologies powering digital communities:

  • Slack – messaging platform. Paul Jarvis’s Creative Class utilizes Slack in order for the community of creative members to chat with one another.
  • Patreon – membership platform for creatives. Everyone from Fantasy Footballers to YouTube Cooks use Patreon to monetize their audience and also give them updates.
  • Discourse – community message board with an interface I would compare to Reddit. It’s actually what we use for the Inevitable/Human community page
  • Disciple – creates fully-branded, independent, and profitable social apps for digital communities.
  • Tribe – customizable community messaging platform.
  • Mighty Networks – all-in-one platform for distributing content, connecting with fans, and monetizing your products.

Each of these allows creators to control the experience and aesthetic that they give to their community. It’s a means of taking one’s fans off of the social networks and regaining some of the administrative control.

Facebook isn’t giving up on this pursuit either.

Look at how heavily they’re advertising Facebook Groups – Memphis, basset hounds, dads with daughters. They’ve shifted their entire branding from Facebook the Town Square to Facebook the Living Room.

What’s moving culture in this direction of digital third spaces?

Community-as-a-Service 

Digital access to your hobbies is simpler than finding your community in person. Social platforms aren’t designed for community. Social platforms aren’t designed for ownership or personal monetary gain.

That basically sums up the movement toward standalone digital third spaces. Said a little more gracefully:

Merchandising, advertising, sponsorships, collaborations, etc. These can be messy and unaccountable ways of earning money from the people you entertain or the community you manage. The most direct way is creating a Community-as-a-Service.

Not every creator is positioned to create a paid community. Community-as-a-Service is beneficial for the creators whose fans can learn as much from each other as they can from the creator.

Notable Digital Communities

Some communities operate with a large nucleus that keeps the community intact. That nucleus might be an influencer with millions of followers or a company worth millions of dollars. In other communities the creator/owner/operator is more a facilitator instead of being the whole show.

Digital third spaces form for a variety of reasons.

Interest-Based

MCrider – motorcycle safety and maintenance community. The owner starts the conversations and curates what people need to know. But there’s of equal or more value in hearing what the fellow community members have to share.

Peloton – streaming group fitness classes. 

Knowledge-Based

Farnam Street Learning Community – Led by Shane Parrish, Farnam Street is a community of people that want to learn faster by tapping into mental models and discussing ideas.

Inevitable/Human – The theories that Ryan and I create and curate are just a starting point. It’s the conversations had after a theory that are the real community aspect.

Career-Based

The Futur – Creates educational content to help creatives with the business side of things. The community aspect consists of lots of Q&A sessions and free flowing of ideas between members.

BossBabe – Network of ambitious females.

Pipeline.gg – Community for helping video game streamers grow their channel and business.

Person-Based

Humans of New York – Community members get to pick the brain of Brandon Stanton, the creator of Humans of New York. 

Binging with Babish – Members of this group already watch Babish’s YouTube channel but also want to connect with him and ask him questions.

Off of Facebook

It’s nearly impossible to cover the gamut of digital third spaces. However, I hope this gave you a decent scope of the type of digital communities and where new third spaces are emerging.

Overall when everything is going big – from the news to social media to entertainment – there’s a great opportunity to go small. Creating digital intimacy amongst complete strangers through the means of common interests is the way forward.

The creators with lots of foresight are building communities off of the massive social media platforms. After all, why make Facebook richer and more successful by building your community there?

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