April 25th & 26th
287 Kent Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Abstract Submission Deadline: January 19th
What does it mean that digital technologies are increasingly a part of...
Roger Cohen, The Quest to Belong
Next year’s Thanksgiving grace.
Pierre-Paul Grasse first coined the term stigmergy in the 1950s in conjunction with his research on termites. Grasse showed that a particular configuration of a termite’s environment (as in the case of building and maintaining a nest) triggered a response in a termite to modify its environment, with the resulting modification in turn stimulating the response of the original or a second worker to further transform its environment. Thus the regulation and coordination of the building and maintaining of a nest was dependent upon stimulation provided by the nest, as opposed to an inherent knowledge of nest building on the individual termite’s part. A highly complex nest simply self-organises due to the collective input of large numbers of individual termites performing extraordinarily simple actions in response to their local environment. Since Grasse’s research, stigmergy has been applied to the self-organisation of ants, artificial life, swarm intelligence and more recently, the Internet itself.
As stigmergy is a method of communication in which individuals communicate with one another by modifying their local environment, it is a logical extension to apply the term to many types (if not all) of Web-based communication, especially media such as the wiki. The concept of stigmergy therefore provides an intuitive and easy-to-grasp theory for helping understand how disparate, distributed, ad hoc contributions could lead to the emergence of the largest collaborative enterprises the world has seen. However, is it correct to call these enterprises “collaboration”?
References to collaboration can be found in a staggering number of topics including, but not limited to, art, science, industry, business, education, technology, software design, medicine, and civil society. The research being conducted in these diverse areas, however, is still confined to institutional silos. This makes it challenging to develop a cross-disciplinary theoretical framework that goes beyond a dictionary definition and provides insight into the collaborative process in application-oriented contexts.
The following represents some of the current findings of the author’s PhD research on and around collaboration and stigmergic collaboration, and comprises the core components of the theoretical framework guiding this article:
- Collaboration is dependent upon communication, and communication is a network phenomenon.
- Collaboration is inherently composed of two primary components, without either of which collaboration cannot take place: social negotiation and creative output.
- Collaboration in small groups (roughly 2-25) relies upon social negotiation to evolve and guide its process and creative output.
- Collaboration in large groups (roughly 25-n) is enabled by stigmergy.
[Just replace ‘collaboration’ throughout with ‘coworking’.]
I met Jennifer Magnolfi a few years ago, and she joined me in the New York stop of the Future Of Work Tour in 2010. We’ve stayed in touch, and I wanted to catch up on the application of her research, working with Tony Hsieh of Zappos, on his new headquarters design.
About Jennifer Magnolfi
Jennifer Magnolfi is a pioneer in the disruptive field of ‘programmable environments’, where the physical environment is instrumented to make it more productive, sustainable, and more integrated with digital artifacts of business. Her applied research work explores coworking and co-creation, the technologies and practices that support workspaces for innovation, collaboration and community development. In 2012, she teamed up with Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh to support the company’s new headquarters redesign. She also lead the effort to accelerate the emergence of coworking communities for Downtown Project LLC, a real estate and investment fund sponsored by Hsieh, and driving the current revitalization of Downtown Las Vegas. Jennifer is co-author of ‘Always Building: the Programmable Environment’, published by Herman Miller in 2008, where she was a lead architect. Among her other accolades and honors, Jennifer was selected by Fast Company as one of the innovators in their Generation Change project. She received a Masters Degree in Architecture from the Harvard School of Design.
Stowe Boyd: Is modern office redesign and rethinking the workspace still the primary focus of your work?
"We are able to work in many physical environments now. What transforms them into workspaces is the fact that we are connected to our work-related data, and more importantly, that we get into the “zone of work,” that cognitive state that allows us to function for work-related purposes, to work productively and effectively."
Jennifer Magnolfi: In broad terms, yes. The ability of space to shape as well as support certain kinds of behaviors and human interactions is at the heart of what I’m interested in. I believe that the built environment is both a reflection and an enabler of human endeavor. And I think of technology in space as a design medium, a sort of material. It introduces a set of properties that previously weren’t possible – changing interactions by the user with other users through architecture or by the user with other users through digital space, etc.
When we spoke at the end of 2011, I was embarking on research around co-working, which I see as an ‘edge condition’ in the field of corporate real estate.
The world of coworking is a very vibrant community and to a certain degree it has ushered a new culture of work. Although it remains relatively small in size, it has had significant impact. When I first became interested in it a few years ago, it was more of an edge. Now I hear from corporate real estate executives who are asking questions about how to implement coworking, and how to incorporate related design principles in their real estate portfolios. I think of the cumulative effect of this with other macro economic factors are manifesting a “structural shift” in the world of work.
Loosecubes, the community marketplace for shared workspace, sent out an email today saying it is shutting down this Friday, 16 November. Very little detail was provided.
I looked back into the company’s recent history, and they had secured $7.8M in series A funding back in June from NEA, Revolution Ventures, Accel, and Battery Ventures. These are very serious players. The firm had earlier raised $1.2M.
I don’t get it. The concept for Loosecubes seems solid, or I might say the market for co-working seems solid.
But a fast shutdown of this sort means that the investor lost faith in the concept and/or the team, and decided to shut down and claw back any remaining funds.
I will email a few folks to try to get the back story.
Ariel Schwartz reports on new research, suggesting that working in a moderately noisy environment — like a coworking space or a café— can lead to a low level of distraction, a state that prompts abstract thinking. So, if you want to do some creative thinking, move to a slightly noisier corner of the office.
Network Rail, the owner and operator of Britian’s railway infrastructure, is getting with the ‘work anywhere’ movement:
Business travellers thwarted by train delays need look no further: Network Rail is laying on temporary office space at five London stations from next year.
Beginning in Paddington in mid-2012, workers on the move will be able to access working areas with lounges, meeting rooms and broadband after the rail operator struck a £40 million deal with The Office Group, which specialises in temporary office space.
Amtrak should get on this, too.
I attended the GigaOM Net:Work conference in San Francisco a few weeks ago, and met some of the founders of Liquidspace, a new start-up building something like AirBNB for coworking spaces:
LiquidSpace is an application that connects people seeking workspace with venues that have space to share. High-end business centers, hip startup co-working spaces, hotels, and private spaces are listed on our web site and in our mobile application.
I had the opportunity to speak briefly with Mark Gilbreath, the CEO, and subsequently to read a bit about the company’s vision:
Company founder Mark Gilbreath calls his vision the “consumerization of real estate.” The LiquidSpace mobile and Web-based app capitalizes on a number of important trends: the increasing mobility of workers, the real-time quality of today’s work, the economic and environmental drag of empty commercial space, and the availability of location-aware technologies and cloud services infrastructure such as Windows Azure.
“I have been intrigued with alternatives to traditional workspaces for a long time, from both a business efficiency and an environmental impact standpoint,” Gilbreath explains. This interest heightened as he watched commercial buildings constructed during boom times sitting empty or underused as work patterns shifted.
As a 20-year tech veteran who has started and run multiple companies in his career, Gilbreath also had firsthand experience with the problems of workspaces for startup companies. “Owning or leasing real estate is a huge economic burden, consuming enormous chunks of a startup’s early capital resources,” he says. “Plus, designating a fixed amount of office, lab or manufacturing space limits a company’s business flexibility.”
Fixed workspaces can also constrain individual creativity and productivity. Increasingly, workers are leaving the workplace to get work done. Toiling alone on a project, bouncing ideas off co-workers, presenting to a customer or manager, traveling for business and working from home — different scenarios require different kinds of spaces.
“LiquidSpace is designed to connect mobile and contemporary knowledge workers with the right workspace at the right time, while providing new mechanisms to leverage underutilized real estate assets,” says Gilbreath. “For workers, it means working how and where they want. For businesses, it means turning a fixed cost into a variable, and maybe even some extra revenue.”
After the conference, I had a day in San Francisco where — after a breakfast meeting — I wanted to work productively, and it turned out my hotel room did not have a desk. I thought about Liquidspace, and it worked just as advertised.
I had seen that there were a bunch of places in San Francisco participating in the service, including Nextspace, a cool-sounding coworking space, located only a few blocks from my hotel.
I downloaded the free iPhone app and logged in. I verified my identity and provided credit card information, which in Liquidspace’s model meant that I now had a ‘passport’: meaning I now had the capability to reserve space. Correspondingly, participating space providers have the capability to issue ‘visas’ to users like me. That handshake — a trust exchange — is brokered by Liquidspace, who can monitor my behavior over time, and potentially block my access to the network. And, of course, Liquidspace also vets the participating spaces closely, as well, so users like me can be sure of working in a safe, comfortable, and professional setting.
I searched in the immediate area, opting for a full-day of access, not a conference room or closed office, and found the Cafe at NextSpace an attractive option.
I clicked to book it, and then I was told it was confirmed.
Note that Liquidspace manages all finances, so cash and card swiping at the participating space is unnecessary.
The app provides directions:
At NextSpace, the receptionist knew who I was as I walked in, and showed me around. There was some short delay in checking in, but around an hour later that happened. I am unclear what was causing that delay, but it wasn’t an impediment to actually sitting down and working. This delay could have caused problems if it blocked me from using a copier or reserving a conference room, but I wasn’t doing that, and I am not sure that it would have, anyway.
Later on, all was well.
[An aside: I bumped into someone from the Net:Work event, and she invited me to lunch around the corner, which is one of the great side effects of coworking, after all.]
Liquidspace is a great idea, executed well. I can easily imagine using it in other cities, when I am not parked at Grind in NYC or working at home in Beacon NY. In fact, I might even use it in NYC if I was all the way across town, and simply wanted a conference room for an hour.
The app is another indicator of the transition we are going through vis-a-vis workspaces in the increasingly mobile, freelance, telework world, a topic I drilled into in detail recently in a GigaOM post: see Coworking: The Pivot In Today’s Transformation Of Work?
Liquidspace recently raised its first round of institutional investing of $3.6M (Shasta Ventures and Floodgate), after an earlier $1.6M angel round (Floodgate and the Greylock Discovery Fund), so I expect we will see an aggressive rollout in many cities and countries.
Business travel is changing as fast as the liquid world it is floating in, so hotels are scrambling to change their public spaces to make them increasingly like co-working spaces.
Julie Weed via NYTimes.com
As part of a large survey project, Holiday Inn gave guests a journal to record what they did in the hotel and where they spent their time. The company found that business travelers used the hotel’s high-speed Internet connections and printing to help them get work done, but did not want to leave the lobby.
“Guests are social,” said Verchele Wiggins, vice president of global brand management for Holiday Inn. “They want to be productive, but they like to be around other people.”
This spring, Holiday Inn removed the business center at its hotel in Atlanta and introduced “The Hub” to test the concept of a lobby that also acts as a business center, living room and place to eat. “Travelers are multitasking all the time,” Ms. Wiggins said. They may be checking their e-mail while they are drinking their morning cappuccino, or printing a boarding pass while waiting for a taxi to the airport.
The lobby offers free Wi-Fi, power outlets to charge computers and phones, and a small row of computers and wireless printing. A so-called eBar allows business people to meet over cocktails, surrounded by library shelves.
“It’s the environment they want,” Ms. Wiggins said.
While many of the new services for business travelers are inspired by research and surveys, others are serendipitous. As part of the Hub, Holiday Inn installed a Wii game console for families to use, but it found that business travelers were using it more than leisure travelers. “We had to install another Wii for the business people,” Ms. Wiggins said.
Franchise owners around the country have seen the concept and are requesting a Hub on their property, Ms. Wiggins said, and any property that gets one will have its business center removed.
This is an odd article since it doesn’t compare or contrast these changes with what’s going on in business generally, like co-working, or flexible work arrangements. It doesn’t mention the strays that transiently use hotel lobbies for meetings without actually staying there, and it omits any mention of hotels like the Ace in NYC that have transformed their largest ground floor public area into an area that seems more like a library than a conventional lobby.
If you happen to be in London or New York, and looking for a good place to settle down and work for a while, this Web app should help you do just that.
Coworking is a great model for footloose (and penurious) freelancers and small startups, who need places to work but don’t want or can’t afford the overhead of getting an office.
One issue is level of commitment: most coworking spaces are organized around a monthly agreement: so much for a full-time desk, so much for full time access to shared desks, so much for one day/week access, and so on. So, even though you just want to date all over town, the coworking spaces are still looking for a monogamous tenant.
These sites allow you to search for a desk to rent by the day, based on geography.
In the case of Desktime, you can search for other features, like a shared printer or conference room.
Desktime is only available for use in Austin, Chicago, and New York, while Opendesk seems to be more agnostic.
I can imagine using these apps frequently, especially now that I opted out of the coworking space I had signed up for. I found that I was not actually using the space one day per week, as I had planned, and I travel all over New York for meetings. Now I will be able to track down space that is located near where I am going to be, like near to Grand Central Station, where my trains come and go.
I bet that the creation of sites like these will open up the untapped option of companies renting out desks who otherwise wouldn’t, becuase of the hassles involved. These new sites could act like AirBNB, getting companies to rent space on a casual basis, that they otherwise wouldn’t have.
A side note: Yesterday, I came across Third Door, a coworking site in London, that provides day care for freelancer’s kids. I haven’t heard of that in the US at all.
Why is that? Don’t coworking types have kids?
Desktime has a box I can check looking for ‘pet friendly’ spaces, but ‘kid friendly’ isn’t an option, I guess.