Snufkin's Digital Garden

"Intimacy Gradient and other Lessons from Architecture"

Added: 2020-12-16 | Updated: 2020-12-16
Categories 📚: Techxperience
External Link 🔗:
Type 📍: Essay

Note 📝

Intimacy Gradient
laying out spaces such that the journey from the entrance inward corresponds with an increasing sense of intimacy in the space; from Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction.

Allen wrote this in 2004, long before anything like the social media we had today was even imaginable, I think. He's not written a long-form article since 2016, The Path to Self-Sovereign Identity," which seems an interesting read — I definitely want to check it out soon. Anyways, I wonder how we have, have not, and still can bring this concept of the intimcy gradient into contemporary digital spaces. I feel like many sites here on Neocities, and elsewhere, unconsciously do this with an "Enter" page; I've also seen sites that have different layouts or color schemes for certain sections (shrines, journal, etc) that accomplish a similar purpose. (Now that I think of it, my own site doesn't do this... time for a change?)

How do modern social media sites fit into this framework? The FB and Insta homepages come to mind: regular users will seldom see them, but that's a sort of public-facing screen. As you curate your feed, social media goes beyond intimate and into personal; perhaps that's the main break from the old Web. Rather than entering other people's space (websites), we have our private bubbles provided by a large-scale service. It's not "intimate" so much as it is ours (as much as you can own your own feed...). What do we lose in this shift? I think we lose that sense of connection, as we no longer have to navigate spaces outside our own if we so choose. It's just us and the echo chamber.

Allen pulls a few architectural patterns from A Pattern Language as possible implementations of the intimacy gradient:

  • Promenade: a public center for each subculture, a place to see and be seen by others in your sphere
    • In modernity, the wall or timeline. Rather unchanged.
  • Small Public Squares: "largest, most public rooms, that a town has"
    • chat rooms? perhaps groups, although many platforms don't have "groups" functions. another instance of how Web 2.0 strives to democratize user experience but in fact makes things too open, perhaps
  • Public Outdoor Room: a place to be able to hang out "outside" comfortably
    • a less social interaction-heavy promenade? there's no analogue to this in modern social media I can think of. This also has an association with people-watching to me, of observing goings-on around me. maybe that's not what he intended.
  • Sequence of Sitting Spaces: different sitting spaces with different setups (comfort, intended length of sit) based on intimacy of room
    • there are some sites (mine included!) with "chill spaces" or pages full of relaxing content. I think of those. in modernity, because of the demands of the content Stream, I feel like there's little room for "sitting."
  • Communal eating
    • zoom dinners w friends

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