🤔 Revisiting Discord, libraries, and Somewhere Good
Three fresh Updates Are Available features
Occasionally there’s a new development to something we've written about previously. In “Updates Are Available,” we revisit that essay and offer some additional thoughts. This week we'll take on three different previous newsletter topics and put a fresh spin on each. Let's get started!
The setup: Discord may be Slack-like, but it is many times larger (150 million monthly active users) than the better-known workplace communications platform. It has grown dramatically through the pandemic, and has an important role in building online communities related to tech and beond. Just this week I was able to join MidJourney’s Discord and watch people harnessing text-to-speech AI in real time through a bot in the server, which was pretty amazing!
The newsletter: As I noted in November 2021, there’s a lot of creativity, community, and care in these millions of servers. More than two years into the pandemic, my local friend group is still using our Discord server daily, even if increasingly we use it to organize real-world hangouts instead of Zoom hangouts. From Wordle to Covid advice, it's still an extremely meaningful resource to us.
The TWIST: As I noted in the last newsletter, the suspect in the horrific Buffalo shooting used Discord for months beforehand to chronicle his preparations and document his plans. It's disconcerting to think that this platform, which I treasure, provided safe sanctuary to someone who chose to kill and terrorize.
The crux: As I noted in my original newsletter on Discord, the platform has stepped up its integrity and transparency efforts dramatically over the last few years. You’d think that, at the very least, Discord should be able to use word filters and catch a user openly plotting violence, but we've seen again and again how sophisticated users can be, and how easily filters can be avoided. There are probably not easy or satisfying solutions to keeping hate and terror off of Discord, but that's not a good excuse. Still, it doesn't change my mind about how important and useful the platform can be for small groups, and I hope the developers can do better at keeping hateful content off the app.
The librarians are not okay
The setup: At New_ Public we love talking about how local, public libraries are essential social infrastructure in our communities. The US library system is a great example for us, not just for the democratization of knowledge, but also as a nationwide network of neighborhood-level organizations that had to be built over time, with activism from local communities and substantial outside investment.
The newsletter: I recently devoted two newsletters to the public library system and I had a lot of fun researching how it was scaled up from a small collection of private libraries. However, I regret not spending as much time on librarians themselves, as they surely deserve as much attention as the edifice and books of the library building. People are an essential ingredient of social infrastructure.
The TWIST: In this speech to a conference of academic librarians, Anne Helen Peterson makes a compelling argument that librarians are demoralized and devalued throughout the United States, even beyond the extraordinary demands of the past few years. Her cited reasons include the traditional assumption that being a librarian is a “passion job" and that it is seen as a feminized role and therefore worth less. She also notes that because of the continuous and ongoing funding crunch for many library systems, librarians often operate in a precarious and scarcity-oriented mindset, which can be incredibly stressful in the long term.
The crux: Luckily, Peterson has some great ideas for how to improve the outlook of librarians and suggests several paths that the profession might take: rethinking credentials, honesty about systemic working conditions, institutional guardrails, genuine worker solidarity, and the intentional creation of communities of care.
The Good place
The setup: We first heard about plans for the app Somewhere Good over a year ago and were immediately drawn to the developers. The idea of letting users create digital gardens, as described by Head of Design Annika Hansteen-Izora, was so exciting to us. A garden is organized chaos — something organic and messy that can grow up around user activity, with less curation. We loved the idea of Somewhere Good being a new social platform created by people of color, without advertising, growth, and engagement driving every decision.
The newsletter: Marina Garcia-Vasquez, the previous New_ Public newsletter editor, interviewed Hansteen-Izora and talked with her about her design process for Something Good. The platform was still a ways off then, but I was struck by how Hansteen-Izora centered care (quickly becoming a theme this week) and emphasized that Somewhere Good would be representative of a slower, calmer internet. So we’ve been waiting, excited to see what the developers would come up with.
The TWIST: The wait is over, because Somewhere Good is now on iOS (with a code via their site)! Our own Joi Rae, Head of Operations and Partnerships, is the first on our team to try the platform and has this to say about it:
Somewhere Good is an audio/voice based app that facilitates intimate community conversations among users. It is a space meant for expressing yourself without fear or reservation. Lead by a queer Black woman with a diverse and enthusiastic team, Somewhere Good is an space that reflects the people who built it. When I first started using it, I had no idea that a social app could be intentionally designed to be so inclusive, deep, and warm from the get-go. It's a very special place to share, listen and be heard.
The crux: It's fascinating to see what has evolved in the process of creating Somewhere Good. Since the rise and fall of Clubhouse, audio seems to have become much more central to the design of the app. We’ve just begun to try it out, but we’re really excited that it’s here and that it seems to have a lot of overlap with the qualities we identified in Signals framework. Expect to hear more about Somewhere Good, both here in this newsletter, and also maybe from your friends, family members, or acquaintances.
Community Cork Board
Jobs: We have added salary information to all of our job descriptions. Find everything and apply here.
Magazine: The second issue of our magazine is now scheduled to come out in early June, and we'll be sending it your way soon. Hope you’re as excited as we are!
Updating automatically between 2:00-5:00 AM while connected to power,
Design by Josh Kramer. Screenshot from Somewhere Good.
New_ Public is a partnership between the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas, Austin, and the National Conference on Citizenship, and was incubated by New America.