On Meatspace Chat, Briefly
Making connections with random strangers over the internet using only animated gifs.
Meatspace Chat is like IRC with GIFs of your face, and it’s incredible.
It’s a public chatroom that adds a two-second clip from your webcam to every message you send. It’s deliberately feature-poor and the community it attracted is unlike (and better than) any I’ve seen before.
It’s a small community that centres around a chat room. The chatroom appends a short webcam clip to every message, which encourages creativity, fun, and empathy. It’s an open, fun, and engaging environment reminiscent of all the best communities on the internet, and it’s addictive.
Meatspace Chat is a kind of chat platform. It’s open source, but the current canonical chat room lives at chat.meatspac.es. Aside from all the trappings of a public chatroom, Meatspace Chat:
- adds a two-second-long GIF from the user’s webcam to every message they send
- allows any user to hide all messages from any other user
- has three different rooms, separated by language rather than topic
- runs entirely in-browser, but has an iOS app
- forgets and hides all messages older than 10 minutes
- limits how often messages can be sent and how long they can be
The mechanics of Meatspace matter only to the extent that you can’t feel them. They become invisible very early. The mechanics of Meatspace just allow people to express themselves creatively and openly in a safe and easy-going environment. Meatspace is the best playground any of us could have asked for, and we make full use of it.
I had a thousand different analogies and thoughts about Meatspace Chat, but I just couldn’t string them together into anything coherent. I wanted to say that opening Meatspace for the first time feels like eavesdropping on a conversation between close friends. I really wanted to talk about how much compassion and cooperation there is between all the Meatspace regulars. I could talk for hours about how creative of an environment it is, and how much fun we have. The memes, the GIF chains, the nicknames, the Meatups, the bots, the tours of aquariums, etc. Here’s the crux: Meatspace is just people. Meatspace is great people, and so Meatspace is great.
I wasn’t there in the early days, when Jen and Co. were sorting out the mechanics and making the hard decisions. Whatever the process was, however those decisions were made, however it evolved, Meatspace Chat became the sort of place where a certain kind of people gather; the kind of people I want to gather with. Make no mistake, it’s not for everyone. The combination of all the small mechanics, when put together, made it just the right soup, and just the right people showed up.
Of course I want to come back again and again. Of course I want to come over for dinner on the weekend. Of course I want to fly to New York and meet them by the dozen. Obviously FOMO. These are my people. I feel right and at ease here.
I don’t know what this group of people has in common, it’s not something I can see. We’re all the same, but different. I have my theories on why we flock to Meatspace. I think that adding a clip of every user to the chat creates identity and context, which creates empathy. I think that keeping the format chat-based lets everyone participate at their own pace without being overwhelmed. That muting filters out trolls and non-contributors before they do any damage. That two seconds of GIF are just enough to be creative, and for self-expression. Here’s the best way I can explain it: The people who frequent Meatspace are the ones who already appreciate the values it enforces.
I have even more theories on why I keep coming back to it myself. Some are benign: boredom, desire for self-expression and community, etc. Some are a little darker: the word “vanity” comes to mind, desire for attention might be another. At age 23 I still can’t shake the desire to make other people like me. I won’t be so unkind as to project this onto anyone else. Meatspacers are a diverse bunch and everyone will have their own reasons. More than anything else, I just find that I want to spend time with these people.
Meatspace Chat is open-source. Anyone can run their own copy and maintain their own community and people do. The sky is the limit. I feel neither qualified not compelled to talk about the social mechanics or implication of Meatspace Chat at large. I only want to explain what Meatspace has been to me over the past few weeks. The rest is for essays and books to be written by someone else.
The details don’t matter so much to me. Here is what matters: never in my life have I become so attached to a group of virtual strangers so quickly. Never before have I felt so protective of an online community. Converting strangers to friends in record time is what Meatspace does so well. The great achievement of the platform is the environment it creates. That’s all I really want and need to say about it.