I – and as many as a hundred other players – helped to curate, create and control a diverse world of characters, with centuries of in-game history, hundreds of criss-crossing plots, and inter-personal drama… Both between the dozens upon dozens of characters, and the few dozen players who made the game their life for years.
We had everything a community would expect – sex, lies, videotape – and then some. We were one of the first greatly inter-woven community groups on the web. We knew each other. Some of the players met in real life (and at the time, in the late nineties, that was a really big deal) and some players even got married.
None of that could have been possible without the buffer.
On the chat we wrote our worlds at, the segment of the screen reserved for private messages between chatters was called the buffer. Players – or, when out of character, chatters – who were either getting personal, displaying inappropriate activity, or often just plain lewd (it was internet chat in the nineties, after all) would be told quite clearly to “take it into the buffer” as a hint that their messages should be private.
We’re stripping a lot of the expectation of privacy away online. On Twitter, Direct Messages are a last resort – and usually not used unless you lack someone’s email address or IM. On Facebook, messages are very rare. Tonight, on #tweetdiner, Margie Clayman and Stanford from @pushingsocial’s weekly twitter chat, there was some talk about the idea that eventually Twitter might splinter into many smaller, more private groups.
This may not be necessary – we already have the means by which to get private – but if people fail to recognize when they should take their connections into the buffer, they’re missing out. The buffer doesn’t just mean privacy in the sense of strictly one-to-one connection. The buffer is anywhere that you can speak without the crowd at large listening. Business deals happen here. Lasting friendships happen here.
Without segmentation – not to be confused with segregation or exclusion – real interpersonal connection is a lot harder.
Not impossible. Just harder. But how do we get past the idea that everything we do is public? How about looking for buffers – and then making use of them?
- Email is a buffer. Whether one-to-one or group.
- IM is a perfect buffer – even with small groups.
- Podcast production can be a buffer – both in group production, and in distribution until a big audience gathers.
- DMs can be a buffer – but they’re a better gateway to more efficient buffers.
- Blogs and blog comments can even be buffers – they’re public, but sometimes just direct enough to be a source of real connection.
It’s not hard to see the spaces where we can make real connections with people. Make some connections.
Maybe even make a connection here. Hi. Nice to see you.
image by Steve Jurvetson.