[FoRK] Co-working spaces (was Re: LA Traffic - solution?)

J. Andrew Rogers andrew at jarbox.org
Sat Sep 1 22:41:56 PDT 2012

On Sep 1, 2012, at 5:29 PM, Stephen Williams <sdw at lig.net> wrote:
> On 9/1/12 3:52 PM, J. Andrew Rogers wrote:
>> What, specifically, is deficient about existing co-working spaces? And how inexpensive do you think they ought to be? The facilities and infrastructure still have to be paid for. Also, what do you mean by "teleoperation capabilities"?
> Security of various kinds.  Efficient storage of compute, lab, and other office or small equipment in a way that still allows most of the space to be multiplexed.
> In some models, you rent a cube or room by the week or month.  In others space is drop-in.  Some day soon I'll have to investigate how the one on the other corner of my block works.  I did notice that a startup just put up a lighted sign on the corner of the building, which is pretty permanent for a co-work space.  One startup / cowork / hacker space that I visited in SF was converted warehouse space, complete with full-size loading dock.

The range of co-working options in some cities are already much more sophisticated than you seem to be assuming to exist. The Bay Area is in the dark ages when it comes to co-working, though that can be largely blamed on suburban sprawl and crappy zoning. Co-working basically does not exist in Silicon Valley when you compare it to the highly evolved ecosystem and infrastructure that, for example, you can find in parts of the Pacific Northwest. 

The part that you are not accounting for is that (1) you can have a large number of unrelated co-working spaces in very close geographical proximity which creates an evolutionary dynamic and (2) the distribution function over them tends to be by some type of functional specialization that creates a virtuous feedback loop both in terms of the social network and the available facilities for that specialty. It does not neatly follow that everyone in the same area or in the same company would automatically end up at the same co-working space. The idea of a co-working space as a commodity is industrial age thinking and the economics are not that good anyway.

If there were a dozen co-working spaces in a few block radius, would I choose to use the one where the accountants hang out? Of course not, no offense to accountants. Not only are the people there not very interesting to me but the facilities will likely reflect the requirements and desires of accountants and I am not an accountant. When you let several co-working spaces in close proximity freely evolve in an open market, this is what actually happens. In order to survive, co-working spaces find a significant subgroup of people that is currently being under-served and providing facilities that are targeted at their requirements. The resulting attractor loop drives specialization.

And this works just fine for many modern businesses because the distance from the co-working space where the GPU programmers hang out and the co-working space where the accountants hang out is two blocks. Instead of a top-down uber co-working space that is supposed to be everything to everyone and does nothing well, you end up with a decentralized network of co-working spaces that serves the need of specific specialties. 

The notion of "hacker spaces" is still a bit too generic. The co-working spaces that have a lot of PHP web app designers tend to be different than the ones with a lot of GPU programmers. (Iterate this enough times and it starts to look quite guild-like.)

> What I was suggesting was something flexible enough to handle most of those ranges, plus teleoperation suites, franchised in a lightweight way.

This produces a co-working space that is mediocre for everyone. Much better to have a completely decentralized network of specialized co-working spaces that cater to the needs of their respective clientele.

More information about the FoRK mailing list