Episode 25 - Meatspace and the Organic Ephemeral Marketplace


Jen Fong-Adwent
CEO of Meatspace 
twitter ; blog


  • meatspaces.tv
    • 10 frames over 2 seconds
    • Snapchat meets chatroullete?
  • Playing with identity
  • Secret.ly 
  • Meatspace not about monetization, about getting the right people together -- people shape it organically
  • Ephemeral by design - like real life, don’t remember everything that is said or happens
  • Medium post by Scott Smith on Diminished Reality
  • Narcissism epidemic?
    • The Myth of Tech, CEO, Startup, Silicon Valley, etc
  • More vain now or just sharing that vanity now via internet?
  • Wut app 


Diminished Reality: Diminished reality is a term used to describe the control over one's reality and the ability to block out real or digital information at will. (from Amber Case)


Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 11.50.06 AM.png


  • SXSW  - March 7-16, 2014; Austin, TX (POSSIBLY SEE KLINT AND CHRIS PRESENT) 
  • Theorizing the Web - April 25-26 2014; Brooklyn, NY
  • Cyborg Camp - August 2014; MIT Media Lab - Boston, MA
  • Buddhist Geeks Conference - October 16-19 2014; Boulder, CO



Mindful Cyborgs, Contemplative living in the age of quantification, augmentation and acceleration, with your hosts Chris Dancy and Klint Finley.


CD:      Welcome to Mindful Cyborgs Episode #25. Hey, Klint and Alex, it’s Chris. How are you doing?


KF:       Hey.


AW:     Hey Chris. Hey Klint.


CD:      Everybody wide awake?


KF:       Yeah.


AW:     Yeah.


CD:      We’re all feeling good? So, guys, Alex wrote a piece I think recently and we all were kind of interested and we talked about it and we love to pull on celebrities, CEOs. So, we have with us today Meatspace CEO Jen Fong-Adwent.


JF:       Hi.


CD:      Jen, you’re obviously a mindful cyborg because you live in some type of GIF alternate reality. So, why don’t you first give us kind of an overview of why Meatspace? I mean, where did you see the need?


JF:       It was actually just an experiment between a colleague and I because she was doing a GIF library with WebRTC for the camera on your browser, and I have been doing chat experiments for a few years now. A lot of mixed media embedded interactions. Basically, experiments with social interaction and very limited forums with very limited effort by the user.


            This was the first time around May when I just said hey, you think if you pressed enter and it recorded a few frames of your face as you were reacting as you were typing, we can do that and then my colleague so it was like, yeah, I fixed this. So, we did it and like 2 days we scrapped something together and we played with it internally and then it became public when I spoke in October at Portland and that was when it blew up and it went [unclear 0:02:29] Reddit, everywhere, and there was a lot of people that showed up like the first couple of days and there was a joke that it shut down Silicon Valley because everyone was just so mesmerized by all the GIFs of all these faces and some people were very famous and some people were just normal people. Some people weren’t even tech. It was pretty crazy.


            And then from that over the span of a month the community forums of regulars and then we had things we added after the fact like commuting from the client side so that you could ignore someone.


CD:      I would talk to no one if I were to. So, technically, I mean basically the way this works is you go to the site, it asks to use your camera but it doesn’t use your camera right away so for audience who just want to try it out they can try it out. You say yes to camera but it doesn’t start recording but when you type a message and hit send, then it does . . . how many seconds of frames does it capture?


JF:       It says 10 frames over 2 seconds. That’s why it looks really jerky, yeah.


CD:      All right. So, you got 10 frames over 2 seconds and a message after you hit send. It’s definitely kind of addictive, like super addictive. I mean, it’s like Snapchat meets Chatroulette.


JF:       Yes, it’s interesting people have never because this is I guess a new sort of remix of people who don’t know how to bucket the whole thing and then I was curious because I heard a few people say that it was like it reminded them of Chatroulette a bit. Well, you don’t actually go into random interactions with random channels with different people. It’s always the same channel, the same people and you.


            There’s this social [inaudible 0:04:15] hiding your face and talking but people don’t like that because they don’t know your identity. So, you’re more likely to be muted if you cover your camera.


CD:      Yeah, I kind of like Chatroulette back in the day. But I like the fact there is this identity portion of it and we’re seeing a lot of this, as we’ve talked about it on the show. Klint, I’m sure you’re seeing a lot more of it now of where people are playing around with identity and what it means and the temporary nature of the net. Klint, now that you’re hanging out here in Meatspace do you have anything meaty you want to tell me?


KF:       No. I do have a question for Jen about what appeal you think it has besides that lack of anonymity insofar as there’s just so many places already for people to go to hang out online I guess. For me I almost feel like a certain fatigue, social media fatigue because I’ve got Tumblr and Twitter, there’s IRC, my inbox, my email inbox is always just a sterile nightmare and there’s Facebook, but obviously there is a lot of people who are interested in it and I guess for me the thing that kind of came to mind is that there’s always a certain appeal in not reinventing yourself necessarily but in finding a new fresh space so like when everyone is on Myspace and then Facebook opened up so that everybody could go in part of it what’s nice about that was that you kind of got to start all over again, start adding people. It was a quieter conversation at first because not everyone was there yet. Do you think that’s part of it or is there something else I’m missing or is it purely the lack of anonymity that Meatspace entails?


JF:       It’s interesting because I remember when I was playing around I have blog quotes about ephemeral chat from a year ago and like I remember back then a lot of people were like I don’t get it. Anyone who wasn’t a teenager just didn’t get it. They were like why would you do that unless you’re texting or something and now it seems to be more normal and now there is tons of iOS and whatever apps that are just like send anonymous this and that like Secretly and all those stuff.


CD:      Okay. I’m personally addicted to Secretly.


JF:       Really?


CD:      Yeah. I don’t know what it is but yeah, I totally get it.


JF:       What is interesting is that everyone is sort of doing a different sort of thousand monkeys typing on thousand typewriters of this medium now trying to figure it out. Secretly seems to have hit a very specific kind of group of people. It apparently became a big place for people event at Silicon Valley to their contacts. I’m not really sure how Secretly works because I don’t want to give them my phone number. Anything that asks me for my phone number I just bypass, like Snapchat you don’t have to give your phone number so I just go around that.


            I do think it’s interesting because I think some people see parts of Meatspace and they think the direct like correlation with let’s turn it into Yammer, then we’ll make millions and I’m like well nobody likes Yammer so why would adding animated GIFs make it any better. It’s like this is not about a full feature set thing. This is the art of tuning something for the audience and that takes time. This took about 3 months and it’s not like millions of users because it’s not meant for that system because it can’t scale that way. It’s meant to filter it out so that there’s 1% of the people that actually come back and contribute to the community. There’s an API that they can use that they can make mash ups and stuff to post to the service.


            The Meatspace chat is open source. The TV part isn’t but the main chat is open source so there’s a bunch of people contributing and even using it internally in their own companies and whatever. This is different model because it’s not about monetization first. It’s about getting the community . . . getting the right people together and how we know who the right people are it’s based on whoever stays and decides to shape organically the community.


AW:     So, you’re trying to develop the foundation. It’s taking some time and it’s kind of changed a little bit as you said. When we talked to, I think, it was back in December you talked about how it was a single channel and how that really made it more compelling because often you’ll find that with services that have multiple channels there’s just one really that people congregate in and that’s where all takes place and the other ones become kind of like empty wastelands. But now you’re doing this Meatspace.tv and you’re offering it to particular people. You might want to explain a little bit but tell me about why that doesn’t conflict with that original approach that we discussed.


JF:       Because not everybody can create a channel in this case. You go to the homepage so like open another tab and just go to Meatspace.tv you’ll see how many people just a handful of people and they’re very strategically chosen and if you go to find and there’s a little thing that tells you you can’t find unless you’re a Meatspacer and all those stuff. So, people know that you can’t just have a bunch of people sign up and do whatever they want because that would also ruin.


            It’s a different kind of filter like this isn’t a regular chat like me owning a channel. I’m not talking with the rest of the audience on the right side.


AW:     So, you’ll announce this for instance. So, that seems to be the difference where it’s like this might be like this is more of an event space in some respects.


JF:       Right. Yeah.


AW:     As opposed to like a channel Meatspace and so it sounds like you’re giving people like the capability to like suddenly like leave the main Meatspace channel. This is really a bad thing to happen, to use it as an event.


JF:       Yeah. So, imagine if someone had . . . they’re already working on a raspberry pie thing so you can wear a wearable camera that post to their channel while doing something. So, let’s say they go driving, they go biking, running. They’re going to an event. They’re doing machinery like [inaudible 0:10:44] or lots of people are doing cooking shows.


AW:     Oh really?


JF:       Yeah.


AW:     So, they’ll cook and they’ll share and they’ll talk about what they’re cooking and they’ll use a remote camera for that for instance or something.


JF:       Yeah. So, they’ll usually in that case let’s say point the laptop camera towards the cooking area and then we’ll just have it automated and then they’re cutting up the vegetables and then they’re like or sometimes they’ll just manually do it, they’ll be like and now I’m putting this in and then you’ll have people watching and they’re like, ooh, what’s that and then they’re looking it up and pasting links and that was the one people were like we like this so maybe record it so that we can play it back later which brought in other ideas of doing let’s say code sharing the tutorials and more normal things.


CD:      It does kind of remind me of Max Headroom.


JF:       Yes, exactly.


CD:      And I kind of like that. I mean, I’m sitting here and I can’t even focus on the podcast because I’m creating all these alternate versions of myself eating things.


KF:       What are doing in that picture, Chris?


CD:      I’m eating a mechanical bird.


KF:       You kind of look like you’re about to pull the pin out of a grenade with your teeth.


CD:      Oh yeah, I guess that’s possible.


AW:     There goes the show.


KF:       You can tell what the thing was.


CD:      We’ve been capturing screenshots and blurring or blur out the non-people and we’ll put them in the show notes for you guys to check this app.


KF:       The non-people.


CD:      Well, you know what I mean? I can’t ask people’s permission. I’m sure there are some Meatspace protocol around screenshotting those but . . .


JF:       I think people are fine because this can be actually . . . they have been posted all over on media and they all seem to be quite entertained.


AW:     Yeah, they do.


KF:       I mean, it’s sort of public space.


JF:       So, I posted a video on my channel right now if you click on that the Meatspace moment. A community member made that and it highlights various GIFs from the community or events that happened and it’s very heartwarming to watch, to look at that blog but you can feel the community members doing different things.


AW:     And then there is the Brady Bunch one that I took a screenshot of and put in my post.


JF:       Right, right.


AW:     So, there’s been lots of little things that have come out of this. One of the things that I think of when I see what you’re doing here is there has been this premise that everything has to be unified and the IT world likes to talk about unified communications which is probably one of the most exciting terms I’ve ever heard in my life. Basically, though the whole effort of that is to centralize all the communication into one place. So, you can chat, you can have an activity stream, you can do webcasting and all of it is like everyone has a username. It’s all kind of like every little moment is archived to some degree. You come along and you’re developing this and it’s entirely kind of like an ephemeral experience where there is like a channel for the Meatspace but you’re not trying to build in like an event space in there. You’re not trying to build this whole kind of unified world into one application. Is that purposeful? Is that really just because of the way people are communicating in this community or are there more reasons for that?


JF:       Yeah, that is on purpose. I would never put the chat as part of the TV as one big thing. At best I’d be like here’s a link to the other part but they work for different context and you can’t measure what works for what audience unless they’re completely separate and you can just completely play around with that as one part. The problem I find in tech is that when things get enterprised everything has to be together and I very anti that because I’m like nobody . . . it doesn’t matter how smart you are to measure anything unless it’s the smallest that can be because you have to make that perfect for that thing and it may never be any good for anything except that thing. So, that door handle’s a really good door handle but it’s such that holding soup or something. It’s like that.


            This is how I’m creating these products. It’s like the chat is really good for generic chat and focusing on a certain kind of thing. The event stuff is not good in chat because people can’t track that host and make references to what they are doing unless it turns into a message board forum real-time software which sounds like the worst idea ever which basically is Google Wave. It didn’t work out because there’s too much stuff that isn’t really focused on just the moment of really the conversation rather than the way the data is constructed.


            I tried to make this stuff so that it’s like as if I’m talking to you in person and they don’t remember everything we talk about.


CD:      Jen, when Alex told me about this when I was Portland, I thought it was really, really kind of interesting and I actually did a presentation somewhere on kind of how much people were just worshipping this liquid identity and this disappearing of information. As I started exploring, I started getting really addicted to it. So, I think this is kind of very awesomely cool. Like everybody check it out we’ll put a link in the show notes but if you’re sitting there with your computer on you might want to read show notes, the fastest way to get to straight Meatspace and not the channel that we’re all in that we do this, it’s just Meatspace.es.


AW:     I want to just say Jen that I love how the foundation for it though is the animated GIF and kind of the aspect of it. It’s helpful for me to kind of correlate, I think, where you see kind of the world of IT and enterprise and how they’re trying to do everything the opposite but this seems really like the best way to go. So, nice work.


CD:      Jen, do you want to hang on for news and kind of just thoughts for the week?


JF:       Yeah sure.


CD:      Cool! Klint, you said you had some good stuff. So, what’s up?


KF:       One thing that I read this week that I thought was interesting is a medium post from Scott Smith on diminished reality as opposed to augmented reality.


CD:      Isn’t that a K-hole?


KF:       The idea came from an app called place avoider which is like a life logging device but it can blacklist certain parts of your home like so just never take pictures in the bathroom, never take pictures in the bedroom that sort of thing but he kind of goes from there into thinking about how Google Maps, Google Earth blacks out certain areas that are top secret or classified and starts to wonder about a future where things like Google Glass where you just can’t see certain things through them. Some of that’s an older idea like what if you could just make homeless people invisible through augmented reality systems but an interesting example of how it’s already starting to happen in some particular circumstances with some systems.


CD:      I like the concept of diminished reality. One of the reasons I signed up for Simple was the geo-fencing because I thought this is kind of cool I know where I’m buying stuff like when you swipe your credit card but it would be even cooler if I could tell Simple if it’s after 2:00 AM and I’m near any bar like just don’t let me use my credit card.


KF:       Or like you might have already run up a tab.


CD:      2:00 AM is probably too late.


KF:       2:00 AM so you already had crashed out of the bar.


CD:      Or like between payday and 2 days later avoid them all. I cannot use the card at the mall. I don’t know, I’ve always wondered . . . I like the concept of diminished reality. Anything else cool happening since we last . . . you had a chance to see “Her”. We talked about that last show. Anything else cool you read this week because I really like that?


AW:     It almost seems like diminished reality too is a way to kind of like pull back and then maybe then pull forward again with like a kind of a fuller experience of augmented reality. It seems like they really kind of work together.


CD:      I wanted to ask you guys about narcissism. I’ve been reading a lot of articles and there seems to be some real weird backlash and I think narcissism kind of sits at the corner of this ephemeral chat, this kind of liquid identity, the selfie. It’s all kind of weird. Do you guys have any positions on narcissism and if you think we’re in a narcissistic epidemic or are we just escaping in some way to these very temporal short lived narcissistic episodes?


AW:     Well, I think we’re definitely seeing. I mean, the startup movement is kind of an example of the narcissism. Well, I think there’s also then . . . there’s a myth of tech, there’s a myth of Silicon Valley, there’s a myth of the CEO, there’s a myth of the startup and I think that all has roots back to kind of this belief that the CEO of a new startup is godlike or the startup itself is kind of like this godlike effort. I think there’s a feeding of narcissism in that but also on the flipside I think that you see people again talk about multiple identities and then multiple identities that we have and sometimes you may be more narcissistic in some than others but the startup one is the one that comes first to mind.


CD:      Klint, we talked about this when we talked about prison shock in present shock (digiphrenia) being able to be in more place at one time. You got to love this.


KF:       One is that it’s just another example of the lid kind of being lifted like the internet and connectivity lifting a lid on something that was already going on. I mean, how many people have over the decades been spending time singing into a hairbrush in front of the mirror or whatever and no one ever knows about it until they start singing into YouTube and putting it on the internet. I mean, are people more vain than before or are they just sharing that vanity now?


CD:      What I notice is some areas, Klint, they seem to be super vain and some areas they escape too like Meatspace maybe. I don’t know. Am I overanalyzing it?


KF:       Yeah, I’m just skeptical as to whether this is a new phenomenon or if it’s just us getting a better look at what people do behind closed doors already or maybe it is more vain info sharing it instead of just doing it in your bedroom but I don’t know, I don’t think in some ways it’s that big a deal but assuming though that there is more to it, I don’t know, I come back to one of my themes of just the anxiety that’s produced by this hyper competitive [inaudible 0:21:18] capitalist society that we live in today that people are really anxious and really need more validation than ever before that returning to these networks to try to get some reassurance that we’re okay, that our lives have meaning.


CD:      So, Jen, you wrote about this in your blog. I doubt if I could get a link from you or by Alex. You wrote a blog about this sort of thing but do you understand kind of my two polarizing points of view, right? So, you’ve got the selfie and all the glorification of who you are and then you got the opposite end of it. I don’t want to bucket Meatspace in there but all of these very temporary kind of things and in between you got all the variations of how you might act different on one network then another network. I mean, I’m sitting here in my t-shirt and underwear and I didn’t plan on being on Meatspace but I mean, I don’t care, it’s Meatspace, right? So, I’m okay with that. I bet you can wax poetic on this.


JF:       Yeah, it’s interesting because I think the problem is part of . . . depends on the culture too like North American culture is in itself very kind of conflicted about those stuff. We are puritan conflict with the selfies are bad but I’m obsessed with myself all the time or I’m totally against gay marriage but I secretly have a gay love. I guess it’s like this stuff that just like just get over it. So, in that respect it’s like I think selfie isn’t one bucket and neither is Chatroulette as the webcam interaction. It’s like this is really just . . . this won’t work for everyone either like I don’t think all the people on Facebook would want to be doing stuff like Meatspace or like Snapchat. It’s a very small percentage of people that do it.


            Usually, a lot of younger people because they’re sort of figuring themselves out and stuff but with the older generation it’s sort of like it’s half and half. Anyone in their 30s and older they’re just kind of like generation X and XY. It’s a little, you know. Either they get it or they don’t because they’re like I’ve a family. I don’t do this crap. I don’t play games or they’re just totally into this because they experiment the technology and I think the difference with a lot of these is how . . . it’s harder with stuff like Secretly and Snapchat because I don’t know how you could community out of that. So, it becomes very focused on let’s just show body parts or send dirty things. That’s what people think of it as.


CD:      It’s weird just for Secretly because I’m just sort of playing around with it this week. I really like the idea that I get feedback on stuff I probably wouldn’t say out loud and I can’t think of another service where I’ve never been able to do that except for maybe post secret. I never send in a postcard and then what’s this text one that people were talking about yesterday W-T what? That’s one kind of strange because that one just sends out a random text anonymously to your friends and then you got the opposite side of it with let’s make jelly so people can answer like random questions of things and take pictures of. It’s very confusing in some ways and in some ways it’s very comforting because I don’t feel safe often and like in Meatspace I actually kind of feel safe. I don’t know, for me personally there’s a safety issue to all of those that I need these things to feel safe.


JF:       That is weird because normally I used to be very camera shy but with things like this it’s like I don’t even care anymore I wake up in bed and just be. These days you’re going to go when did that start happening and it was interesting because there was a French invasion, a lot of French girls that came like around in their early 20s that were going to university. They came in because it was posted on a blog that they all read, a fashion blog called Mademoiselle because they came in there was just too many French people that were eating up the main channel but that was when I made the executive decision that we should have a French channel for them so that they can have their cultural means.


AW:     Is that still pretty busy that channel?


JF:       It’s not as crazy as it was but it’s basically the same as the main channel. So, the main channel regulated to about 400 to 600 a day visits of regulars that kept coming back with a return rate of like let’s say over 70% and then the French channel was more or less dropped that too so now we have about a thousand in total which seems interesting. It’s almost like there’s this weird [inaudible 0:26:06] number that just kind of settles it to like 500-ish each channel and that’s just the way it is. I mean, I can’t really make people come in. It’s just whoever wants to come in and create communities out of it.


            But the interesting thing with this whole process is that with Meatspace the selfie is not the same as Snapchat I don’t feel.


CD:      No, this is completely different. I like it.


JF:       If a service were to take just like there’s react messenger which takes a picture of you with the message but it’s a frozen picture and they kind of blew that temporarily. I don’t know how they’re doing now. It’s an iOS app. It’s all related. It’s like this too and I’m not sure if it’s an ephemeral or I don’t think it is. I think it’s only long-time ephemeral like after a certain number of messages I think they cut off or something. But in this case it’s different and I’m trying to figure out what it is and I think that just helps but I don’t think they’re the main reason why this community exists necessarily and I’m still trying to figure that out like I just know it’s not that because if that was the case, then would Facebook implementing this make them like completely blow up, yes/no. Has their other launches Facebook poke which was a kind of Snapchat which didn’t work out.


CD:      No. I used to poke for a day and gave it up.


JF:       And it was a better UI. It looked nice. It’s not really the design.


CD:      No, and it’s weird. I tweeted this last night on one of my personalities that I would totally go back to using Vine if I didn’t have to go into a separate app. If Twitter were to just put some Vine functionality in it because you can take a picture, I would use it but the fact that I’ve got to use the whole separate Vine UI makes me crazy.


            Any other stories, Alex or Klint?


AW:     No, I’m pretty good.


KF:       I don’t have anything.


CD:      We’re just Meatspaced, aren’t we?


AW:     Yeah, that’s about it.


CD:      We’re overwhelmed with the meat. Okay. Well, you can check us out. We’d probably be poking around either South by Southwest and March by the time this show comes up you’ll see us there. Theorizing the Web April 25th over in Brooklyn if you want to check out Nathan Jurgenson’s thing. We got Cyborg Camp and Buddhist Geeks all coming up in later in the fall.


            Jen, are you on Twitter? How can people find you?


JF:       Yep. I’m Edna Piranha if people know how to spell piranha.


CD:      It’s beautiful. It was nice meatspacing you. I don’t think I’ve ever said that like that. Okay, everybody we’ll see you in 2 weeks. Thanks so much. We want to thank Aaron Jasinski for doing our artwork. Ross Nelson: Brown Hound media for mixing the show. You can find us on every social media thing going. Maybe one day we’ll get a Meatspace channel for Mindful Cyborgs. Thanks so much and we’ll see everybody in a week. Take care.


JF:       Bye.


KF:       Bye everybody.


AW:     Bye.