The streets we walk; the websites we click through; the organizations we work in—environments we live in are mostly built by others. So, as I walk through a city or click through a site, I've found it useful to ask myself: am I in a funnel, a tube, or a space?
- Converging in a Funnel. Some systems push you along towards something: for instance towards purchasing a vitamin supplement, subscribing to a YouTube channel, or downloading an app.
- Accelerating Through a Tube. What if you picked the goal you're being pushed towards? In that case, I'll call it a tube. Examples include Google search, transportation systems, shipping, Google Maps. For app developers, the iOS and Android SDKs are tubes. They help you get your own goal done faster.
- Living in a Space. What funnels and tubes have in common is that they are goal-directed. Spaces, on the other hand, put emphasis on exploration rather than convergence or acceleration. Examples of spaces are research labs, festivals, universities, jam sessions, art collaborations, roblox, minecraft, and so on. In funnels and tubes, the main value is efficacy. How quickly can something be accomplished? The point of funnels and tubes is to be over. The point of spaces is to stay. For this reason, all of life really happens in spaces. Spaces are where we end up—where tubes are supposed to take us.
I'll call something a "funnel" if it sends you toward a goal you didn't come up with yourself. Even if you like the goal! When a grocery store sends you towards the cash registers, that's a funnel. When the organization you work for tries to get malaria bed nets to as many people as possible, that's a funnel too. Are you part of a cult that tries to turn you into Elon Musk? Funnel!
Many systems are hybrids. Festivals may be spaces, but they have a ticket-sales funnel attached to them. And an art tool can be a space one day, and a tube on a different day: you might use Photoshop to accomplish a quick task. Then it's a tube. Or you use it to explore color palettes or play with generative art. Then it's a space.
If something has aspects of funnel, tube, or space, how do we classify it? I say, look at it's designers, and how they think about success: do they try to get many people through, as quickly as possible? Call it a funnel, even if it can be used as a space. It's similar with photoshop: based on the menus and how things are laid out, it's designed to be more tube than space. Figma is a bit more space.
This is the century of funnels and tubes. We got better and faster at building them. There were huge improvements in funding them, and with funnel/tube-analytics. And the skills, funding, and analytics of space-building were left behind.
I think we're seeing the consequences.
Think, what'd the world be, if there were tubes and funnels, but no spaces?: People's lives would be an endless checklist. Trying to get a million things done. Sometimes their own goals, sometimes other people's. Completing one checkbox just brings them to the next, never to what they really want to do. And this process would accelerate, as the the funnels and tubes improve.
That's one consequence of funnel and tube proliferation. There are more:
- Loneliness. Users are alone inside funnels, and they tend to drive towards transactions—a minimal relationship where both parties stay atomized.
- Uniformity. At the start of a funnel there's some diversity (different demographics, landing pages, etc), but the funnel merges users into one mass. Funnels and tubes reduce possibility and direct us towards the transaction and away from our own uniqueness.
- Transactionality. Funnel-makers "hustle"—that is, they treat themselves as a tool for their goals. Funnel and tube-makers treat others as goal-fodder, too. This is not a kind way to think about yourself, or others.
What to do?
I want a world with more spaces, fewer funnels and tubes. Where people don't move from checkbox to checkbox, isolated, transactional, often without even formulating their own goals—but where, instead, they become more uniquely themselves, surprise one other, and develop new routines, practices, and friends.
So here's a three part plan, for replacing funnels and tubes with spaces.
Part 1: Start Small
We can practice space-making easily, even in our most intimate relationships. We are always creating funnels and tubes accidentally in our daily lives:
Did you set things up so your spouse or best friend will do something for you? Or agree to your idea? You've made the relationship into a funnel.
Do you see your relationship as a mutually-beneficial exchange? You created a tube.
Do you sit together and ask: "what shall we explore this week?" In that case, you made a space together. And you can make it a better space over time: are you becoming more yourselves together? Are you deepening your relationships and embeddings? Are you living expressively, treating yourselves as sources of surprise, rather than as goal-fodder?
Part 2: A Community of Space-Makers
There are many communities for funnel and tube-builders. I want a community for space-builders, specifically.
When many do this—and host intimate gatherings inviting others to do this—I guess an identity around playground-making could form. And a community of playground-builders could grow, operating at many scales.
Part three is to develop sophisticated analytics, funding, and design techniques for spaces.
We have developed the making of funnels and the measurement of their efficacy into a science to make a world filled with playgrounds, we'll need to get similarly scientific about making and measuring them I don't think it's impossible or even hard to measure the successes of a playground, but I think it's just something we haven't yet developed a science around I have some work on the related related work
- Is it the number of people through the funnel or is it what happens on the playground?
- On which basis is the thing funded? Based on funnel numbers going up and to the right? or on the basis of playground outcomes and meaning?
- On what basis do people discover them: did they discover it because of the number of clicks views downloads, ranks at higher than other funnels or did they discover it because of what happens in the playground?
If, as I hope there's to be an explosion of playgrounds this means that we start to measure success and rewarded based on what happens in playgrounds, not funnels.
A tool or toolkit lets the user get whatever they want done, quickly and efficently. It gets out of the way and provides parts for assembly. But creative people prefer to work with materials which provide grain, friction, or challenge. They prefer to work in environments. They consider creation not just as a way to get to an end goal, but as a process of discovery. Creative environments have the right sort of friction, that leads to discoveries while working, rather than just to finishing the job quickly.
Soon, community members would develop playground-making skills. They'd be surrounded by each others' playgrounds, involved in each others' explorations (not transactions), and embedded in new practices and scenes.