Aerial views of Facebook’s, Twitter’s, and Tumblr’s headquarters, respectively. All images are the same scale.
One of the quirks of the digital age is that very small populations construct the social environments of astoundingly large populations. I’ve commented on the impressiveness of this before, “[Facebook has] built a design and interaction system used across the world by a massive amount of cultures. Mandarin, with its 1.1 billion speakers, is the only language or medium with more native participants than Facebook.”
But as digital participants become more numerous and sophisticated, I often wonder when a cultural bottleneck will emerge. At what level of sophistication will users chafe at the systems designed by a handful of people half a world away and turn to more local offerings?
This problem is surely exacerbated by campuses, though it’s unclear to what degree. Building bubbles to keep employees at work as often as possible – shuttling them to work, feeding them, entertaining them, providing them with exercise – reduces the amount of serendipitous encounters they can have. Their connection to the world they build for risks becoming more and more tenuous. And as each company grows around its campus, the Founder’s Effect kicks in and any problems becomes exacerbated.
Location isn’t everything, but it certainly is a variable. Looking at the new Facebook HQ, bordered by residential areas, corporate parks, and salt ponds, it’s hard not to appreciate the asset Tumblr has that barely anyone talks about.
It will be interesting to see how campuses affect future products. And how we might measure or observe how this manifests in the first place.
Update: To be fair, isolate campuses can have good quirks. Sure, you risk the Founder’s Effect but you also get Genetic Drift: crazy ideas that arise because you don’t have an overarching culture to keep them from occurring. Google is a great example of someone who suffers from the Founder’s Effect (Wave, Buzz, …) but benefits from Genetic Drift (Glass, driverless cars, …)