2013-10-09

Co.Labs

Is This The Future Of NYC Coworking?

Coworking spaces like this one in the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn are becoming literal (software) platforms for real-life communities to build on.



In New York City, coworking spaces are coveted and pricey, especially as they evolve more and more appealing features like classes, meetups, talks, and parties. General Assembly, WeWork, and 3rd Ward have blazed a trail--but none of them have established a model quite like Digital Dumbo’s Outpost space.

“Instead of traditional architecture, we want a space conducive to showcase digital work,” says DD CEO Andrew Zarick. There are no fixed desks--instead, chairs and tables stow neatly in wall compartments. The center of the fractal projection screen folds up, revealing a bar for evening and catered events. Next to table and seat storage are twin roll-out screens for more intimate display than the massive screens. USB and HDMI hookups to the window-covering secondary projector screen allow anyone to walk up and hook up a device to the Windows 8-integrated system, which is also linked to an Xbox with a full suite of media apps, and content can be synced to display across all screens simultaneously.

Other differences are noticeable as soon as you walk in the door--for example, there’s no receptionist to direct you. Instead, you use your smartphone to beam a digital entry code to the door, which unlocks the kisi.de, a Bluetooth-activated deadbolt developed by a group from the NYU Poly Dumbo Incubator. While the door code monitors when folks cycle in and out (and who’s using it most: marketers, designers, etc), the code never changes, and since it opened on September 19, DD hasn’t rescinded any person’s access they’ve already given out--an experiment to see whether they can keep the space secure by the honor system. DD is slowly increasing the member community with code access to Outpost, but the space is intended for the community as a whole.

Digital Dumbo itself existed before the Outpost space as a collective of startup and local businesses. As it surpassed 13,000 members, and through a partnership with Bing, the team decided to open up a space, but they didn’t want some low-key coworking zone. Instead, they wanted the space to be totally modular, useful for anything from events to gallery exhibitions.

A projector is a common feature of coworking spaces: From classes to presentations to hackathons, displaying info on a massive screen is the best way to keep a large group focused on the basic elements of the task at hand. DD integrated this necessity with a twist--a fractal twist. DD contracted Brooklyn-based VolvoxLabs, seasoned builders of audiovisually-creative coworking pop-ups, to give Outpost presentation surfaces and technology beyond the norm. The main projection screen consists of a traditional white rectangle, but VolvoxLabs attached white triangle surfaces angling out from its sides, stretching the projection area and integrating the geometric design into the projection software. Using the nearby master room touchscreen panel, content can be mapped to individual triangles for a collage of information or the projector can beam a single custom image across the entire geometric surface. The touchscreen was expressly designed to pull up Twitter and Instagram feeds or content directly from Dropbox.

Beside the fractal screen is a wall of over 70 LED strips, all controlled by the master touchscreen. More than ambient mood, the strips are linked to the ceiling-mounted Kinect sensors, which currently wink on/off according to nearby movement: While not groundbreaking alone, it’s only the hardware (and its price tag) that limits the possibilities for the LED wall, the fractal screen, and a handful of unused Kinect sensors waiting to be hooked into the dynamic display system (upgrades that will run DD between $20,000 and $30,000). “Once we can afford it, we’re going to do crazy stuff like video mapping of the Bar Pod with a per pixel LED system to act in symbiosis,” Zarick said.

Bing is funding part of Outpost in a financial arrangement that will continue for at least a year, but it has also pledged a roster of executive officers (along with some from
Microsoft) at DD's disposal for Outpost's first unique offering: a monthly 20ish-person drop-in workshop for DD members, led by a tech industry expert.

The next step for the Outpost space might be to make the space itself extensible, the way GitHub has done with their new office; Zarick has thought seriously about releasing an API for the space. More and more, coworking spaces are becoming literal (software) platforms for real-life communities to build on.

[Image: Flickr user Rupert Ganzer]