The positioning of location-independent coliving

The purpose of this post is to identify some potential benefits of gathering coliving operators together for collective action.

Update Nov 2020: I’m now laying the groundwork to use coliving.community to some of the ends mentioned in this post. Its site and identity will provide both an open directory (no hiding operators behind bookings) and a no-cost self-declaration marque. So if you’re an operator and consider yourself a Coliving Community why not use the collaborative badge! Ping me to join.

If coliving space operators are able to establish a more widely collaborative movement, the better for all involved! We all benefit from each other’s efforts to widen the movement’s awareness—we’re ourselves a community not competitors right?! 🤩 It grows with us. So…

  • How can we enable customers to more easily find our own offerings?
  • How might we promote an ecosystem amongst our communities?
  • How best to name and identify the movement and its offers?
  • How could we manage a collective identity?

Before I warble on I’ll point at my classification of coliving models, in which I define contract (long-term), ad-hoc (mid-term) and retreats (short-term).

To which I must add an additional and very important distinction about access:

  • Open — diverse community. Providing there’s availability everyone is welcome (withstanding generic terms).
  • Curated—likeminded community. The community has a common set of core interests and prefers similar members but does not preclude the inclusion of others demonstrating some alignment.
  • Restricted — insular community. Exclusively those who follow the same principles and match specific requirements.

This should be defined solely by the application/booking process, thus a space may market itself with or without targeting, but if its application process includes a question of alignment or qualification it is either curated or restricted. Only a process without any qualification requirements should be considered open.

A Platform for Findability

The current ease as a user of finding (and as an operator, listing) spaces is troublesome, there’s no one reliable pre-eminent site and users are often asking where spaces can be found. The best method is currently still to google: «coliving location_name», but this turns up both nomad (ad-hoc) and long-term (contract) offers, whilst still missing suitable spaces that don’t associate themselves directly with coliving or retreats.

I believe we need to collectively operate a site as a platform co-op, where our (and similar!) spaces can be listed, with its data and use under an open licence so that proprietary platforms may include and aggregate with their own offerings. (In fact I’m close to putting this in motion…)

Connecting Together an Ecosystem

We have amazing communities. But our members and supporters don’t always cross-paths, to propagate ideas and opportunities between communities as a larger ecosystem. I’d be all for having an informal group of operators who agree to do more about this.

I think a great way would be to rely on humans to maintain the personal connections. We could form a community manager exchange so that the key people in each community could join, experience and connect other communities. Each operator could offer up time for one or more stays, yet rather than just swap it amongst our own managers, coworking space managers could be included too, which would of course have outreach benefits. Call it influencer marketing. ;)

Being able to refer customers amongst each other ideally requires an experience of a space, thus if managers visit each other they could give genuine personal recommendations. We know how valuable that is.

A further aspect would be to connect communities and opportunities online, however that’s a marginally more complicated issue. (Requiring an application federation protocol and corresponding agreements.)

Our Generic Naming

There’s been discussion around the nomenclature as #coliving is being used to different ends by different groups. I believe we need to reshape the positioning to differentiate and distance from real-estate developer’s usage.

Example of how terminology is being confusingly used, lacking better definitions. These forms of «coliving» are not equivalent in use.

We obviously can’t change another group’s approach, yet can collectively come together to do so within our community, thus what I talk of here is only for ad-hoc coliving, leaving other uses to their operators or industry groups to better define (or not).

Ad-hoc spaces usually have their own workspaces (mixed-use coworking), host visitors mid-term, run or host coworkations and other retreats, or specifically target remote workers.

This is very specific positioning for a generic concept like coliving, and as such really needs to be more easily identified…

  • A. reframe the term with a qualifier, e.g. «nomad coliving»
    an extremely simple approach avoiding fragmentation
  • B. redefine with a new term, e.g. «nomadplace»
    would take longer and lead to some short-term confusion
  • C. control a new term, through the trade mark of an association
    see separate section below

I used “place” as an example because most of the other good words have been used by existing brands (e.g. hub, space, house…). The qualifiers ‘remote’ and ‘nomad’ are obvious contenders, ‘remote’ is more appropriate for the growing and wider market but sounds silly «remote coliving» (WTF?) whilst «location independent coliving» is a right mouthful; ‘nomad’ is unfortunately a bit specific/niche as it may not align with all whom identify as location independent…

As an operator you likely know which is most appropriate for targeting your preferred markets, and another term may work better, but similar operators benefit from using the same terms for association — whilst teaching users to find and associate our collective offers.

Maybe some of you here are contract operators, but no problem if you also provide a short-term «nomad» offering, just as a «nomadplace» may also have long-term offers, but establishing the primacy of each is helpful for all in terms of positioning and marketing.

A Collective Identity

A step beyond generic naming and exchange, the establishment of an operator association (probably still informal to begin) having its own brand, badge or mark could be extremely valuable.

«Gites de France» is an example, a French network of independent holiday rental accommodation whose properties are simply referred to as a «gite» but meet a variety of mandated requirements.

Operators could wear membership of the form «we’re part of the Nomadplace Network» and users would either trust else be educated as to the offering’s positioning whilst being able to refer to such spaces as «nomadplaces» widening awareness without confusion as to their positioning.

It is easy to argue that the sector is simply too small to benefit from such an endeavour at present, however beginning early only hastens to build awareness whilst greatly reducing effort longer-term.

And what’s my experience?

Having observed and subsequently pursued the emergence, growth and impact of the coworking movement, I founded one of the earliest coliving spaces (possibly only) with formalised open-access (i.e. not a selective house share), mixed-use (i.e. use of either or both of coliving and coworking), and variable stays. This ran in India 2010–2015, and I’m once again looking to get back into it. :) Nowadays I’m based out of France.

I’d love to hear feedback and connect! Ping me on jacob@moonmill.com and I’ll be at the Co-Liv Summit in Paris if anyone else is…

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Jacob Jay

Peripatetic Brit, entrepreneur, software architect, designer, devil’s advocate; into resilience, communities, coworking/coliving, smelly cheese… jacobjay.com