Partly through my involvement with Be2camp and partly because of my interests in online collaborative spaces, I was contacted by US-based architect Ryan Shultz of Studio Wikitecture to have a look at a very early, ‘alpha stage’ website concept,

As Ryan candidly admits, this application is still experimental, and is currently a combination of a professional social network like Linkedin, a service marketplace like, and a discussion forum:

“In short, we would like to create the digital equivalent of yelling these types of questions across the office to fellow coworkers, but, of course, the ‘yelling’ will be done through things like online whiteboards and digital file sharing. We’re calling this digital office, our SketchSpace.

“Over time, we also envision acting as a hub where professionals can outsource small, production oriented tasks to other professionals — tasks like ‘bathroom elevations’ or ‘presentation renderings’, for example.”

The OpeningDesign team are keen to get some feedback and opinions about the application and what it should or could be – or shouldn’t be (as it’s still at a very early stage of development I haven’t posted any screenshots of the front-end prototype).

Perhaps most fascinating of all, they have also floated the idea of a virtual currency, ODEs (“equivalent to some varying amount of ‘know-how’ in the construction industry”), that can be used for exchange among site members as they trade work or ideas – though Ryan freely admits this is “an experiment that might evolve over time, or be discontinued, outright, if it doesn’t seem to work”.

The virtual studio?

The idea of an online construction workspace is, of course, nothing new (we’ve had intranets in architectural practices since the 1990s), and approaches include:

  • closed LAN/WAN-based team spaces devoted to single companies
  • ‘virtual companies’ (run, for example, on Ning – I mentioned Amonle architect John Allsopp and his “virtual design studio” business last year; I talked about the future role of ‘virtual teams’ in my book back in 2005)
  • simple file-sharing and/or messaging platforms, eg: Woobius, or SliderStudio’s prototype (posts here and here)
  • more advanced, multi-company professional collaborative platforms (aka ‘extranets’: 4Projects, Aconex, BIW, Constructware, etc) – some embracing a strong social media approach, eg: US-based Kalexo (post) or Asite (post) in the UK
  • vertical industry social networks (eg: the UK’s tCn – the Construction Network – currently revamping its website)

And as well as Elance, outside of construction there are other Web 2.0-inspired sites that have emerged to commission design work, including crowd-sourcing-based branding or product design services – eg:, 99Designs, Ponoko – so I see no reason why similar activities in the architecture, engineering or construction (AEC) space couldn’t also be shared out among an online community of qualified industry professionals.

Plainly, there are many potential directions that OpeningDesign could go in, and, being social media practitioners, Ryan and his team are reaching out to industry professionals to see what they want. Will it become a design marketplace, a virtual studio or a social network, or a combination of two or more of these, or something else altogether?

If was only one of the following, which one would you prefer?
1.  An online whiteboard and an associated IM (instant messaging) to collaborate with your AEC colleagues/consultants in real time. …or…
2.  A ‘place’ on the Internet where you could ask other reputable AEC professionals technical questions
3. None of the above, you are looking for something entirely different (just in case we’re barking up the wrong tree all together)

Difficult to say, of course, but – in my view – it is good to have people prepared to venture some new ideas and continue the debate about how we deliver collaboration in the AEC sector in the 21st century.

[Disclosure: I am a former employee of BIW, and have undertaken paid consultancy work for Woobius, Slider Studio and tCn.]

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1 comment

  1. IMOH, there are plenty of places to collaborate with your peers online already. I do not want another social networking tool!
    The idea of comissioning work online is interesting, but when you start thinking about local building requlations, knowlege of local suppliers/manufacturers and availability for face to face meeetings, I think that this would be limited to the design side of the industry – such as concept work.
    I would like to see more development of file sharing and managment tools such as ‘Drop Box’ or ‘Live mesh’ for coordinating data betwhen free lancers/ subcontractors and contractors prior to publishing on a project extranet.
    PS: Thanks for your interesting an informative articles, Keep up the good work!

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