I am very happy that my life’s path has intersected with the team at Public Spaces and that I am now a member of it. Here’s how that happened.

First, I became a dancer well over a decade ago when some girlfriends dragged me into a Salsa club in little Luxembourg. I couldn’t tell Salsa from Bachata that night but I could tell that the people that were dancing there were sharing a connection I had chased through many nightclubs but never found. Many years, lessons, social events, congresses, dance studio affiliations, and the occasional competition later, it was this very connection that I felt with my current partner when we first met on the dance floor. Now, we are running a little dance studio together, teaching on my rooftop terrace overlooking Lake Ontario in Toronto.

The second piece to my story which eventually led me to Public Spaces is my enthusiasm for humane technology. I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix and have been Tristan Harris’s groupie ever since. His Centre for Humane Technology brought out a wonderful course that raises awareness for the impact of social media on individuals and society as a whole, and the team does it with so much compassion and wisdom, I was completely hooked after the first class. I drew the inspiration for my philosophy PhD thesis from this content and shifted my career from a legal research associate at an AI start-up developing algorithms to predict the outcome of tax litigation to a privacy evangelist. This shift wasn’t entirely voluntary; I needed a nudge from the universe, namely being laid off, but the day after that happened I was thrilled about the opportunity to align my professional journey with my passions. Data privacy was where I landed. It’s the perfect intersection of my legal background, my humane tech enthusiasm, and my desire to contribute something socially beneficial to this world.

I found Public Spaces in a rabbit hole I went down, trying to find individuals or communities that were actually doing something with the things I had learned from the Centre for Humane Technology. Ciaràn had taken the course before me and left a comment pointing towards Public Spaces on one of their community platforms. Those were just enough bread crumbs for me to lead me here. When I read that Public Spaces was built by dancers and that they were still looking for contributors, I couldn’t very well ignore the painting on the wall. I had no idea what I could do to help the team, but they didn’t mind and thought we’d figure something out. At the time, I was unemployed and searching for a purpose and something to do. Liz took me under her wing and I learned about the platform and the ideals and ideas it incorporates. A few months in, I found my calling in privacy and the team just happened to need someone to advise them on privacy matters, how to become GDPR compliant, and to rewrite the Privacy Policy.

I hurried to learn about all of these things and am so fortunate that my first experience with the implementation of privacy regulations is with a team that does not treat it as an exercise of how to follow the letter of the law, but who truly embrace the value it adds to an organization in terms of building trust with its customers or users. Together, we have tweaked the Plug.events platform, which was already designed around the concepts of humane technology to reflect privacy by design principles in every aspect.

While I am now working full-time at a small bank, establishing and running their privacy program, and part-time as content creator at another start-up that builds AI-driven redaction software, Public Spaces will always be the place that believed in me first and entrusted me with the important job of ensuring that the community we are trying to build can come together in a safe space, without having to worry about what we do with their data.

[activecampaign form=1 css=0]

I have always been fringe in the tech industry – rarely in corporate environments and very uncomfortable there when it was necessary. Instead I found startups and other short term or riskier contracts that allowed me to work independently. I originally wanted to be a teacher and studied education in college; however, software paid more and allowed a lot more room for my need for silence and independence. My Quaker upbringing and my personality made it hard to be a “team player” in corporate-speak. Instead of just agreeing with the person in charge, I wanted to find the best way to do things and failed to keep my judgments to myself on many occasions.

The Quaker religion has a central notion called “Quaker process” which is painstakingly democratic – more so than any system of state governance – and the nurturance of this process sometimes takes the spotlight away from the more traditional theological aspects of the sect. In this version of hyperdemocracy, the initial majority does not always prevail because a single meek voice might have the answer that no one else has yet understood. For that reason the process can drag on and on – and on – until the stubborn have let go of their initial positions, and nearly everyone is united. That’s also a “team” but with very different organizing principles.

Starting with software in the 1980s I didn’t think much about security because there were no widespread networks. With interconnectivity came “netiquette”, a precursor to actual network security that relied on goodwill. Seeing the early troll takeover in the 90s I worked on a collaborative filtering platform for civic engagement called “Chaffaway” – separating the grain from the chaff. A few other low-traction attempts along those lines, and a couple of decades later, I joined the Plug team in 2020. Each of these early trials had an aspect of decision making and collectivism baked in, ideas from the first wave of the internet that are worth keeping.

Quaker process only works when people know each other and it takes place in person, which is also often true of decisions within a family or friend group, and also of the internet’s first wave. Attempts to systematize decision making and convert to an electronic form have mostly reduced goodwill and increased gaming behavior, which is what we have seen in the internet’s second wave. The like-counting microtyrants (moderators and influencers) who won that wave are not helping with any actual unity or relationship-building, and the primitive versions of power distribution in the mass platforms mainly work for them only, leaving some of the rest of us even less connected than we were pre-internet.

My interest in decision making processes, power distribution, economics, and counseling made me a fit for Plug’s philosophy: We don’t want to control what people post, and we don’t want anyone else to have that authority either – but we also don’t want to be overrun with trolls. What we want is on-line algorithms that approximate off-line community dynamics; and also using on-line as a secondary medium that supports real (off-line) communities.

Hello, my name is Claudia Ciniglio, and I work in events management. I’m passionate about creating memorable experiences for people, and I’ve been fortunate to do so in my career.

Aside from my work, I have a few hobbies that I love to indulge in. One of them is Forró, a traditional dance style from Brazil. I’ve been dancing Forró for many years, and it’s been an incredibly fun and rewarding experience. I also enjoy traditional European dances, which I find really fascinating from a cultural and historical perspective. Being able to learn and participate in these dances has been a great way for me to connect with different people and communities.

Another one of my hobbies is illustration. I’ve always loved graphic design and branding, and I’ve been able to use my skills to create illustrations that bring ideas to life. It’s a great creative outlet for me, and I enjoy being able to express myself through art.

In 2022, I started collaborating with Plug.events, a company that’s dedicated to making it easier for people to find out about dance events and other events in their local area. Their focus on human connections and practical information really resonated with me, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of their mission. Working with them has been an amazing opportunity for me to combine my love for events management with my passion for graphic design and branding.

I currently live in Lisbon, Portugal, which is a city that I love for many reasons. It’s a vibrant and diverse place, with lots of opportunities to dance and connect with people from different cultures. Being able to dance Forró and traditional European dances here has been a wonderful experience, and I’m grateful for the chance to live in such a beautiful and lively city.

Overall, I feel very fortunate to be able to work in a field that I’m passionate about, and to have hobbies that bring me joy and fulfilment. I’m excited to see where my career takes me in the future, and I’m looking forward to continuing to explore and learn through my hobbies and interests.

[activecampaign form=1 css=0]

I live in beautiful South West France where I am renovating a house, creating a garden and generally enjoying life! I came here several years ago having spent more years than I care to remember as a business analyst for companies like Sainsbury’s, Pfizer and the NHS. Finally, I saw the light and decided to get out of the rat race and London to live a more balanced life.

For more than 20 years and in addition to my career, I also had a serious hobby – dancing and running a tango club. I first encountered Argentine tango as part of a Christmas lindy hop festival in Port Townsend and I was totally hooked. However, not only was tango in its infancy in the UK, so was the internet. There was no good information on real communities, it was either unavailable or unreliable. A friend and I travelled around Europe to find tango and teachers. I would pick up flyers and search the internet, but frustratingly I would end up spending four out of five days looking for something that either no longer existed, had changed venues, or simply wasn’t known by the locals.

What I wanted was current and reliable information. Back then, and sadly even today, pages and sites were put together by enthusiasts that often no longer maintained the information, but it was still there to lead people astray – hence my stumbling around Barcelona for four consecutive nights without a single chance to dance! We can all get a bit obsessed with something that gets overtaken later by other priorities and, whilst our dance shoes are gathering dust in a cupboard somewhere, the site we created and comments we posted are still out there and can be found by any unsuspecting would-be dancer. Of course, this is true of all types of events, interests, places and people…

‘I want to find permaculture courses in France’

‘I want to see what’s going on in Berlin when I visit next week’

‘I want to buy my best friend a gift of an Italian Language course, are there any near her?’

‘I want to find someone who could introduce me to Tango in Seattle next Christmas’

I wanted to solve this problem of listing, promoting and organising events online, within tango and beyond. Despite years of experience and a wealth of information spanning dance styles and communities, I too often also lacked the time, money, and talented help to maintain this information and help other searchers. London, my career and commitments inevitably got in my way.

A holiday was in order.

I have always loved France and wanted to try somewhere different. Blindly, I pointed my finger at a map and when I opened my eyes I discovered the Lot, a rural department perfect for winding down. I came with my sister and we discovered very good wines, little known outside the area, beautiful scenery which was unexpectedly green for July, friendly locals and incredible food and produce. We also came across a house which I inadvertently fell in love with – by the end of the holiday I had put in an offer and it was accepted!

On returning to London I discovered that the holiday had changed my outlook completely, I wanted to stop working and just go to my new house. When my client said ‘of course we will renew your contract at the end of the year,’ he was as astonished as me when I replied ‘sorry, I’m moving to France!’ By November the house was mine and in January I finished moving my goods and chattels, and I was installed and ready for a new adventure.

Never one to do things in a small way, in January 2017 I had moved lock-stock-and-barrel and launched into a completely new life, not a shred of evidence left in London. Since then I have been gradually renovating the house, converting one of two hectares into a flower and produce garden and the other, hopefully, into a food forest. It’s a slow, sustainable, and long-term project.

When I moved, I thought the problem of finding events – stumbling around this or that city searching for an elusive dance partner – would also be left behind. But then I met Ciarán online a few years ago and my interest was piqued by his project, which closely resembled my own past endeavours. He was building an events search engine with ethical socialising aspects and had a vision that was so resonant with mine that I knew we would be on the same wavelength. Something we agreed on was the importance of finding a way to identify the likely reliability and authenticity of information and Ciarán had an idea about how we might do this without a huge overhead. My IT and analysis skills and Ciarán’s vision and drive were a good complement and, with the rest of the team, we seem to have hit a sweet spot of shared vision and creative tension that every project needs, where we both challenge and support each other.

Life here is never dull, I am always busy! Alongside this project, I have found many new friends in this idyllic rural backwater. I share the house with three cats, in the garden chickens wander and produce delicious eggs, a ‘potager’ laden with fruit and vegetables, ducks for entertainment, and wonderful weather. Perfect! Even so, having jumped off the corporate treadmill, I find my interest in technology and connection can now be explored on my own terms. Our project has been a labour of love in the best possible sense. It has also been exciting to discover that so many others have similar concerns about the ways we use the internet to connect, especially through social media; and. that we find ourselves and our project a part of the ‘humane technology’ movement.

I hope we will help people to share and find the right information, at the right time, in the right place and, in this way, we will enable people to make wise choices and encourage real-world activities, connections and communities.

I have been working on Plug, at least in spirit, for over 10 years. After university my main interests were at the intersection of community and environmentalism. I worked with my dad at home installing a wind turbine, solar panels and growing own food, and we organised meet ups through an organisation called GIY Ireland, a ‘grow it yourself’ network. At the same time I developed an interest in web technologies, having seen how powerful they had been at enabling organic communities to develop in the real world over the previous decade.

My first project online was a primitive version of Airbnb, where I listed private residential accommodation for a large folk dance and music festival in Ireland. Between 2010 – 2012 this festival, which attracted over a quarter of a million visitors over 3 years, was happening in my home town. Inspired by Couchsurfing.com, I designed a simple website in dreamweaver and advertised all over town to attract homes with spare rooms and couches. While finding the listings was not difficult, my main problem was collecting transaction fees, and after the first year when I basically worked for free I dropped the project, only to witness the rise of Airbnb over the subsequent years. After this I resolved to stick to my guns and carry ideas as far as I could.

After this I decided to work on a website for supporting local growers to convert their hobbies into businesses. It was supposed to be a sort of market-oriented social network, similar to Etsy.com but for food, mapping the networks of small businesses and food lovers through farmers markets and artisanal shops and restaurants. Called YouProduce, in truth this project was way too complex for my meagre talents. But through it I found a mentor and learned more about how web applications are put together. I taught myself to code in Ruby on Rails, and the experience led me into a career in web agencies, although not as a programmer, but as an account manager.

The Dunning-Kruger effect has always been a close companion of mine.

I have always been good at spotting the obscure relationships and hidden patterns behind things that seem unrelated, which made me a good technical account manager. I was quickly able to gather knowledge from one client in one industry and apply to another in a completely different industry. I loved to work on complex problems, but even more importantly, when I learned about or discovered solutions, I loved to deploy them as diversely as I could. Sometimes you can be working on two very different problems, and yet when a solution emerges for one it clicks something into place for another, often much bigger, problem. In very small ways I did this for small businesses and startups, helping them create their websites and digital strategies, specialising in search engine optimisation. But I had my real epiphanies later on.

Around 2015 I started learning about Bitcoin and the proof of work algorithm, and around the same time I started taking Brazilian dance classes in a style called forró. You cannot get more unrelated than those two spaces. But in a sense, both of them were emergent organic communities. After a few years of dancing I helped my teacher organise a small festival, and then weekly classes and parties where we would book bands and forró-famous teachers from around Europe and Brazil. We helped to support and grow this community for 3 years, creating 3 amazing festivals that brought a lot of joy to people’s lives.

It was the bizarre and eclectic combination of all of these areas that gave me my eureka moments, when I combined the problems of nurturing and cultivating communities as diverse as food networks to cryptocurrencies to dance, and the underlying rules – I use that word in the loosest possible terms – that support them. I was particularly concerned with how networks communicate, curate, and share information, on who gets heard and who gets amplified, how we identify the prominent people and weed out those who want to cause trouble or elevate themselves narcissistically.

I am also a voracious reader, and I love philosophy, math and science, and some books that deeply influenced me were Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse, and Linked: The New Science of Networks by Albert-László Barabási.

The core idea behind Plug revealed itself to me around 2016, but I had to sit on it for a long time as I didn’t have the bandwidth of abilities to push it forward alone. I tried to rope in some friends to very little success. In fact, the hardest part was building a solid team. Multiple attempts at recruiting cofounders failed and by the time we really came together, first with Liz, then later with our developers, I had completely exhausted myself and my resources. When covid-19 emerged it was, frankly, a respite, a ready made excuse for why I had never launched anything after talking the ears of so many people I knew, staking my entire reputation on this moonshot.

In the end covid gave us time to take stock and go back to the drawing board. We started a new company with a new founding team in October 2020.

My role in this team is as diverse as it gets. I am a self-taught designer, not by choice, and I dabble in every aspect of the project where we fall short on resources. Where I can I try to recruit contributors and future cofounders, and I spend many hours every month considering and developing legal and operational structure of our growing organisation, what tools we use, how we communicate, how we share ownership and how we plan to get new people involved.

I guess if I could express my purpose in a few words it would be to bring people together in open, safe and fulfilling public spaces, digitally mediated but embedded in the real world. And the whole ‘metaverse’ idea that is being thrown around at the moment sounds like Hell to me.

[activecampaign form=1 css=0]