When I imagine today’s internet landscape, I visualise a dark, treacherous forest with wild animals and roots to trip me up. But not all of the internet feels that way — there are small pockets of calm and vulnerability that I find myself coming back to over and over again.

Venkatesh Rao named this part of the web the cozywebThe extended internet universe visit, i.e. private sections of the internet that is usually “walls up” and formed around niche interests.

The cozyweb seems to be built on platforms that weren’t intended to be public-facing social media as we know them (e.g. Facebook and Twitter). I’m not sure if this is a tenet of the cozy web or just a random occurrence. But in the end, the venue where we congregate becomes an almost forgotten background while the interactions themselves take centre stageThis is a reference to the Bowling Alley Theory of the Internet visit. While the platforms themselves may be vanilla, the conversations aren’t — but we’ll come to that in a bit.

The cozyweb straddles a fine line between hypervisibility and invisibility. We readily spill deep secrets of our lives on here and often get advice from sympathetic strangers. At the same time, we are invisible, one of many avatars, because our identity is restricted to our name, username and profile picture — often none of these need to be original government names and photosBut to pull from Sarah Perry's Ribbonfarm essay, 'cyberspace is far from anonymous. Even when the name of the cyberspace entity doesn’t correspond to one’s government name, the identity can still be perfectly real, with praise or slights to the online identity felt as deeply as those toward one’s government identity'. visit.

That said, there is a certain degree of implicit psychological safety and mutual trust involved in the cozyweb. It feels safe to share personal or R-rated opinions than one normally would in a platform like Twitter or LinkedIn. This often evolves into members meeting each other in more vulnerable digital spaces, like intimate Zoom meetings, or offline in the physical world — what is called URL to IRL.

As a result of these “non-indexed, non-optimised and non-gamified environments”, conversations are “depressurised”ibid visit. In essence, the cozyweb is the antithesis to the aggressively public, adtech-focused part of the internet, home to the trolls and the predators.

Other factors are based on what I’ve drawn from comments made by members of a cozyweb community I belong to:

“a unique sounding board… we have the luxury to be extremely open with each other… it’s a close-knit space with plenty of room for everyone to be who they are/ want to be whilst celebrating others.”

attracts a certain type of person: warm, supportive, engaging, honest, helpful, forgiving… being on here is like being surrounded by friends I’ve always wished I had but never had IRL.”

“strangers can’t come and go as easily as Reddit or discord… that extra layer of friction means people who end up here really want to be here — there’s no trolls, bots, and the connections feel less fleeting and more concrete.”

With the rise of cozyweb spaces in pockets around the internet, it seems we’re moving from Web2 to Web², from World Wide Web to World Wide Webs.

Some lines of thought I want to pursue at some point:

  • how heavily does anonymity factor in the use of the cozyweb? If, say, an acquaintance or family member were to join this space of their own accord, would that influence my vulnerability levels?
  • alter-egos on the pseudonymous internet: multiple digital identities, one for each platform, as opposed to the unified, interconnected front we have now (i.e. you can find the same person on Twitter and on Facebook if they’re on both, but not on Discord, Neopets, etc.)
  • Alternative/ cozyweb platforms as a safe lab for identity R&D, a way to transcend the meatspace constraint

Leave a comment