airbnb samara

The potential of Samara is exciting.

Joe Gebbia:

We began with a simple question: what does a home that is designed and built for sharing actually look and feel like? The answer is not simple at all. Other questions quickly emerged. Can a home respond to the needs of many inhabitants over a long period of time? Can it support and reflect the tremendous diversity of human experience?

These are questions I’ve been living and exploring for almost half a decade. I’ve been working on designing for the opportunities and challenges of sharing space, observing what works and what doesn’t over the years. I’m curious to learn more about Samara. I’m curious about how they’ll go about IRL interaction design — with understanding of social dynamics and interactions in shared spaces. A role I see being valuable in this group is to:

  • lead home interaction design: build on insights into intentional community living — research the social make-up in different coliving environments; research the physical, spacial design choices, and their effects on social interactions and evolving dynamics

  • feed back to the product team insights from this research to make design choices that encourage a sense of home and ease, serendipity of learning and collaboration, mutual care — developing sustainable communities, as well as sustainable spaces

  • use learnings from designing spaces in shared homes, bring understandings of the influence of different aesthetics to encourage certain behaviours and prompt specific interactions, and the effect of this on the way social dynamics and inter-community relationships develop

  • prime for the success of Backyard — while the physical spaces are being designed, before construction even begins, have a presence on the ground for ethnographic research; architect culture through hosting events, establishing interaction style, support the development of shared values and purpose with the communities that will use these spaces

designing spaces for serendipity of learning

After about 6 months building and designing in Berlin, I returned to the Embassy SF.

What I’d become accustomed to while living there before, I’d stop noticing as something uncommonly interesting:

My first weekend back, the serendipity of learning struck me. On the Friday, I found Dan working in the Carriage House. He stopped what he was doing to tell me about the real-world applications of quantum computing: how the field is developing, the challenges of evolving public perception of the subject, what excites him about it. I told him about my readings on existential therapy and poetic naturalism — the intersection of physics and poetry, Carl Sagan and Mary Oliver — to help expand perspectives and lift people out of the ephemeral sufferings of daily life. He told me he and Lou, had been thinking about something similar; they called it ‘physics therapy’.

The following morning, I was working in the breakfast nook by the bay windows where Creon was also sitting, headphones on, focused on his laptop. After an hour or so, when I got up to make a cup of tea, he asked if he could interrupt to show me what he’s learning. Me: of course. And he gave me an off-the-cuff, engaging presentation on new medical applications of laser technologies.

I continued with my work, then our extended-community member, Bert arrived. He and I went to Shannon’s room to say hello. The three of us sat on her bed sharing some ordered-in brunch. Bert’s a friend we made through our Second Life project — opening up space in the house for formerly incarcerated people to play Dungeons and Dragons, and to build community. He’d spent 20+ years in prison and we got deep in conversation about guilt, shame and the effects of these destructive emotions on being able to live with authenticity and compassion. The conversation was rich in wisdom hard-earned through his time alone with his thoughts.

That evening, in the kitchen, Allison was talking with energy about finding paths to existential hope in a future facing threats of malevolent AGI. She catalogues resources here. Later, while a big group of us cook together, with others enjoying the hubbub, chiming in over some cab sauv, I’m chatting with Jessy Kate on ideas around building new societies on worlds contained on spaceships, the challenges of true democracy in an environment of over-abundance of information and finite attention, poking around thoughts on benevolent dictatorships and do-ocracy governance systems.

In a Lyft at some point that weekend, Will tells me a bit about geopolitical tensions around satellite ownership — that countries’ governments blow up their own satellites to be clear to other nations that they can, throwing masses of asteroid-like debris into orbit. At Sunday dinner, Zarinah tells us about the development of the work that they (singular), together with other members of our extended network, are doing to set new precedents for the formerly-incarcerated community to be free of the threat of their often volatile parole officers controlling whether they return to serve life sentences for minor offences.

Later in the week, a bunch of us were around the table laughing hard — masterminding the little pranks our neighbouring community houses were playing on each other. Point being, we’ve cultivated this nourishing balance of abundant intellectual exchange, while still having fun together, connecting over our challenges, being friends and housemates.

There are deliberate design choices — aesthetic, spacial, and in the social make-up of the home — that lead to these sorts of interactions and dynamics. More on this to come…

project: second life house

After reading below, if you feel inclined to donate to bring this into being, amazing. Or, maybe you have friends who’d get excited about being involved in making this happen. If so, please do share. Whichever way, thanks for giving it some thought.


We’re creating a Second Life House. This will be an Embassy-style intentional community built with and for the formerly incarcerated community.

There are currently around 35,000 prisoners serving life sentences in California prisons, representing a quarter of the state’s prison population. Under Governor Jerry Brown, nearly 3,500 lifers have been released from the California prisons in the last five years, a record number. These are humans who have served abominably long sentences, often having entered the system as children. Not only are their recidivism rates extremely low, but they have often studied diverse topics, gone through 100s of hours of transformational workshops and are intimately involved with complicated issues such as the nature of harm, forgiveness and so on. Housing, and more importantly perhaps, ‘home’ and the community that comes with this, are fundamental parts of survival and empowerment. 

The Embassy Network is a collective of intentional communities dedicated to creating and diversifying the commons. We have been building intentional communities centered around self-governance for over six years. Two years ago we launched a project called Second Life, in collaboration with the Prisoner Reentry Network. This project was an attempt to build life together across the divide created by the criminal justice system. It began with gathering to play Dungeons & Dragons twice a month, but as relationships formed, our communities merged, and we all found unexpected connections and access to skills and insights our communities needed.

Now, two years in, the Second Life community is strongly bonded and committed to alternative forms of justice, but has no physical home. We need a space to grow and expand this intentional community with the members of Second Life (a combination of Embassy humans and formerly incarcerated individuals). The goal here is to empower these returning individuals to live and build a self-governing community with intentionality and shared values. The model that we propose includes a guest room that will serve to provide a small source of communal income generation with which the community itself will decide on some form of collaborative spending. 

As we have all discovered, communal life provides collective abundance — both in time and finances (it is cheaper to live and eat together), social abundance, spatial abundance and also frees up time from the working day. With these generated surplus metrics, our hope is to support the Embassy Network Alternative Justices Project, and to expand this support to other returning lifers so that they too may find meaningful work, heal from their traumatic experiences, and build independent community life-lines of their own. This will be an autonomously run space, built around self and social empowerment. 

For these people, the goal is not just to re-enter an existing society, but to employ their own unique skills, insights, critical reflections of the world, and emotional intelligence to help reshape it. 

Here we are calling for donations to support this Second Life House.

** We need to raise 20K in order to pay the team to get this community space up and running. ** Any donation amount will be helpful. We want everyone to feel empowered to contribute to this project. Donations are tax deductible and will go through our nonprofit, District Commons.

research: community living & cooperation

Research projects

  • ethnographic study on the Bay Area’s intentional community network

  • design research: spacial design choices to support collaborative, sustainable communities

  • governance of collaborative projects where motivation is not financial

  • ecologies of cooperation

In progress. Write up to follow.

embassy network: berlin

I spent the past year in Berlin architecting and nurturing the less tangible forces that successfully develop a cohesive, collaborative community.

Write up of what we did, the successes, challenges and learnings — and photos of our community, salons, and dinners — to follow.

media lab: poetic justice

This is a new group at the MIT Media Lab led by Ekene Ijeoma. My heart squeezes a little with joy about this the mission of this group. I checked out Ekene’s past work. My favourite is called Wage Islands. The creativity in this is inspiring. The anthropomorphism of dry facts. The physicality of this art — being able to visualise this social justice issue in this way — is powerful in its poetic stirring of empathy. I’d like to work with Ekene some day.

trying our best from where we are

There's value in occasionally exposing one's fallible, fluctuating humanness. Those who relate - maybe you'll feel less alone swimming through your own fleeting wave of blues. Maybe it'll help you be more at ease with your ups and downs.

Read More

new event: calm sunday

Proposed a gathering for when we want to be quietly alone, but together — around happily familiar others who want the same.

Calm Sunday — an alternative to meeting to do something together. Gather with no expectation to be doing the same thing, and no pressure to interact. We move to the kitchen if we need to chat. In the living room, quietly do your thing, be it work or play, and try to temper your fizzing sense of satisfaction at doing what you wanna be doing, around the warm energy of other people who are glad to have you there.

I brew a pot of tea. You bring your books, laptop, journal, music/film (+headphones), sketching pencils… Whatever you like, as long as it’s quiet. And we just be together @EmbassyNetwork Berlin. Indulge your inner ambivert.

Optional: bring snacks/drinks you’d like, break to join in 15 mins of calming yoga when we need a stretch.

Alt name for this: Kimonos and Cans. Come round wearing your pjs/sweatpants/kimonos (fancy ;)) and some solid headphones to make clear you’re not down for a natter - at least, until it’s time for tea.

explained: intentional community

I’ve spent the past year architecting and building an intentional community home in Berlin. My interest in sharing home doesn’t necessarily mean I’d push for this sort of arrangement ongoing for everyone. Even repeated finite stints living together like this can be character-developing in the discovery it offers of living with abundance (of care, as well as of resources); the potential in serendipitous intellectual exchange and collaboration with housemates; the attunement to social dynamics and resistance to hierarchy in the home. It can lead to growth in interpersonal skills, critical thinking, inclusionary behaviours, listening ability, and compassion.

Intentional community living can offer:

  • A sense of home and belonging

  • Friendship and abundance of care

  • Evolving spaces for critical thinking

  • Serendipity of learning

  • Natural evolution of collaboration on projects

  • Experimentation in systems of governance, cooperation and social dynamics

This post needs more detail. I’ll get around to this.

product: RoomSplit

RoomSplit was born accidentally out of a personal need to find somewhere to stay during a conference when all hotel rooms within reasonable proximity to the venue were sold out. Through reaching out on social platforms, I shared a two-bed Hilton room next door to the venue, split the cost, and became friends with my roomie after navigating the conference together. This was a great experience (we're still friends today). I started doing this for every event - regardless of whether rooms were sold out - and helped others do the same - personally connecting them. This later led to designing a web app allowing conference-goers to split two-bed hotel rooms. The beta was used during SXSW 2016. I spoke there about it on a panel with TechCrunch Editor-at-Large and a fellow travel-tech entrepreneur.

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In working on RoomSplit, I was researching behaviour, figuring out how to manage the development of a product and of a team. I was also writing and consulting, spending time on the ground in London, Paris, Berlin, Tel Aviv, New York and San Francisco learning about their respective startup ecosystems. This was to deliberately find out what I didn't know that I didn't know. Much of the learning happened through meeting people from across disciplines and industries when attending and speaking at conferences and festivals.

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I love the concept behind this product. We were encouraging people to drive up the serendipity in their lives - to discover more of what they don’t realise they don’t know. Travelling to knowledge-sharing events is a great way to do this. And sharing space with similarly minded attendees is even better. Ultimately it wasn’t viable financially, but the whole thing was a fantastic learning experience all the same.

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experiment: calls with strangers

First posted in a few Facebook groups.

To any friend feeling a little stressed or sad, I have a give... I caught up with a friend recently who's usually upbeat and engaged. He'd gone quiet for two months. I'd assumed it was because he was simply busy with his startup, but later found out that he'd been feeling pretty low. Another friend chose not to connect with anyone whilst she was experiencing work-related exhaustion. And me - last year, I slapped on a smile and chose to avoid mentioning what was really up when I was experiencing something that felt gutting, and tough to process alone. And there are several more instances in the past year of others I know withdrawing when they weren't feeling great - believing it better not to show the side of themselves that isn't perpetually happy.It's easy to get sucked into this belief that you need to seem super upbeat to everyone 100% of the time. Really you don't need to bury your down days. It's okay to let yourself simply be - and feel whatever you're feeling.

I'm working all hours on my startup, but I want to offer 40 minutes on Sundays to anyone who'd like to chat - 40 minutes talking guilt-free about yourself/whatever you like.

Obviously it isn't therapy and it has nothing to do with anything I'm doing - just an opportunity to offload and hear me confirm that you're not insane and that everything's going to be fine.

If there happens to be anyone here who could use this, here's the link.

Edit: Nov 12: Each Sunday slot in my calendar has been booked til the end of January! Given the groups I posted in, they’ll mostly be independent creatives, contract workers, and startup founders.

Edit: Dec 1: Strangers - a few staying anonymous, most not - launch straight in about their fears of not doing or being enough; getting lost in who they tell the world they are, and losing their sense of self; almost all having crises of confidence (if you do too - we all have ‘em - you’re not alone); feeling uncertain in their friendships/feeling alone; wondering whether they’re working on the right thing; generally feeling quietly sad while they put on the “everything’s awesome” mask. Just a note to say, you’re not alone in what you’re experiencing. You’re okay. Make a little space for yourself. x