The ‘Third Space’ in the cloud


The cloud, just like your neighborhood coffee shop, has started to serve as a “third space.” (iStockphoto)

The places where we work and live are crucial to our livelihoods and well being. In each of these venues, we adopt different personas: parent, spouse, partner, employee, manager, executive, peer.

But where can we drop the mask and be ourselves? That’s the role of the “third place,” our “in between” venue that’s neither work nor home: church, our social club, the neighborhood coffee shop, a public park, the local tavern.

Third places are happy places, as one psychologist asserts in Psychology Today: “They root us; they give us an identity; they restore us; they support us. Bottom line: They allow us to be us. And everyone knows our name.”


In his book “The Great Good Place,” author Ray Oldenburg lists a number of criteria that “third places” tend to have in common. Among them are:

  • Neutral, allowing us to go and come as we please
  • Level, meaning we leave our title, status and even our role at the door
  • Interactive, with conversation as the main activity
  • Accessible, open for long hours and easy to get to and use
  • Inclusive, with “regulars” who accept and welcome newcomers
  • Relaxed, with an atmosphere that can even be playful

To Oldenburg’s criteria, I would add another: “Third places” must be secure.

In the virtual world, social media often performs the “third place” function. Always open and accessible, social media sites bring people together for conversation and sharing of written posts, photos, videos, and other media. Blogs and news sites can serve similar roles.

But one of the most exciting online “third places” to emerge recently is the cloud.


Once merely a repository for business files, the cloud is evolving into its own kind of gathering spot where people from around the world drop in; partake of materials; add their own documents and media; and exchange questions, comments, and ideas — all on their own schedules. Massive Open Online Courses operate this way, for example, using the cloud as a repository for information exchange and discussion.

For truly cutting-edge uses of the cloud as a collaborative tool, look to the arts. Musicians work together on symphonies, writers post their poetry and stories for ideas and feedback, filmmakers collaborate on projects, artists show and tell about their works in progress — all using Cloud technology.

How many people does it take to make an Oscar-nominated short film? Seventy-five, in the case of “The Dam Keeper.” Animators, painters, musicians, production staff, a sculptor and an editor, all in different locales, worked together on the film using an online file-sharing site. Meeting in the cloud allowed for a real-time, collaborative, more creative process, Director Robert Kondo told Mashable in 2014.


JR Reagan writes regularly for FedScoop on technology, innovation and cybersecurity issues.

The Open Source Studio brings emerging artists, dancers, musicians, filmmakers, and thespians from across the globe together with professionals and instructors to create, discuss and collaborate in a virtual environment.


On his website, instructor Randall Packer calls these virtual hangouts not “third places,” since they aren’t physical locales, but “third spaces,” a blending of dimensions that is neither here nor there, but both at once.

This merging, possible only in recent years as the cloud has grown in popularity and scale, offers exciting possibilities for humanity.

The cloud now enables us, perhaps for the first time in history, to engage in “collective learning” on a global scale. This has immense implications.

Collective learning, or the sharing of information, is the engine driving the relatively rapid pace of human evolution, pushing us farther, faster than any other species on Earth, scholars say in the Big History Project. And now, the cloud holds promise for collective learning and innovation on a scale, and at a pace, previously unknown.

As enthralling as all this might seem, however, one major obstacle remains for the cloud to truly serve as a virtual “third place,” or “third space”: security.


We don’t gather in places where we don’t feel safe. Few of us would frequent a tavern or coffee shop in a building whose roof was caving in.

For the cloud to properly function as a “third space,” people must use it. But if they have to worry about hackers seeing, distorting or even disseminating their contributions, they may steer clear of the cloud.

Cybersecurity needs to progress before users can rest assured that their data is safe in the cloud. We in the industry still have much work to do to make that happen.

The good news, though, is this: The answer to the security conundrum, as with so many other solutions, may lie within our reach, in the cloud itself.

Its “third place” qualities — always open, easily accessible, nonhierarchical, relaxed and welcoming, interactive — make the cloud an ideal platform for collective learning in the cybersecurity profession.


In the cloud’s give-and-take, discuss-and-innovate environment, cybersecurity’s thorniest problems may be resolved at last. By allowing us to tap into a seemingly unlimited supply of human ingenuity, the cloud may virtually secure itself, using tools and techniques we haven’t even thought of. Yet.

JR Reagan is the global chief information security officer of Deloitte. He also serves as professional faculty at Johns Hopkins, Cornell and Columbia universities. Follow him @IdeaXplorerRead more from JR Reagan.

JR Reagan

Written by JR Reagan

JR Reagan was the global chief information security officer of Deloitte at the time he served as a contributor to FedScoop, with over 25 years of experience as a consultant and international lecturer on innovation, big data and analytics, AI and cybersecurity.

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