Feature image by We Are via Getty Images
As I watched the slow and steady decline of Twitter last month, I compiled a non-exhaustive list of other on/offline hubs for queer tweeters like me looking for connection. To be honest, I have serious doubts that anything will be able to replace Twitter’s significance in our cultural and political landscape, but I tried to offer something. When your world feels like it’s ending, something always feels better than nothing.
When the story launched on our Instagram feed, one of our followers (rightfully) called me out. I’d forgotten something (or somewhere) that offers connection in a totally different way than most other spaces I’ve been in: Somewhere Good, a (mostly) audio social connection platform launched in 2020 by Ethel’s Club founder, Naj Austin. Somewhere Good is designed by and for people of color. I first found out about this cool app through a hometown homie, Van Newman. When Van started posting teasers and information about Somewhere Good, I was already hooked — an app designed and built by queer people of color for folks who need it most? YES PLEASE.
But when I think about Somewhere Good, I don’t consider it social media. The app (and the worlds in it) provides an unusually intimate experience of connection for BIPOC, particularly QTPOC that we don’t often get in this world. Unlike the big social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and yes even Tumblr), the ethos of Somewhere Good is rooted in intentional, opt-in conversation and connection-building. There is no scrolling aimlessly while on the toilet, train, or in that boring Zoom meeting. Instead, the platform demands your full time, energy, and attention for one minute at a time (which is harder to give than one might think). To be honest, as a grad student and educator I don’t always have the time/energy to engage deeply with folks I don’t know well — my mind is racing 10,000 miles a minute. For example, in the last minute, I’ve thought about Kehlani and Letitia, lunch plans, my to-do list, a final paper I am avoiding, my dog’s Christmas pajamas, and lunch again — ALL WHILE TYPING THIS!
I know I need to slow down. I know deep breaths and deeper conversations help me ground myself best. I know I deserve to engage in intentional connection-building and community — we all do.
Before I jump into my return to Somewhere Good, let me explain the platform for the not-yet-hip. Somewhere Good brands itself as “an app that feels less like a feed and more like a kickback through voice notes.” So, if you’re not a voice note person (I know some of us hate them), this may not be the app for you. Signing into the app, users are greeted by a variety of user-seeded (and perhaps also company-originated) worlds. Each world has a name and a theme. For example, the world “WavyWMN” invites conversations around “shifting conversations around the beauty of natural hair” while “Black Utopias” is designed as “a space for Black folks to dream thrive; feel joyful and free.” Worlds with active conversations are “open” and those that don’t have active conversations are listed as “away.” Unlike feed-focused apps, the app eases you into engagement. The home page isn’t overwhelming with content. The top features a warm invitation, “Hey friend. Join a conversation” followed by a timer counting down how much time each world has for the current conversations. The rest of the home page is a simple carousel of the conversations happening in active worlds. To “join,” users simply tap the world to view the prompt and then tap again to “Enter World.” In the world, you’ll see a path of other users’ profile pictures accompanied by respective voice notes and existing replies. Users can create a new response to the prompt and/or reply to others’ already recorded experiences. To increase accessibility, computer-generated transcripts can be edited and attached to your voice note (Not everyone does it, but I always do it to ensure more folks may engage).
I logged on on a gray Monday afternoon after reading all the transphobic chatter on Twitter. Dave Chappelle was being Dave Chappelle — still problematic, still transphobic, still trash. Elon was being Elon — still rich, problematic, transphobic, and now in charge of what once was my favorite digital platform. When I opened Somewhere Good, my mood instantly shifted. The Explore Page greeted me with the typical “hey friend” and the clouds moved across the sky behind the carousel of conversations happening. I noticed my breathing slowed and I felt lighter. I hadn’t even joined a conversation and already this place felt like exactly what I needed.
There were several conversations happening on Monday afternoon when I logged in. In WavyWmn, users were responding to the prompt, “Durags, Head Scarves, or Bonnets?” In the conversation in Griot Galaxy, a world about the power of storytelling, users created a path by sharing one song that always gets them out of a bad mood. One user offered Ari Lennox’s “New Apartment.” Another user added Chance the Rapper’s “Favorite Song” and the original path starter replied in gratitude. The last user in the path shared that she didn’t have just one song but said anything with a “smooth beat” or “anything about Jesus.” I thought about adding my current pump-up song, Demi Lovato’s “Sorry Not Sorry,” but I worried that people might think it wasn’t rich or deep enough so I didn’t and moved on to the next worlds. I scrolled through three other worlds with open conversations:
The Sustainable Chats world, asked “sea or mountains? Countryside or city?”
The prompt for FutureVision, a world that invites exploration of ideas was great: “What’s another way to say ‘I care for you?’”
Both had the potential to be enriching conversations but the paths hadn’t been started — no users had responded to the prompts. In the thick of finals season, I just didn’t have the bandwidth or desire to kick off conversations. Sometimes, it feels like the app requires a level of vulnerability and connection I’m not always ready to offer the world. The lack of engagement from others (and myself), particularly on that day, was disheartening, especially when I think back to how good I felt when I logged in. The truth is Somewhere Good is good. Sure, there are things I wish it had, like the ability to message other users and connect with them one-on-one. But as an imaginative rethinking of how we engage digitally, it is a beautiful, necessary space. When I went back to Somewhere Good, what I found was that it was exactly what I needed; what I learned, however, was that I did not have the time or energy to engage with what I needed at that moment. I imagine that’s how a lot of us feel right now — still mid-pandemic and struggling to survive in a capitalist world that demands all of us all of the time.
How do we make time and space for goodness, especially in the digital sphere? As Twitter crumbles, I hope we all end up somewhere where we feel affirmed and joyful. Maybe that place is Somewhere Good but even if it’s not, I hope we find (and make time and space) for all of the goodness we deserve.