A quick Google search shows that most of the digital services catered to the queer community, such as Grindr, Scruff, Chappy, and HER, focus on hookups and relationships.
These services also center around artificially connecting users through their profiles instead of providing or fostering activities or interests, whether online or offline, through which users can participate and find self-purpose while organically bonding with each other and forming deeper connections
“If physical queer spaces are set to disappear all together (a sad but realistic possibility), it is the responsibility of those who have a stake in their decline to create viable alternatives. Grindr and queer-focused websites and apps need to answer this call, adapt, and take the initiative to provide a viable alternative. Queer spaces are so essential to our collective history of radical politics, our heritage, and fundamentally, to our community’s existence.”
“Instead of trying to ‘find people to spend time with,’ it may be easier to forge new deep bonds if we focus more on finding a cause or purpose to devote ourselves to,” suggests Cole, who was a collaborator on Cacioppo’s loneliness study. “When that happens, we are much more likely to easily encounter others who share our aspirations and inspirations, our backgrounds and values, and this can be a powerful way of re-establishing connection. In other words, to cure a disease of disconnection, it may be more efficient to pursue some sort of purpose or mission or hobby, rather than consciously seek companionship.”
The proposed digital service, Village+, is inspired by the game The Sims and the review website Yelp. Village+ amalgamates the visualization and fun from The Sims with the convenience and collectiveness from Yelp to create one big happy queer app.
Village+, unlike the subtractive queer experience in heteronormative society, focuses on building a queer life just the way you like it. It does not intend to isolate users in a digital space but rather provide digital bridges between queer spaces–whether digital or physical–and users. Once the user logs into their account, they are greeted with the digital village they curated, with buildings, streets, landscapes, businesses, institutions. These places and establishments could be completely virtual or could be digital representations of physical ones. They could be significant in the larger world, such as a Lavender Landmark, or could be personally meaningful to the users, such as the store where a user first used a new name that aligned with their gender identity.
Village+ provides a search feature inspired by Yelp, where users can look for locations and establishments that are queer-oriented or queer-friendly. The locations could be digital or physical, exist currently or be preserved in history.
Users can explore queer-themed suggestions such as queer bookstores curated by editors or generated based upon popularity. Users can search for queer establishments with keywords or browse through categories curated by editors. Users can also check out what their friends on Village+ have been exploring.
The digital format provides a rich soil for the queer community to thrive. Groups that are oppressed or made invisible in the physical world could claim their voice in Village+ and hopefully use the digital platform as a stepping stone to make waves in the real world. The example here shows the possibility of building a digital queer museum in China. The grassroots movement for this museum has been attempting to open a physical one for over a decade with hardly any progress in China due to the suppression of LGBTQ+ related material in public.
Once the user finds a desired establishment, they can add it to their own village. Or they can build a new one from scratch in the app or upload a digital model. For example, the digital model here for the Queer Museum of China could have been built by the grassroots activists in China alone or in collaboration with other skillful users who care deeply about the cause. This collaboration is one of many ways in which Village+ provides activities that could help users form connections with each other.
Users can visit the places they find on Village+. The “interior” of the establishment is curated by the group that runs it.
The “interior” could be built and housed on Village+ or simply link to the establishment’s website. Users who are currently visiting the same establishment are shown in this tab. This feature allow users to interact with each other in the same setting—asking one’s opinion regarding an exhibition in a museum, recommending a book in a bookstore, or simply saying hi.
Here, the interface demonstrates the landing page of the Queer Museum of China. The page shows current exhibitions. One could imagine a bookstore having an online retail component and an event component.
Unlike many other digital services that encourage user interactions based on one’s physical features, one of Village+’s core missions is activity-based bond fostering. The platform provides opportunities for users to participate in activities together and connect with each other based on common interests.
The reminder here shows that the user has a book club discussion to attend, where they have a great chance of meeting similarly minded folks who already have a common interest.
Among many other features that distinguish Village+ from other digital platforms is its rich visual stimulation. With our smartphones getting more and more powerful, we can imagine a high-resolution 3D experience—whether it’s onscreen, virtual reality, or augmented reality—in the app.
The users can visit their own villages and conveniently access the establishments they saved. Of course, one can visit their friends’ villages or invite them over. In effect, a user’s queer life is crystalized in their village. One can attend a book club, refill a prescription, visit a historic landmark, talk to a friend, and order a sex toy in their village. Queer-oriented and queer-friendly establishments have been made hard to access by discriminatory zoning practices, heteronormative values, and social taboos. Village+ provides a digital bridge that connects all of these scattered dots.