Etsy incorporates something called Etsy Labs which is a communal workspace in Brooklyn for users to work together as well as space for programming like talks and demonstrations. See description on Etsy’s website. Given what Etsy is — a marketplace for craft artists — a communal workspace seems natural. These types of communal spaces are also used by other customer businesses to create community. Two examples that come to mind are the lecture hall spaces in Apple retail stores used for talks and lessons and something new by Major League Baseball called the MLB Fancave used for fan activities, parties, musical performances, and viewing events. The photo sharing site Color has created a room for users to drop in when near its headquarters in Palo Alto.
I love the notion of supplementing a virtual business with a real world communal space, and I think this concept can work far beyond consumer applications to provide user interaction, engagement, and feedback. My current idea is not consumer oriented, but I think an actual physical location where users can drop by when in town can make what we are doing more real to users as well as provide a way for us to know our users better. I can’t think of an obvious reason why a “Labs” concept wouldn’t work where the customers are people in their business or professional capacities and potentially the experiment would yield big returns.