Fraternity of the wired works in the wee hours

Last Updated 27 July 2010, 16:07 IST

After college, most people do their best to avoid having to pull any more all-nighters. But for some, even after graduation, the wee hours of the morning are the most productive.
That is what led Amber Lambke and Allan Grinshtein to start a group called the New York Nightowls, a sort of study hall for entrepreneurs, freelancers and software developers who gather at 10 every Tuesday night and stay as late as 4 am.

“The goal is to come, get inspired, meet new people and get work done,” said Lambke, a creative consultant. “It’s six hours of uninterrupted, productive time where you’re surrounded by other creative people doing awesome things.”

Although the New York group has been meeting only since April, the concept is catching on. Others have organised similar weekly gatherings in nearly a dozen cities, including San Francisco, Boston, Stockholm and Melbourne, Australia.

In New York, roughly two dozen people armed with laptops and caffeinated beverages assemble each week on the top floor of an office building in Chinatown and hunker down for a night of work.

Some, like Grinshtein, head of product design at the video site Blip.tv, are there to work on pet projects and side ventures that go ignored during the regular workday.
Most who show up for a session spend their time hunched deep in thought over a glowing screen. But this is no library. It is not uncommon to hear soft music playing, and some participants choose bottles of beer over coffee.

Participants say a spirit of collaboration and camaraderie percolates through the night, one that can be hard to come by during normal working hours.

“I don’t code very well, and a developer working here might be able to solve a problem in 30 seconds that might take me three hours,” said Jonathan Wegener, who creates mobile applications.”

How it started

The group got its start one evening in April when Grinshtein fired off a message to Twitter, asking if anyone wanted to form a casual work group.

Lambke, who did not know Grinshtein, was immediately interested. “I saw the tweet and thought, this is exactly what I need,” she said. A week and several e-mail exchanges later, the New York Nightowls was formed.

The meetings are free, and Lambke and Grinshtein try to cap the group’s size at around 30 people. They ask attendees to schedule a visit through Meetup, a service that allows people to organise events.

Tony Bacigalupo, who runs a shared working space called New Work City that caters to freelancers and other independent types, offered to let the Nightowls use the space at no cost.

One big advantage of the late-night hours is that they are blissfully free of the distractions that clutter the daytime. Even the Web goes quiet. People feel less compelled to check Twitter and Facebook and chat with friends and colleagues via instant message. “When you don’t have your co-workers constantly interrupting you, fewer friends bored at work and on IM, it’s easier to get things done,” said Montana Low, the chief scientist at RescueTime, which makes productivity software.

But preferring to work at night might go beyond a need to escape distractions. Some people are hard-wired to perform better as it gets later, said Michael Thorpy, director of the Sleep-Wake Disorder Center at the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

The popularity of the Nightowls idea suggests that there are plenty of people in this camp. Johan Hedberg, a 33-year-old public relations consultant in Stockholm, became interested in coordinating a local version after he saw an online posting about the group. “I have a lot of friends and colleagues writing books and working on Web projects who sit by themselves at home,” he said. “There is so much more to gain by working with other people.”

Hedberg, who holds the gatherings at his offices on Tuesdays and serves platters of cinnamon buns and hot coffee, said that nearly 30 people turned out for the first event in mid-June and more than 100 had signed up to be notified of the meetings. He hopes the Nightowl group will help him start his own personal project, a book of recipes for baked goods.

In New York, the Nightowl sessions last as long as there are people working. “We’re open until I get tired,” Grinshtein said.

Lambke, who concedes that most weeks she does not last beyond 1 or 2 a.m., said that anyone who needs a quick power nap can retire to a cushy beanbag chair.

“Maybe we’re a little bit insane,” she said with a laugh. “But it’s fun.” “We’re New Yorkers,” added Grinshtein. “It’s not like we sleep anyway.”

(Published 27 July 2010, 16:04 IST)

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