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inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #0 of 77: Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 15 Nov 01 10:52
    
Derek Powazek has emerged as a leading web designer and web community
evangelist, and his just-published book, _Design for Community_, is a
clueful exploration of the convergence of the two.  Derek began his career
three months out of college, working production at HotWired, where the
flames of his new-media enthusiasm were stoked, then dampened as HotWired
grew and foundered.  After a year at HotWired Derek literally jumped into
the fray, i.e. fray.com, a site devoted to digital storytelling, which
inherently evolved as an online community presence and a compelling side
project that is still Happening. A few months later Derek moved to Howard
Rheingold's visionary web community/business, Electric Minds, then to vivid
studios, where he worked as art director for Nike's web sites. It wasn't
long, though, before Derek set about freelancing and establishing a
reputation as the most informed and intuitive of web designers.

His understanding of the World Wide Web's essential combination of
technology with human (and humane) interactivity informs the chapters of
_Design for Community_, a book which stands alongside Cliff Figallo's
_Hosting Web Communities_ and Amy Jo Kim's _Community Building on the Web_
as essential for web professionals who want to grasp the inherent character
of the Internet, which is in its role as a platform for interactivity,
collaboration, and community-building. Derek's book, as its name implies,
approaches online community from a design perspective, discussing the impact
of site interface and architecture on community interactions.  At the end of
each chapter, Derek includes a discussion with an expert, such as Steven
Johnson of Feed and Plastic, Rob "Cmdr Taco" Malda of Slashdot, and Howard
Rheingold, author of _The Virtual Community_ and leader of Howard Rheingold
Associates.

Derek's own web sites include, in addition to the story telling site
fray.com, fray.org (site for the fray organization, which is a physpace
extension of the fray site), kvetch.com ("an experiment in randomized,
pseudo-interactive, confessional, oracle-ish, bitching and moaning"), and
his personal site at powazek.com.

Leading the discussion is Jon Lebkowsky, cohost of inkwell.vue and CEO of
Polycot Consulting L.L.C.  Jon was cofounder and CEO of one of one of the
first virtual corporations, FringeWare, Inc., an experiment in
Internet-based commerce and community.  He performed consulting and
contract work for companies such as Electric Minds and HotWired before
joining Whole Foods Market in 1997 as a leader in the development of their
Internet, intranet, and ecommerce initiatives in his role as Director of
Web Technology for WholePeople.com.  A skilled communicator, he has
written about technology for publications such as Wired Magazine, Mondo
2000, 21C, Whole Earth Review, Fringe Ware Review, and the Austin
Chronicle.

Please join me in welcoming Derek and Jon to inkwell.vue!
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #1 of 77: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 15 Nov 01 11:14
    
Hi, Derek! I've enjoyed reading your book and looking through your
various web projects while preparing for this jam session... I was
wondering about the genesis of _Design for Community_. How did you
decide to write a book, and (something I always wonder) - is the book
you wrote the book you *expected* to write?
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #2 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Fri 16 Nov 01 00:06
    
Hi Jon! We meet again. Has it really been four years since me
(http://www.abbedon.com/electricminds/html/bodies_floyd.html)
and you (http://www.abbedon.com/electricminds/html/wwj_bio_jon.html)
did the Electric Minds boogaloo? Wow.

I've always wanted to write books, but I never imagined I'd write a
tech book. So I never went out looking for a book deal ... but it came
looking for me.

I started speaking at web conferences in 1996. At that time, there
weren't that many people who could talk the talk, and a whole lot of
people who wanted to listen (pretty much the inverse of today). So I
found myself addressing rooms of hundreds of people about such
fascinating topics as tables in HTML 1.1 and cross-browser coding
techniques (back then "cross-browser" meant that it works in Netscape
1.0 and Netscape 1.1).

In 1999, I was invited to speak at the Web Design and Development
conference, but I was tired of talking about all the same old stuff. So
they asked me, "Well, what do you want to talk about?"

I thought about all my work on the web, both the professional and the
personal, and realized that it was all tied together by a single
thread: All the sites were about getting users to talk back. 

So I wrote a proposal for a talk called "Design for Community," where
I could share the lessons I've learned the hard way. How do you design
spaces that encourage positive user participation? How does color
influence the tone of the conversation? Where should you put the post
button?

The talk was a success and got high ratings, so I did it more and
more. I gave the talk at a few different conferences (including South
by Southwest and Web 2000). 

Meanwhile, New Riders was starting a new initiative - web books by
people who'd been working in the web for years (see Zeldman and
Shedroff). They knew they wanted a book on community, and when they
started looking for someone to write it, they found me. I took the
basic outline of my talk and exploded it into the major themes -
intimacy, barriers to entry, commerce, etc. - and sent it to them as a
proposal. They bit.

And nine months later, I had a bouncing baby book! 
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #3 of 77: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 16 Nov 01 06:30
    
Your definition of web communities in the book says:

   Web communities happen when users are given *tools* to use
   their *voice* in a *public* and *immediate* way, forming 
   *intimate relationships* over *time*.

There are sites that are interactive without necessarily forming
communities - I'd like to talk about the difference. In terms of
strategy, and I mean both social and design strategy, how do you think
about this? If you feel that the interactions at a site will form
community over time, what impact does this have in the planning
stages? What are some of the tools you mention?
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #4 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Fri 16 Nov 01 11:49
    
Interesting stuff, Jon!

The definition of "community" is one of those concepts that no one
agrees on, and thank goodness, because it pushes us into some
interesting conversations. The definition I came up with for the book
(http://designforcommunity.com/display.cgi/20010808434) was my attempt
to set the definition in a context that made sense for the book.

Of course there are sites that are interactive (another word with
definition difficulties, but in this context let's just say it means
that users can alter the site in some way) that don't form communities.
I can sell my camera on eBay without forming lasting relationships.
But, then, there are people who *do* form lasting relationships there.

In the end, community affiliation is a *personal* decision. One
person's social lifeline is someone else's pile of cgi scripts. In the
end, the only definition of community that matters is a personal one.
When asked to define obscenity, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart
said, "I know it when I see it." That's a little bit like the
definition of community: "I know it when I *feel* it." 

So then the question becomes: What kinds interactions tend to engender
the formation of community feelings? (I just love the word "engender"
- I had to edit it down in the book because I used it too much.) That's
where the rest of the definition above comes into play. 

"Tools" means that the users are given power they can use, and giving
them that power means trusting them, and trust is one of the basic
building blocks of relationships. "Voice" means personal expression. In
the book I talk about the power of personal storytelling to encourage
positive community interactions (a lesson I learned quite well at
{fray} www.fray.com). 

What impact do these things have in the planning stages? Frankly, most
of the work goes into the people, not the technology. If you're going
to start a site with community features, you'd better be prepared to
truest your users, to give them those tools, to be unafraid of seeing
them use their voice on your site. In can be scary, for sure, but it
can also be incredibly rewarding.
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #5 of 77: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 16 Nov 01 13:35
    
Before we go futher into the book, could you talk a little about the
genesis of your career?  I just re-read 'Stoked,' and it certainly took
me back in time... I sometimes wonder what the Internet would be today
if not for 'Wired' and 'HotWired'...
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #6 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Fri 16 Nov 01 14:15
    
Sure! Step into the wayback machine with me....

I graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 1995 with a major in
Photojournalism. In college, I ran an alternative newspaper and,
actually, did the first web-based thesis at UCSC
(http://arts.ucsc.edu/derek/gallery). I put it on the web to try to
make a connection between the images and the stories about them - what
better way to connect the two than hypertext?

After graduating, I went to work at HotWired, which, at the time, was
just about the coolest site out there (for me, anyway). My 15 months
there were a trip (http://fray.com/work/stoked/) a harsh introduction
to the realities of post-college life, and a precursor to the dotcom
madness we were all descending into. In hindsight, it's easy to see how
I was destined to fall. College is about idealism. Working for a
living, at any company, is not. (At least, not completely. Being a
productive member a team, for example, is more important.)

So I redirected my idealism and enthusiasm for design, storytelling,
and community into personal projects. I started {fray}
(http://fray.com) during this time, and it's still going strong today.
{fray} has given more to me than I ever imagined. 

I was laid off in early '97, and it was the best thing that ever
happened to me because I got to go work with Howard Rheingold and Abbe
Don at Electric Minds. I took over producing the Edge Tech section, a
job that was previously being done by Howard, so you can imagine my
desire to do well. I started following in his footsteps then, and, in
some ways, I still am. (And there are so many of them to follow!)

Since then I've been mostly working freelance, except for brief stints
as a Managing Editor of a (now defunct) company in Amsterdam and a
Creative Director of Pyra (the makers of Blogger
<http://www.blogger.com>, which I designed). Last year I left Pyra to
work on the book fulltime, which pretty much brings us up to now.

I feel very lucky that I've gotten to work with so many brilliant
freaks over the years. It gives me hope. 
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #7 of 77: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 16 Nov 01 14:48
    
Given our context, we should address your comments about the WELL in
chapter 2, where there's an implication that the WELL lost steam after
the emergence of the World Wide Web and the development of increasingly
sophisticated interfaces for virtual 'places' in cyberspace, as well as
the proliferation of sites attempting online community in some form.
However the WELL has survived well over a decade. Could you expand on
your comments? Why do you think the WELL has survived when so many other
community platforms have disappeared?  What are the critical factors in
holding a virtual community together?
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #8 of 77: Robyn Kalda (robyn-kalda) Fri 16 Nov 01 20:14
    
>Web communities happen when users are given *tools* to use
   their *voice* in a *public* and *immediate* way, forming
   *intimate relationships* over *time*.

I really like the focus on relationships and voice in your definition.
 My example of things that aren't web communities are the "talk back"
areas a number of newspapers have (e.g.
http://discussion.canada.com/user/forums.asp?PID=136) -- they *try* to
make them community-like, but IMHO they fail because they lack the
"relationship" element.  It's all about drive-by postings and shouting
at the other guy.

Much of my work has involved web communities limited to women, and
I've noticed a tendency for private, closed, or anonymous spaces to be
more appealing to many women.  Can you comment a bit more on what you
mean by "public" in your definition?  

(Not to distract from Jon's questions in #7!)
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #9 of 77: Nancy White (choco) Sat 17 Nov 01 15:57
    
(holding back questions till you get a chance to answer those!)
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #10 of 77: Ari Davidow (ari) Sat 17 Nov 01 18:01
    
(also ready to pile on. it's quite a good book!)
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #11 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Sun 18 Nov 01 01:08
    
Hi Nancy and Ari! Sorry to keep you waiting.

Jon, it only took you seven posts to get to my one mention of the
Well? ;-)

Okay. Let's talk about The Well. 

No, Actually, let's talk about my book. Remember, Design for Community
is a book written about virtual communities in the year 2001,
primarily for designers. My most important lessons to people designing
community spaces are: use content, and interlink that content with the
community functionality. Because doing so makes them both stronger.

Now let's look at The Well. There is no content, besides what we post.
So there's no interlinking from content to community. And, frankly,
there's no design, either. The web interface is spartan (to be kind),
and there's no real design to be considered in Picospan.

But The Well works. And of course it does! Smart, devoted people make
this place unlike any other. So my advice to those who've come after
you is: Don't try to be The Well. It already exists. And you couldn't
repeat the magic circumstances that have made this place what it is.

So, no, I don't think the Well "lost steam" with the advent of the
web. But I do think that taking the formula that made the Well a
success and trying to reproduce it on the web, now, is bound to fail.
Community functionality on the web is everywhere - it takes more than
an empty set of tools to create a thriving community. That's where
content and design come in.

Make sense?
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #12 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Sun 18 Nov 01 01:20
    
Robyn asked: Can you comment a bit more on what you mean by "public"
in your definition?

Just that the tools the user is given to use their voice can alter the
site in a way that everyone can see. In other words, a feedback form
that emails the editor your reaction to a story isn't a community
feature. But a form that posts your reaction publicly to the community
is. Get it?

It's all speaking in generalities, but, then, that's what definitions
do. The only definition that truly matters is your personal one. 
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #13 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Sun 18 Nov 01 01:23
    
Also, I wanted to encourage anyone just joining us now to take a spin
through the site for the book. There's lot there: excerpts from the
book, new essays, and, of course, a conversations area for discussions
on designing community spaces online.

http://designforcommunity.com
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #14 of 77: the Angela Lansbury of guys (draml) Sun 18 Nov 01 08:53
    
Hi Derek, pleased to get to 'meet' you here.

Since the subject has come up: I've been to the site a number of times, and
recommended it (as well as the book) to a number of people as it seems to
juggle a number of aims all at the same time: as an advert for the book, a
support site for readers, and as an example of the book's own best practice
advice.

In that last category, how do you think it rates as a community site by the
criteria in the book? Indeed, how much do you want it to be a 'community' in
the full sense? What would you like to do with the site to take it further?

Since I'm also happily plundering the book *and* the site for inspiration
for a site of my own, I was also wondering what you thought of the software
that you're using to run the current version of the site on (which I believe
is available for use by non-profits).
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #15 of 77: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 18 Nov 01 08:56
    
Your point's clear about the WELL, that it's not a model for
contemporary community. I find myself wondering where the WELL would be
today if it hadn't added a web interface... or if it had abandoned the
command-line interface altogether.

Re. your comment "it takes more than an empty set of tools to create a
thriving community. That's where content and design come in." You've
practiced what you preach in creating your own sites, beginning with the
fray. You focus quite a bit on "digital storytelling," which is a label
that's popped up a lot since '97-'98 to describe a fairly simple
concept, putting personal stories online in some form.  Can you talk
about digital storytelling from your perspective, and say a bit about
how it relates to the evolution of online communities?
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #16 of 77: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 18 Nov 01 08:58
    
(<draml> slipped in while I was posting.)
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #17 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Sun 18 Nov 01 12:06
    
Hi draml --

On the site, yeah, I think it's pretty good, and we're working to make
it better all the time. The conversations have that beginning spark of
life, but it's still at the early stages. So far, no conversation has
really exploded with activity. But they all grow slowly, thoughtfully,
which is a good thing given the subject matter.

On the software that runs the site, I love it. It's written by my
friend Ben Brown. I'm using a customized version, but the 1.0 is freely
available here: http://www.brandbenbrown.com/display.html/discuss

It's definitely early release stuff. There's no admin system, and some
really obvious features it needs. But it's simple, powerful, and very
flexible. In my book, I devote a chapter to tools
(http://designforcommunity.com/display.cgi/200109281420). The important
thing to realize, says me, is that every piece of software comes with
limitations. The trick is to use the one that's limitations get in your
way the least. And, often times, the best way to do that is to code
your own.

As always, it depends. ;-)
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #18 of 77: Alan Turner (arturner) Sun 18 Nov 01 12:58
    
One of the more interesting things in the book (to me, anyway) was how the
graphic style of a site encourages or discourages participation.

Having designed real-world things like plazas and food courts, I can see
how that could be, but your observation was an eye-opener.  "You want to
find out about woodworking, you go to woodworking.com, and who cares about
the color scheme?" is what I'd always figured.  I suppose part of that
thinking comes from the days when you'd go to alt.rec.woodworking for that
kind of thing.

I was wondering if you see any sort of a "generational" difference between
how different people approach online communities.  Not so much generational
in terms of age, but generational in terms of whether people started using
the internet before or after graphical browsers.
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #19 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Sun 18 Nov 01 13:11
    
Jonl asked about the connection between digital storytelling and
virtual community.

Good, very good, really good question.

The fuzzy area between the two is where I think I'm happiest. It's
rich territory for many reasons. 

There's the human need to tell stories, which ranks up there right
next to eating and sleeping and, um, other root desires. I believe that
it's our need to share stories that created every major media in the
history of man. Books. Newspapers. Television. The web. They're all
drawn from that same well (ahem) - the desire to share our stories.

So, if your goal is to create a virtual community, and you need
content to bring people together and create common ground for
discussion, what better material could there be than personal stories?
There is no more effective social glue.

Let's play a game. Read each line below and pause, considering your
initial emotional reaction:

ONE: President Bush is so clearly pursuing the wrong goals in the
Middle East, he's going to get us all killed.

TWO: When I was on grade school, I had such a crush on Bethany Adams.
I still remember where she sat in home class.

How would you react to each?

I've found that, in community settings, the tone of the initial piece
of content (first post, news story, whatever) sets the tone for all the
responses, and the responses tend to amplify with each one. Start off
with hard facts and aggressive opinions, and you'll get that repeated
back to you with ten times the force. But start off with a personal
experience, a memory, a STORY, and you'll get more personal stories
repeated back to you, each one more stunningly revealing than the last.

In a nutshell, that's the formula I stumbled upon with {fray}
(www.fray.com). But it's not limited to personal art projects. Any site
that solicits user posting, from the Well to Amazon, will see that
same amplification of the initial content.

That's just one way personal stories are powerful....
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #20 of 77: Gail Williams (gail) Sun 18 Nov 01 13:17
    
Interesting.  Reminds me of the approach kd & sweeney took to restarting the
unclear conf after a former host torched it many years ago, asking for an
intro from the participants and a particular kind of story from each.  In
some settings with some storytellers it can be a magical approach.
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #21 of 77: Ari Davidow (ari) Sun 18 Nov 01 13:35
    
The storyteller approach also reminds me of why I got online in a big 
way in the first place--it was posting an article to a local SF BBS and
discovering that people read and commented on it.

Been trying to fuse those things ever since. Most recently, it's been my
distraction and laziness--tools are definitely there.

The question/point I wanted to make, though, is that your book really
focuses on the idea that individuals who are doing their own websites
can add community features--it isn't something big and massive, necessarily.
You don't have to start the WELL or Electric Minds to create online
community, any more than you have to create a whole subdivision.

I'm not sure how explicit you make it in the book, but I also sense that
a lot of community tools now are smaller things that can be linked together.
You don't need to license WebX or Prospero, you can add smaller things which
you might even (as you just mentioned, and as you cover in the book) have
written yourself, or by a friend.

So, community tools are now something that individuals can use for themselves
to make their friends more at home, not just something that requires a whole
conferencing system, a conferencing manager, a host and/or volunteer system,
etc. (although you may get there, or want to get there).
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #22 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Sun 18 Nov 01 15:25
    
Alan --

I *definitely* think there's a generational difference. You can see it
in the Well itself - ask any old-timer what they think of Well
Engaged. ;-)

I'm 28. Not that old. But I remember when VCRs and answering machines
and cable TV first came out. I remember using First Class to connect to
a San Francisco BBS. I remember telnet and emacs and modems that you
had to stick a phone onto. I remember green text on black windows and
typing "mail soandso" to send them email. 

All that and walking through the snow uphill both ways yadda yadda.
;-)

But today, people are growing up with an expectation of virtual
interaction. *Of course* you can send email to a phone. Of course you
can page someone when they're walking in the wilderness, get directions
to the movies and buy tickets from home, instant message from the
toilet. 

And of course you can read a story in the newspaper and email the
author to tell them what you think. Of course that newspaper is on the
web and, of course, you can talk with your fellow readers there. 

Does this kill some of the novelty? Yes, and thank God. Once we can
get past the "specialness" of "virtual community," then we can get down
to just dealing with the community part, with an expectation that
every community comes with virtual and real counterparts.

And does this make for more savvy, and more demanding users?
Absolutely. And hooray for that. They're the ones that are going to
push us forward.
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #23 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Sun 18 Nov 01 15:38
    
Ari said: "So, community tools are now something that individuals can
use for themselves to make their friends more at home, not just
something that requires a whole conferencing system, a conferencing
manager, a host and/or volunteer  system, etc."

Amen!

In the community biz, we like to discount the importance of tools.
It's not the tools, we say, it's the people, the structure, the
content, the design, the rules, the administration, la la la.

But, really, the tools are central. The tools are the air a community
needs to breathe. Carbon. The most basic building block.

All those other bits make the difference between raising a community
and creating a zoo. But, still, no tools, no life.

So as the tools get easier, more sophisticated, and less expensive,
virtual communities blossom more and more. Right now there are a ton of
absolutely free, totally amazing tools out there. Besides what I use
at DfC, there are a number of excellent hosted tools (groups.yahoo.com,
communityzero.com), web applications (blogger.com, groksoup.com), and
freely downloadable applications (slashcode.com, scoop.kuro5hin.org,
drop.org/node.php?id=411, noahgrey.com/greysoft).

The last few are especially exciting. Those open-source engines are
every bit as powerful, if not more so, as the Prosperos and WebXs out
there. And they're free. And there are support communities around them
to help you on your way. You just have to be comfortable downloading,
installing, and customizing them.

But, in the end, there are options for every site now, big and small.
And that makes this a very exciting time.
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #24 of 77: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 18 Nov 01 20:44
    
Derek, a couple of ideas for this discussion...

1) Zero in on blogger, since as the designer you're intimate with its
capabilities, and say a bit about the community potential of weblogs,
especially with the kinds of tools that blogger provides.

2) If you don't mind workshopping a bit, perhaps some of our
participants can point to some community sites that pique their interest
in some way, or that they're involved with, and we can discuss interface
and tools, exploring what's particulary effective (or not).
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #25 of 77: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Sun 18 Nov 01 21:09
    
Hey Derek, long time no see.

What community sites have you seen lately that particularly impressed
you?
  

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