inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #26 of 77: Eleanor Parker (wellelp) Mon 19 Nov 01 05:37
    
Howdy, I'm brand new to online communities, and fascinated with the
whole concept.  (It looks like your book is in my near future!)

What are the economics of online communities going forward?   
How much are people willing to pay to be part of an online community?
Is there any profit potential, and if so, what is it?
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #27 of 77: Nancy White (choco) Mon 19 Nov 01 18:28
    
I want to slip back to the interface, Derek, because I'm very
interested in what online interaction design really means. For examplke
with the generational comment. 

I suspect there are other factors than the greyness of our hair. How
we respond to visual stimuli, our ability to read print on a screen (vs
printing on paper), our learning styles and attention spans. We can
design to accomodate some of this, or we can ignore these differences
(depending on our audiences, our willingness, blah blah blah). 

So perhaps some people are more suited to this life online than
others. What effect does this have for folks who are not suited to the
online life as it now exists? Are we creating  an insular online group
and leaving others out of it? Does this matter? Can we design to
include more?
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #28 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Mon 19 Nov 01 22:45
    
Jonl asked two things:

1. On Blogger. 
I love Blogger. I was lucky to work as creative director of Pyra,
Blogger's parent company, for a brief stint before I wrote the book.
Blogger is great because it does one thing real well. It gives you a
box, you type in the box, hit a button, and your words appear on your
own site. No one had done that before, and still no one has made it so
easy. 

But personal expression is just one piece of the community puzzle.
It's a great starting point, and it's stunning how quickly a personal
blog can become a focal point for a community. But for that community
to blossom, it needs a way for the readers to publicly write back. (I
write about this more in Chapter 12: Beyond.)

There are several tools that people have come up with to meet this
need, but they're all "after market" additions to Blogger. Other
blogging applications come with those features built in.

A default install of Greymatter (www.noahgrey.com/greysoft) or Movable
Type (www.movabletype.org) has comments enabled. Once it's going, if
you're posting on a regular basis, eventually you'll build an audience,
and eventually they'll want to talk back. Poof! You've got a small,
personal, digital community.

That's what's happened on my personal site (www.powazek.com/log) and
it constantly astounds me. There, my mom has wound up in conversations
with my friends about the Jewish holidays. My sister posted when I
mentioned her working in the world trade center after the attack. It's
a small gathering, very limited, but it's a certain beautiful kind of
community.

2. On workshopping. 
Sure! If anyone has a url they want to throw out for discussion, go
for it! But I'd ask that the poster reveal their role in the project
(creator, designer, member, passerby), so I can make sure I don't
inadvertently hurt anyone's feelings. ;-)
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #29 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Mon 19 Nov 01 22:53
    
And hey! Hi Brian! I feel like I'm in a web-based version of "This is
your life." (Brian and I worked at HotWired together in the bronze
age.)

Brian asked, "What community sites have you seen lately that
particularly impressed you?"

When I worked for a pizza joint in High School, I completely stopped
eating pizza. As you might imagine, after writing a book on online
community design, I got a whole lot harder to impress. (I'm happy to
say, though, I did not give up on them, and I got over the pizza thing
long ago.)

I wrote an essay a while back for DfC after seeing an interesting
connection between some new web projects. Check out the essay for all
the details: http://designforcommunity.com/display.cgi/200107301952

In short, I think that more and more web projects are just assuming a
set of community functions from the outset, and I love that. Instead of
having a special section called "community" tucked off in a corner
somewhere out of the way, these projects are all about fostering
community interactions across the whole site, and offline altogether. 
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #30 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Mon 19 Nov 01 23:07
    
Eleanor asked:

What are the economics of online communities going forward?   
How much are people willing to pay to be part of an online community?
Is there any profit potential, and if so, what is it?

Well, since you posted that here, I can assume that you're paying for
the privilege, yes? Right there, that puts you in the minority. 

It's a difficult proposition: "Pay me a monthly fee so that you can
post your valuable thoughts to my site." Say what?

I've never run a for-pay site, so I'm honestly not sure how well it
works. The Well can do it, because they've built a critical mass over
the years, and because they started before the web with all its free
expectations. Table Talk can, hopefully, do it, but only because they
were free for so long and so many people don't want to go without it.

But to start a subscription-based community site now would take
something special. Something you could offer users (buyers) that they
couldn't just go get elsewhere. And that's a pretty tough sell
nowadays, because sites with free community functionality are
everywhere.

Of course, subscriptions aren't the only model. Matt Haughey just
instituted TextAds on his community site, MetaFilter
(www.metafilter.com). Users can buy small text-only ads that show up
randomly on the home page. It only costs ten bucks to start, and the
clickthrough rate is much higher than traditional banner advertising.
(Full disclosure: I consulted with Matt on TextAds.)

It works there because many of the community members have websites
that they want the community to visit, and MetaFilter has a strict no
self-linking rule in the content (you cannot link to a site that you
made from the home page). So the ads fill a need in the community, and
give the community a way to help support the site financially, and it's
all completely optional. 

And it works! Matt is earning enough to pay rent in San Francisco from
the TextAds, which is nothing to scoff at. 

I think community-friendly revenue models like this are where the
exciting stuff will happen, not in subscriptions or blunt force
advertising. 

But, then, I run half a dozen sites which don't make any money, so
take that for what it's worth. ;-)
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #31 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Mon 19 Nov 01 23:20
    
Nancy astutely asked: 

"So perhaps some people are more suited to this life online than
others. What effect does this have for folks who are not suited to the
online life as it now exists? Are we creating  an insular online group
and leaving others out of it? Does this matter? Can we design to
include more?"

Interesting you should say that, because I just posted two excerpts
from Chapter 8 of DfC
(www.designforcommunity.com/display.cgi/200111182353), which is all
about Barriers to Entry. 

But I didn't include the beginning of the chapter in the excerpt,
which is the most relevant part. I started with a quote from Brenda
Laurel:

     "It's important to remember that just as a
     community includes some people, by definition it
     excludes others. All healthy communities have
     boundaries that are self-enforced through a
     variety of means, from informal social pressure to
     formal expulsion. Communities cannot function well
     without some means of exclusion." 
     
     - Author and interface pioneer Brenda Laurel, from
     "People, Communities, and Service: Shaping the
     Future of the Internet," a keynote speech given at
     GovNet '99.

I would say that, if someone doesn't like reading on a monitor or
typing on a keyboard, there's not a whole lot we can do to include them
in a virtual community.

We should do what we can, of course. We should design spaces that are
friendly, that have clear and consistent navigation, that welcome new
users and provide help mechanisms where needed. We should listen to the
feedback we get and try to improve over time. We should try.

But none of us should be under the impression that we're building
spaces where everyone will belong. Indeed, it is the nature of
communities to have a boundary between in and out, and that boundary is
the barrier to entry. How we place that barrier is very important
(which is why I devoted a chapter to it) - how we place it, enforce it,
and adjust it over time sometimes says more about a community than any
help document.
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #32 of 77: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 20 Nov 01 04:18
    
That point speaks to an issue of 'electronic democracy,'
incidentally... given that there are inherent barriers to access, the
Internet has not been quite the facility for democratic ferment that
some of us expected early on. (Speaking as a sadder but wiser democratic
activist...)

Extending the discussion of economics: I was personally involved in the
development of a community platform associated with an ecommerce site,
and one thing we found was that, as customers, participants were talking
to us, but not to each other. In that context the tools we were
providing enabled a rich dialog between customer and company, but never
quite became what I would call "community." If we had been around longer
and experimented more, especially by creating non-virtual community
events, I've wondered if we would've evolved greater sense of community.

What are your thoughts, Derek, about deploying community applications in
commercial contexts?
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #33 of 77: the Angela Lansbury of guys (draml) Tue 20 Nov 01 04:19
    
Hi again,

I think one of the most useful things I got out of the book was having my
conception of a 'community' turned around. I'd always basically thought of
a forum/community as a big message board - like The Well, Table Talk,
CompuServe forums, etc. But try putting that onto a small site and the
separation of community from content just leaves the tumbleweeds rolling
through what you hoped to be your busy virtual town hall. I love the
solutions you've come up with to tie them together to encourage
conversations out of the content, and the tools (I like Moveable Type
myself) that enable this. When you started down this road, did *you* think
of these sites (such as {fray}) as community, and is that what you were
aiming for - or did it sneak up on you, a serendipitous discovery?

I detect a certain ... antipathy towards UBB and its ilk. You'll probably
diplomatically say that "they have their uses in the right situation," but
would I be right in thinking that's an approach that would never appeal to
you personally?

As a URL to workshop, can I suggest the new BBC Online site, which is
doing quite a bit of promotion for its new message boards ("Communicate!"
is now a central link on most BBC pages). I wondered what you thought of
the implementation, whether you think it will be a success, etc. (As for
my involvement: just an interested passerby).

The link is <http://www.bbc.co.uk/communicate/>
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #34 of 77: Robyn Kalda (robyn-kalda) Tue 20 Nov 01 08:53
    
Derek said:  But none of us should be under the impression that we're
building spaces where everyone will belong.


My small side-comment:
...we don't do this offline, either.  Not to dismiss access as a
problem (and I most definitely do not -- I've done some work in that
area, and it's vital), but no place is for absolutely everyone.  
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #35 of 77: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 20 Nov 01 09:01
    
That's not completely correct, though. There is the case of 'the
commons,' defined as a public space open to all, and I think we're
saying that this is difficult to achieve in cyberspace.
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #36 of 77: Robyn Kalda (robyn-kalda) Tue 20 Nov 01 09:14
    
Or in the offline world.  I've never seen a "commons" of any kind
(online or off) subjected to a gender lens analysis, for example.  But
this is a bit off-topic and perhaps should be discussed elsewhere.  

I think we can probably agree that spaces that *really* are open to
all, and where all feel welcome, are damnably hard to achieve in
general.
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #37 of 77: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 20 Nov 01 17:52
    
Not off-topic at all... the concept of 'community' and the sense of the
commons are clearly related, especially when you talk about degree of
inclusivity and community scale. The Brenda Laurel quote acknowledges
that barriers are inherent, because a community is defined by
relationships that will be inclusive of some and exclusive of
others. Both the democratic ideal and the idea of a 'commons' or public
space emphasize the inclusive. Ideally everybody participates, everybody
has access. Practically speaking, as you say, this rarely occurs, and in
online communities, as Derek points out, barriers are not necessarily a
bad thing.  But I think it's important to see the spectrum of thought
about online interactions, from folks who espouse online democracy and
universal access, to folks whose projects/communities are more limitedin
scope. So design for a 'commons' or a fairly eclectic space would be
different, and have a different sense about 'barriers,' than a design
for a community based on a singular affinity... no?
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #38 of 77: Doug Hess (dougrhess) Tue 20 Nov 01 19:45
    
I'd been interested in any thoughts you have on what causes some
activist websites to take off and others to not. I've heard some
amazing stories, some true even!, about people suddenly getting a site
to take off.
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #39 of 77: Ari Davidow (ari) Wed 21 Nov 01 11:30
    
Derek, I was struck by the fact that you seem to approach community-
building from the perspective of a storyteller. You've also mentioned
working with Abbe Don, who also comes at interface design from the
perspective of a storyteller. Can you speak at all to how storytelling
influences your sense of community design, or how it influences your
sense of how to create a place for people to share stories?
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #40 of 77: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 21 Nov 01 16:06
    
(I should mention that Derek was going to be traveling around
Thanksgiving... he'll still be logging in, but probably not as often. We
agreed to extend the discussion a week or so to make up for the
holidaze.)
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #41 of 77: Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 21 Nov 01 18:21
    

But you can still post questions.  %^)  You may just have to wait a bit
for the response.
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #42 of 77: Nancy White (choco) Wed 21 Nov 01 20:58
    
As we talk about "community," "inclusiveness" and "barriers," I
realize that I'm more and more working with online groups who HAVE to
get online together, community or not. They are a group first, perhaps
community later. This is when designing for inclusion of all members of
the group becomes important. And I sense that the barriers can be very
individual. That is where I'm interested in how design can play a
role. Thus I was interested, Derek, in some of your positions about
devolving control where possible and appropriate to the users -- give
them some control of their environment to make it work for them. I know
this is not always appropriate, but do you have any stories about
designing for smaller groups? That must be inclusive?
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #43 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Thu 22 Nov 01 09:14
    
Hi gang --

Sorry for the lagtime. Please do continue the questions and
conversation. I'll be able to post more soon - I'm on my way to the
airport to go home for the holidays now.

I gotta say, I'm just thrilled at the quality of conversation so far.
You guys are amazing.

More soon....
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #44 of 77: Lee Felsenstein (lee) Thu 22 Nov 01 14:57
    
Did somebody say "commons"? I'd have a few comments.

I've been thinking about the concept of "the commons of information" (q.v.
my Dr. Dobbs' article by that name May, 1993) for some time. It's my
contention that this is a function that must be filled in order to maintain
a society that works for most people. Most must be able to participate to
some degree in this function.

Originally the function was fulfilled in the space between the houses of the
tradititonal village. Soon enough special areas (the agoras of Greece are
good examples) were set aside for this function. The plaza in Siena offers
en excellent example of a publicly maintained place for such activites. It's
important that this plaza was divided into equal segments, one for each
neighborhood of the city. There are no fences between them, but if you want
to hang out ony with your own crowd, you know where to go.

I don't think that enough sociological investigation has been done of the
dynamics of interactions in various commons. I've concluded that some
functions like display, coalescence, lurking, gradual inclusion, initial
public statement, open engagement, subgroup formation and "budding" of a new
group are constants in this interaction process. We generally know how to do
this in physical space, but it is much less clear how to do it in virtual
space.

My experience started in 1973 as a co-founder of Community Memory Project,
which can lay claim to being the first attempt to enable explicitlyu public
online community (walk-up terminals were placed in public locations from the
beginning). I'm pleased to see that Derek's book lays out a number of very
good observations which go beyond what we experienced in those early days.
Still, I'd like to hope that we think beyond the Web as we know it so that
technologies like wireless can come to their full fruititon as community
enablers.

My point, if there is one, is that there isn't just "the commons" but rather
a whole panoply of overlapping and yet discrete commons in peoples' cultural
heritage. Don't think monolithically in this regard.

Enough for now.
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #45 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Fri 23 Nov 01 15:55
    
Hello again, everyone.

Well, the dishes have been cleared away, the guests are all gone, and
I'm in my childhood home of Claremont, California, suffering through my
annual Thanksgiving weekend cold. Achoo! 

Still, the influenza-inspired downtime is a great reason to sit inside
on this beautiful Southern California sunny day and catch up on my
interview. Sorry, again, for the lagtime. 
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #46 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Fri 23 Nov 01 15:55
    
So. Back on Tuesday, <jonl> asked:

"What are your thoughts, Derek, about deploying community applications
in
commercial contexts?"

Excellent question. All of Chapter 11 is about commerce communities (a
little joke - Chapter 11! Get it? Ok, sorry). 

There's this built in assumption in communityland that money = bad.
And I suppose it's for good reason. Trust is necessary to form any real
human relationships, and that trust is easily violated when
"sexyblonde02," who you've been chatting with all night, turns out to
be a chatbot for Miller beer. And you thought she just wanted to get
tipsy with you!

In all seriousness, you do have to be careful mixing content and
community. But that doesn't mean that the mixture can't be done well,
creating potentially powerful connections in a commerce environment. 

For anyone who thinks that commerce and community are oil and water,
take a close look at Ebay and Amazon. These are places that are,
unabashedly, about the dirty dollar, filthy lucre, the almighty buck.
Any yet they're also host to active, passionate communities. 

I spend a long time talking about Amazon in Chapter 12, so I don't
want to cover all that ground again. Instead, let's talk about an
example I didn't include in the book.

Threadless (www.threadless.com) is, at its core, a t-shirt store. But
it's a t-shirt store born out of the (now-offline) virtual community
Dreamless, which was a sometimes violent, always creative gathering of
designers. At Threadless, community members create t-shirt designs and
upload them to the site, then the community votes on the best of the
best, which are then produced as high quality silkscreened t-shirts and
sold back to the community. Then the community can post comments about
the shirts and even upload photos of themselves and their friends in
the shirts. It's a community that completely revolves around product,
and it works. 

We in the community biz like to believe that we're doing something
Important and Holy by letting people talk to each other online (and it
is important), but the bottom line is, human beings spend a great deal
of time thinking and talking about buying things. If every community
can be boiled down to one core thing, what's wrong with that core being
about buying books or shoes or cars?

Speaking of cars, one of the examples in Chapter 12 is about the
Saturn Family Database, which simply allowed people to add themselves
to a database saying, I own this model Saturn, and I live here, and my
favorite movie is....

What's surprising is how actively people participated, going so far as
to contact other Saturn owners in their areas and get together. These
are people with, potentially, nothing in common except for their car.
And that, it seems, is enough sometimes.

Oh, and the best part? That was in 1995.
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #47 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Fri 23 Nov 01 15:59
    
Also on Tuesday, <draml> said:

"I detect a certain ... antipathy towards UBB and its ilk. You'll
probably diplomatically say that "they have their uses in the right
situation," but would I be right in thinking that's an approach that
would never appeal to you personally?"

You got me. I hate UBB. (So much for diplomacy!)

I hate it because it's ugly, clunky, and hard to navigate. And yet it
is THE low-cost discussion board solution. I think its popularity is
mostly a comment on the scarcity of its competitors (are there any in
the same price range?), not the wisdom of its design.

The problem is, other programs are now emulating its interface! It's
like a couple years ago when everyone tried to look like Yahoo because
their stock was worth five hundred dollars. As if one had anything to
do with the other. 

But the problem with UBB is the same problem with almost any tool.
UBB-powered discussion areas always look like UBB, when they should
look like the site they're part of instead. 

In the book I strongly advocate a close connection between your site's
content and the community features where people discuss it. That
connection is expressed architecturally (easy interlinking from one to
the other) as well as in design (one looks and feels like the other).

This is important. When you force your users to go discuss your
content in a place with a stripped-down, or simply different, user
experience, you're communicating something: You are not as important as
the rest of the content here. It's like being forced to go sit at the
kids table. 

My favorite example of this destructive separation of content and
community used to be Salon. They had this artfully presented editorial
content that was just wonderful. But to discuss it you had to dive into
the depths of Table Talk, which was totally under-designed. There was
no link from content to community, so you had to go find a thread that
was kind of like the article you wanted to discuss, and then,
hopefully, someone else would find you and talk back.

Why did they do this? Obviously, they had no desire to introduce their
Table Talk community to their content, nor did they want to bring
their readers into the community. Too bad, because the mix would have
been more interesting than maintaining two separate, inbred
communities.

In the end, they made the separation between the two official by
moving to a subscription model for Table Talk (community) and Salon
Premium (content). But they're still separate! Subscribing to one
doesn't give you access to the other!

I pick on UBB just because it's used too often and a
community-in-a-box solution. And if you have a community already and
they just need a tool to talk, it might be a good quick fix. But if
you're trying to do something more elegant, or form a new audience,
it's going to be a clunky solution.

But most community packages have the same problem. What we really need
is a high caliber content management system that comes preconfigured
with an equally robust community tool - a package that understands that
content and community must work together from the outset.

I fear I have rambled here. I blame Sudafed.
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #48 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Fri 23 Nov 01 16:10
    
Several folks have brought up the democratic ideal of the commons.
Here's my contribution to the idea:

Every community should have a commons, absolutely. A place where the
community, as a whole, can come together.

But that still doesn't mean that everyone is welcome in every
community, or every community's commons. 

For example, I talk about sites implementing informal barriers to
entry in the book. An informal barrier to entry is simply
interest-level. For example, if you begin to read the new {fray} story
("Things given" - www.fray.com/drugs/things - check it out) and you
just can't get past the 2nd page, you bail. Click away. Close the
browser.

No problem. Nobody forced you out. You never got a formal roadblock. 

But the entry point to the community functionality comes at the end of
the story, so if you can't make it through the content, you don't get
to participate in the posting area. That's the barrier to entry: you
have to care enough about the content to simply read it!

The same should go for the commons - it's open to everyone who's made
it past the barrier to entry, not everyone in the entire world.

Make sense?
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #49 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Fri 23 Nov 01 16:14
    
And finally, on Tuesday, <dougrhess> asked:

"I'd been interested in any thoughts you have on what causes some
activist websites to take off and others to not. I've heard some
amazing stories, some true even!, about people suddenly getting a site
to take off."

I've never worked with something I'd describe as an "activist"
website, though I'd assume that the recipe works the same basic way:
content, community, connection....

But if you have some amazing stories, let's hear 'em!
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #50 of 77: the Angela Lansbury of guys (draml) Fri 23 Nov 01 16:26
    
Thanks, Derek, interesting points you raise there. It's depressing to see so
much open source effort go into the likes of Ikonboard and Snitch which
essentially do their utmost to re-create UBB albeit for free.

I agree with your point that the physical, design and functional separation
between content and community is deadly - that was my own mistake last year.
And like you, I'm excited about some of the new CMS/community packages like
Greymatter, Movable Type and the suite from Ben Brown that can draw these
together.

I'm far from a company mouthpiece, but I don't think Salon is as bad as it's
painted here; TT was mighty successful as a community in its own right, and
the interface better than most. What it didn't do is put links into the
content to get people to the discussion, and take some of those discussions
and bring them back into the content. Slate does this with The Fray, which
is good to see, only they have one of the worst community interfaces I've
ever tried to use. I'd take UBB over that. So, you have to get both ends
right, is what I guess I'm trying to say - neither works too well without
the other.

Out of interest, other than the communities you've set up and/or been
employed by, which have you been most drawn to, to participate in? What
appeals to them - do they follow the guidelines in your book? You cover
Slashdot, Plastic, etc. in DfC for example.

(Glad you had a good Thanksgiving; sorry about the cold; but please, take
more Sudafed if it keeps you indiscrete for us all!)
  

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