Design for Community

The Art of Connecting Real People in Virtual Places
by Derek Powazek
ISBN: 0735710759

If you are looking for a technical manual on the backend systems supporting community sites, this isn’t it. If you are looking for up to the minute, latest and greatest on social web sites, this book isn’t that, either. (No book could be: for a target moving that fast, you really need to look to the web itself. Yes, how very meta.) It also isn’t an academic tome reviewing the sociological implications of virtual community.

So what is it? A general, thoughtful consideration of community web sites, written in English and not geek. Powazek sets out to give anyone interested in community aspects of web sites (community here really means two-way communication) the chance to learn from his and other’s experiences and mistakes.

Powazek starts by asking questions — questions you should ask yourself to make sure a community web presence is really what you want and/or need. He looks at content and design issues, setting and enforcing policies, different kinds of interactions, and even pulling the plug on community sites. He also includes interviews with people who have been deeply involved in this space, including Noah Grey, Matt Haughey, Rob Malda, and Howard Rheingold.

Here are the ideas I found particularly useful:

  • Sites can be a cultural success, but a business failure
  • Never underestimate the power of a personal story and a direct question
  • Stay focused on the user’s task, don’t crowd the screen
  • Quality navigation builds trust
  • If you know giving answers comes out of a sense of personal gain, you ask questions differently
  • It isn’t you that creates a community, it is your users

If you are thinking about implementing two-way communication on your web site, or need material to help explain community on the web to nontechnical people, this book will help you. Recommended for folks looking for an overview of online community issues.

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