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Design for Community by Derek M. Powazek

Book Review Team

Joined: Feb 15, 2002
Posts: 932
<pre>Author/s : Derek M. Powazek
Publisher : New Riders
Category : Marginalia
Review by : Margarita Isayeva
Rating : 9 horseshoes
More than once I picked up a book and opened it only to find a pale copy of what was live and blooming in online discussions. For the first time I wasn't disappointed. In this book, uncombed wisdom from the Internet is processed into a fine mixture of practical knowledge, thought-provoking observations, and entertaining stories. It was too difficult to put the book aside to go have dinner, so I was hungry for three evenings. As a trophy, I now have 58 marks in the margins to come back and meditate on.
"Design for Online communities" is intended for web-masters, web-designers, or anybody else who wants to create an online community on their site -- By the last page, they will have a pretty clear idea what they are getting into. The main message: do not underestimate what it will cost you, both in terms of time and emotional recourses.
Online communities are fascinating growing organisms made of three media: "content", "interface", and "people". Each of these affects the others, often in subtle ways. The author gives advice on starting a community: provide content that engenders discussion. Do not separate content (articles, for example) from discussions. Even visual separation (distinct design for a discussion area) may send a message that some discussions are of less importance, and this can inhibit quality of conversation. Be personal. "If the community is constantly reminded that the leaders are all real people, everyone will stay a whole lot friendlier."
What software is available to somebody who would like to host a community (ever noticed that Salon, CNN and the New York Times discussion areas look suspiciously similar?), and which factors should influence your choice. You will even find a discussion about how to close your community so that its participants don't send you death threats (this really happened).
I particularly like the style of writing. Instead of depersonalized "how to" instructions, wisdom is conveyed through story telling based on the author's own significant experience, as well as from communities ranging from the small and unknown, to monsters like Slashdot and Amazon. What worked, what did not -- probably the most honest approach, because nobody can guarantee that your community will be like somebody else's. This "Story Telling" approach makes the book interesting for more seasoned practitioners as well, by exposing them to a wide variety of experiences.
There is a companion site ( with author's essays, excerpts and all the interviews from this book (interviews with Caleb Clark and Steve Champeon are especially interesting).

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Book Review Team

Joined: Feb 15, 2002
Posts: 932
Review by : Frank Carver
Rating : 10 horseshoes
This book crops up a lot in recommendations from bloggers, and it's easy to see why. This book is a broad, yet detailed, treatment of how to start, grow, and manage, online communities. A successful online community (such as the thriving has a real and valuable sense of belonging. This book can help you understand both the 'why' and the 'how'.
Most of the points made in this book are applicable to everything from email lists, through bulletin boards, to blogs, Amazon reviews and beyond. Many are also very thoughtful, such as the discussion of setting "barriers to entry", or the tricky subject of how to gracefully end a community. The book also includes some interviews with people involved in specific online communities. These interviews are not as directly useful as the rest of the book, but are an interesting alternative to the author's style.
If you are at all interested in gathering or supporting a group of real people using online tools, you need this book. It doesn't say much about specific tools or technologies, but it has the elusive quality of "lasting value". I can really imagine myself re-reading and referring to this book in five or even ten years time.

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It is sorta covered in the JavaRanch Style Guide.
subject: Design for Community by Derek M. Powazek
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