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Don’t just design your product, design your community too

Design is in.

Consumer startups no longer need to argue about product quality – it’s a prerequisite to even an initial launch. This is a good thing, but this post isn’t about that.

For social apps, what you design directly is only half the user experience. The people are just as important! So if you build a really great linksharing site that’s extremely polished and full-featured, but the community consists of Nazis, it won’t work for people.

I’m often reminded of this fact when trying XBox Live, which consists of prepubescents killing you repeated on Halo while calling you gay. The Halo content is amazing, of course, but the community around it is… um… different than me.

Dribbble as an example
Similarly, you could build a product that was an exact replica of uber-design site Dribbble, yet still fail if you didn’t have their users. Half the work is the functionality, but the other half is “designing” the right users. If you haven’t seen the rules, a lot of things have to happen before you’re allowed to actually post content there:

Basically, they have a long line of “prospects” which have to be nominated by the community in order to be able to post content. They limit membership like this so that all the content on the site will only be the very best.

Eventually, opening up is key
Perhaps naturally you eventually open up and evolve beyond this, but I think at the beginning you still need a lot of authenticity.

I think the reason why this whole concept feels unfamiliar to me is that for most consumer products, the problem is getting more people, not rejecting them :) Yet at the same time, I’ve learned through a lot of first-hand experience that if you don’t curate the initial community and scale your traffic as a function of this group, you can easily fall into the trap of “designed product, but undesigned community.” That’s no good either.

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