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One key aspect of building successful communities that I always remind customers of is that the “wisdom of the crowd” is an enormous asset that you ignore at your peril. As James Surowiecki pointed out in his book on the subject, time and time again crowds prove to be much better at decision making that even very well informed individuals.
There are a couple of practical upshots of this:
- If you’re starting with a blank sheet of paper, don’t try to design a complex, custom community that has to be built by your developers from the ground up. Instead make use of widget based functionality to get the community up and running, and then look to build the custom features once you have some feedback from your community about what is really important to them. You could easily find yourself spending a lot of time and effort building features that are hardly used. Pluck’s widgets package up a huge amount of functionality and knowledge that has been gathered over eight years and hundreds of communities and are normally a really good starting point.
- If you’re looking to revamp an existing community, involve the most active members of that community in your redesign. Share mockups, invite them to beta sites and actively solicit their feedback. Not only will they effectively test for you on a much wider range of devices, they are also likely to spot design issues that you’d never have thought of. Also, getting their buy in to the design you settle on will mean they become cheerleaders for it once it launches and will help defend it against the inevitable grumbles (you can’t please all the people all the time!)
Your community are your greatest asset when designing features; don’t try guess what they want before they are even there, and once you have them make full use of their wisdom.
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