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The Raw Materials of the New Communities

How often have you heard people say “Wikis are too disorganized and ugly�? or “All the Drupal sites are confusing and hard to use�? or “Web Crossing is cluttered and looks bad�?.

Often, I agree. But, to dismiss a platform for the way it is implemented is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. With these platforms, implementation matters much more than platform.

Take a wiki for instance. People who first start using wikis often feel lost (myself included). In which case, they mark wikis off their list and say “I hate wikis�? and move on. To me, this is like being lost in a building and saying “I hate concrete and steel�?.

A wiki, perhaps more than any web application, lives and dies purely by the decisions made by the users/designers/maintainers. When things are disorganized, the users of the wiki are the culprits- not the wiki platform. A wiki is raw material to be used in whatever wonderful or not-so-wonderful ways the users see fit.

The same is often true for community platforms like Drupal and Web Crossing among many others.

In these cases, the platform does come with whole “buildings�? pre-built and ready for use. This is the platform’s attempt to get the users started on the right foot. Unfortunately, many site owners take the pre-built buildings and force their needs into the off-the-shelf feature set, structure and look.

What this creates is a set of sites that all look and act the same, regardless of the objectives of the site… which leads to sites that seem disorganized or hard to use. This is not what the platform companies (or you) want.

In the case of community sites, or what one might call “Web 2.0�? sites, site owners must consider what opportunities lay outside of the pre-built buildings.

Many community platforms are open to customization and extensibility. With Drupal and Web Crossing, incredible opportunities exist without touching code and virtually anything is possible with a programmer, clear objectives and a little cash.

So, if you’re looking to get started with a community site- do not be limited by what the platform provides off-the-shelf. In fact, don’t even think about the platform. Envision the site you’d have if technology were not an issue, and then find what platform has the raw materials to build it.

Don’t be scared to knock down the walls, eliminate the crap and shake things up. By focusing on a goal, starting small and building up based on real needs you will increase your chances of a successful site. You are finally in control! Use it!