You may have noticed that the design websites I reference are purely design focused. There is very little about Web development; the main focus is on the graphics. Sitepoint was a community that focused more on the Web development aspect of our profession, but you would never mistake Sitepoint for a graphic design community just as you would never mistake k10k as a place to get tips on HTML. Remaining separate plays to their strengths.
Back in the late 90’s and in the early part of the 21st century, “Web designers” were looked upon as the people that wrote the HTML for websites; they were not the graphic designers making the cool designs. That is why many of the older design communities have a heavy focus on graphics: they were meant for graphic designers who worked mainly in print, and dabbled online.
As the years passed, graphic designers started to do more of their own coding as they wanted to understand how to translate their designs to the Web. Today, a Web designer is not looked upon as someone who sticks to HTML and CSS development, but as a creative person who works magic on the Web. We are now in a world where Web professionals are involved in both the design and code of every project.
This trend shift is important to note because there are still people who like to focus more on the graphical aspect of the Web, and others who tend to look at the structure. It can be hard to have two mindsets in a community that is trying to work cohesively together.
An online community life cycle goes something like this:
A community forms: The first to join are the enthusiastic ones, grateful that a community they have been looking for has arrived. Early discussions are filled with quality and depth, and the place is a joy to be around. However, the community would like more people so they can engage in more discussions. Some people reason that the more people you have, the greater the party will be.
When the first design blogs started to spring up, it seemed like every designer was interacting with everyone else. When I first started to write on my design blog, Whitespace, I would read a post on another blog and either leave a thoughtful comment, or write an entry on my own website in response. This cycle led to some great discussions, and everyone was the better for it. You did not need to fight for attention because the community was still so small that people could share everything that was happening, without information overload.
The second wave arrives: These people are excited to see that a community is already there for them. They are not fully aware of the guidelines set by the original community members; some fall right in line, while others begin to form their own community habits. The old members start to feel as though the community is changing. Some wish it could go back to how it was before while others do not mind, or feel they can still “steer the ship” so things don’t get to out of control.
If you have been following Dan Cederholm’s Dribbble (http://dribbble.com), you saw this trend happen when the website became publicly accessible. Up to that point it was only viewable by the members of the Dribbble community, and they preferred the “gated community” that the website had created. There was a lot of discontent when Dribbble was opened up to the public (although you still needed an invite to participate), and some members stopped posting.
When the next wave of design blogs came in, a hierarchy began to form. It was tough to keep up with everyone; the blogs that weren’t getting traffic or comments began to disappear, and the community always loses when this happens. More online galleries began to spring up as well. These became popular as new people entering the field hoped to discover inspiration that would help them complete their next project. However, instead of talking in-depth about design, most of these galleries simply posted screenshots. A few galleries initially attempted to provide more detail, but quickly realized this required more work for little reward: why spend hours analyzing the design of a website, when you could get the same or potentially more traffic just by posting images that take ten seconds to upload?
Initially, there was great value in list posts because nobody had complied lists before, and it was an intriguing way to finally aggregate the awesome content that had been produced over the years. It also served as an excellent introduction to new people entering the field.
I enjoyed lists back then; it was great to see a compilation of awesome tutorials that would help me further my design education. The problem started, for me, when more people started to write list posts but seemed to stop writing fresh content that would be linked by list posts; it was like people kept writing lists of what they considered the greatest action movies of all time, but nobody was directing any new ones. Lists can still be a great way to showcase the “the best” content in our community, but if few people are writing fresh articles about design, the lists get stale.
List posts began to gain traffic through social networking websites like Digg. In the past, you could write a great article listing the reasons why international companies prefer to use the color blue in their branding?but get little traffic. Today, if you wrote an article called “Fifty Great Blue Business Sites,” you could make the front page of Digg and have thousands of visitors on your website within a day.
The third wave arrives: The community is no longer run by a few, but by the masses. Group-think starts to take over, and the quality of discussions begins to suffer. In this size of community, it is easier to get attention by posting what you think will be popular instead of what you feel will satisfy you the most. Some people leave the community because they are disgusted with what it has become, while others love the community now and hope that it never changes.
By the time the third wave of design websites came about, it was an outright power struggle to get the attention of the growing community. This is the phase the Web design community at large is at, right now. To get attention, you do not write an in-depth article on design; instead you write a list post that you hope gets linked by many. When Smashing Magazine hit the scene in 2006, it changed the way many design websites approached their content.
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