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Deliberately Leave Things Incomplete

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One of the key differences between designing a social environment online and designing a traditional-media-style broadcast-oriented content site is that the design of a social community online cannot be entirely predetermined. Or, rather, let me say that it should not be. The denizens of a social site must be given the opportunity to “finish” the design themselves.

This principle finds form in a number of familiar concepts: customization, skinning, user-contributed tags and the emergent folksonomies they can give rise to.

You might call this part of the process "meta-design." Rather then giving our users a fish, we are giving them a rod, reel, bait, and instructions to teach them how to fish. We design the rules of the system but not all of the outcomes.

By designing with this philosophy, we create open space rather than filled-in labyrinths. If we are successful in bringing people to our site, engaging them, and involving them in the life of the community (as will be discussed in the following chapters), then they will make the subsequent choices, individually and collectively, that will determine the more detailed shape of their shared environment.