On competing visions

Since its very early days, Forrst has had a set of community guidelines available for all to see. I originally wrote these guidelines sometime in early 2010, when the Forrst community was just starting to become well-defined. My intention in doing so was to codify the types of behaviors I felt defined the "right" way to interact with the community: post only development- and design-related content, be a good citizen, be thoughtful, etc.

Overall, the guidelines were well-received. While there were always a small number of posts which broke one guideline or another, the majority of users adhered to — and in some cases even policed — the guidelines; they believed, as I believed, that they existed for the common good of the Forrst community.

However, even though the guidelines came from an honest place (a combination of my vision for Forrst and how I observed the community evolving), I realized something: they often bordered on being punitive, rather than being positive. Let me explain:

As the community grew, my role in it shifted drastically (albeit slowly): from founding member & creator, to steward, and eventually, to passive observer. I often had trouble, especially early in Forrst's life, reconciling my own desires for the community (as a member), with my vision for the community (as its creator/steward). This played out in the form of guidelines which often were viewed by many as too punitive, rather than positive. They used negative words like "don't" and "shouldn't". They were full of examples of what not to do (and what awful things would befall you if you broke the rules), rather than what to do as a good citizen, and what positive reactions one could expect in helping to foster a great community.

While this may seem like a small distinction, it had a profound effect on our members and certainly caused more friction than I would have liked. As the community grew, members developed a strong sense of ownership; they had their own desires for Forrst and what it should be. Don't get me wrong — this is an inherently good thing. But, as its steward (and a member), I had my own vision for the community, and one that wasn't always in line with our users' visions.

Over time, it became quite evident that I needed to do two things: to balance my own vision for the community with that of its members; and to use a positive voice, rather than a punitive one, in addressing and codifying this vision.

It often felt like a delicate balancing act, and one not without its share of negative moments, but eventually I learned to integrate my desires as Forrst's creator, as a member, and the desires of the community at large (which grew to 50,000 members at the time I left in mid-2012). I think, as a community creator, this is one of the biggest challenges you'll face as the community grows and evolves, and establishes its own sense of purpose and vision. Approaching this positively, rather than punitively, and in a egalitarian fashion, instead of an authoritarian one, can only serve to foster a strong community wherein all members are aligned with a common goal — the betterment of the community and its citizens.

P.S. — I’m working on an eBook filled with mini-essays covering everything I’ve learned building Forrst (and other products) over the last few years. Get on the list here.