Design to Thrive: Creating Social Networks and Online Communities that Last

Paperback (Print)
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $18.78
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 60%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (8) from $18.78   
  • New (4) from $33.95   
  • Used (4) from $18.78   


Social networks and online communities are reshaping the way people communicate, both in their personal and professional lives. What makes some succeed and others fail? What draws a user in? What makes them join? What keeps them coming back? Entrepreneurs and businesses are turning to user experience practitioners to figure this out. Though they are well-equipped to evaluate and create a variety of interfaces, social networks require a different set of design principles and ways of thinking about the user in order to be successful.

Design to Thrive presents tried and tested design methodologies, based on the author’s decades of research, to ensure successful and sustainable online communities — whether a wiki for employees to share procedures and best practices or for the next Facebook. The book describes four criteria, called"RIBS," which are necessary to the design of a successful and sustainable online community. These concepts provide designers with the tools they need to generate informed creative and productive design ideas, to think proactively about the communities they are building or maintaining, and to design communities that encourage users to actively contribute.

  • Provides essential tools to create thriving social networks, helping designers to avoid common pitfalls, avoid costly mistakes, and to ensure that communities meet client needs
  • Contains real world stories from popular, well known communities to illustrate how the concepts work
  • Features a companion online network that employs the techniques outlined in the book
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This book provides the necessary antidote to the thoughtless, random and in too many cases desperate nature of many of today’s attempts to build online communities." - Carl Zetie, Strategist, IBM

"Howard's theoretical stance is firmly grounded in a lifetime of practical experience which makes fascinating and sometimes very amusing reading. Have you ever wondered why some networks and communities thrive and others fail? Read this book and find out." -Dr. Jurek Kirakowski, Senior Lecturer, Human Factors Research Group, Cork, Ireland

"Professionals in technical communication will find this book packed with relevant information, especially given the evolving role of communicators in new media. Writers and editors can put best practices to use in working with their employers, with clients, or within their own professional lives."—Angel Belford, Technical Communication, Volume 58, Number 1, February 2011

"This important work fills a gap in the literature in its proposal of methods to fuse technology with practical community growth and sustainability… [Howard] more than knows the subject, considering the very prominent place he holds in the human computer interaction and usability communities… [Howard] very smoothly conveys his thoughts in an eloquent, easily accessible manner that any level of reader would be able to penetrate…. This surprisingly deep yet easily readable book seamlessly incorporates the research of people such as Bruce Tuckman, Leon Festinger, and Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, among others… Highly recommended. All levels of academic and professional readers, especially those who create and maintain online communities."—CHOICE

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780123749215
  • Publisher: Elsevier Science
  • Publication date: 2/9/2010
  • Pages: 248
  • Sales rank: 1,136,744
  • Product dimensions: 7.50 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

With over 30 years of experience researching and effectively applying social networks, Tharon W. Howard is a nationally recognized leader in the field. He is a Professor at Clemson University where he teaches in the doctoral program in Rhetoric(s), Communication, and Information Design and the Master of Arts in Professional Communication program. As Director of the Clemson University Usability Testing Facility, he has conducted sponsored research aimed at improving and creating new software interfaces, online document designs, and information architectures for clients including IBM, NCR Corp., AT&T, Time-Warner, etc. Howard is the author of A Rhetoric of Electronic Communities, co-author of Visual Communication: A Writer’s Guide, co-editor of Electronic Networks: Crossing Boundaries and Creating Communities.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Foreword ix

Acknowledgments xi

Chapter 1 Why Design to Thrive?

Why? 1

Buzz-Why Should You Be Interested? 1

What Experience Has Taught Me 2

Five Types of Online Groups Clients Seek 4

Technological Testosterone Poisoning 6

RIBS: The Four Elements Necessary for Long-Term Success 7

What Are Ribs Good for? 8

Works Cited 9

Chapter 2 The Nature of the Beasts

What Are We Talking About? 11

Synopsis 11

What Is a Social Network (Compared to an Online Community)? 12

What Is an Online Community (Compared to Lists, Discussion Groups, or Forums)? 22

Conclusion 26

Works Cited 27

Chapter 3 Why Invest in Social Networks and Online Communities

What Are These Systems Good For? 29

Synopsis 29

Why Build Social Networks and Communities? 29

Conclusion 41

Works Cited 41

Chapter 4 Remuneration

Crafting Meaningful Social Experiences 43

Synopsis 43

Introduction 44

Remuneration as User Experience 45

Remuneration Does Not Equal Functionality or the Business Model 47

Be Responsible for the User Experience 49

Scratching the Sociability Itch 51

Putting "Business before Pleasure" 53

What Is Remuneration? 54

Techniques 57

1 Make The Text Editor Fun; Add Emoticons 58

2 Use a Subscription Application Form 61

3 Mentors Teach 62

4 Seed the Discussion 63

5 Use Stars on Messages to show Memberships Contribution Levels 65

6 Rank the Value of Members' Messages 66

7 Remove the Fear Factor by Providing Examples of How to Participate 68

8 Create a Safe Environment by Sending out "Tickle" Messages 70

9 Create a Regular Event 71

10 Don't Automatically Archive 73

11 Discourage Attempts to Send Conversations to Other Blogs, Websites, Discussion Groups 75

12 Ban Redistribution Servers and Cross-Postings 76

Conclusion 77

Works Cited 78

Chapter 5 Influence

Differences in Members' Social Experience Needs 81

Synopsis 81

Introduction 82

The Importance of Influence 82

The Consequence of Disallowing Influence 83

Play 84

Types of Members and Need for Influence 85

Techniques 102

1 Set Up an Advisory Council 103

2 Respond to Every Concern Without "Administrivia" 106

3 Show the Number of Times that a Message has been Viewed 107

4 Have a "Report-a-Problem" on Every Page of the Site 109

5 Include in Your Application Why They Want to Join 110

6 Have Exit Surveys 111

7 Run Periodic Surveys 112

8 Allow Avatars 113

9 Require Profiles 115

10 Create a Visitor's Center 117

11 Put Novices with Novices 117

12 Give Elders Opportunities 118

13 Demand Respect 118

14 Publish and Enforce Safety Policies 121

Conclusion 127

Works Cited 127

Chapter 6 Belonging

Designing the Experience of Belonging 129

Synopsis 129

Introduction 130

Initiation Rituals 130

Stories of Origin 131

Leveling Up Rituals 135

Mythologies 138

Symbols and Codes 140

Protocols, Routines, and Schemas 141

Techniques 144

1 Create and Distribute a Story of Origin 144

2 Create an Initiation Ritual 145

3 Encourage Your Leaders and Elders to Share Mythologies 146

4 Encourage Members to Share Myths and Stories About Themselves 148

5 Create Leveling Up Ceremonies 152

6 Establish Routines and Protocols 154

7 Establish Symbols, Colors, and Visual Identities 157

8 Use an Application for Membership as an Initiation Ritual 162

Conclusion 165

Works Cited 165

Chapter 7 Significance

Building Gravitas, Brand, and Recognition 167

Synopsis 167

Introduction 168

The Paradox of Exclusivity 168

Acquiring "Social Capital" and Significance 170

Quality vs Quantity 173

Using Nodes and Connectors to Start the Conversation 173

Deciding How to Contact Influential 176

Techniques 186

1 Provide a Story that Shares a Vision 187

2 List Members' Accomplishments 188

3 Participate in influential Communities to Create Trails Back to Yours 188

4 Build Your Social Network or Community in a Custom Space 189

5 Make Connections with Other Leaders in Social Media 190

6 Celebrate Celebrities 191

7 Create a Contest, Game, or Video 193

8 Mobilize your Existing Members 193

Conclusion 196

Works Cited 196

Chapter 8 Technology Changes Rapidly; Humans Don't

How Lessons from Communication Technologies of the Past Can Inform Our Future 199

Synopsis 199

The Power of Social Media to Effect Change 200

Technology Changes Rapidly; People Don't 205

Looking Backward to Look Ahead 207

The Origins of Copyrights 209

The Dilemma of Control vs Creativity 215

Investing in Future Literacies 219

Decision-Making Contexts will Dominate the Marketplace 221

Works Cited 223

Index 225

Read More Show Less

First Chapter

Design to Thrive

Creating Social Networks and Online Communities that Last
By Tharon W. Howard


Copyright © 2010 Elsevier Company
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-08-095720-3

Chapter One

Why Design to Thrive?



Social networks and online communities are very much in the popular consciousness these days. Second Life, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, Digg. com, Yahoo! groups—everywhere you look on the Net, there are new "communities" or social spaces popping up, clamoring for your attention. Forrester Research reported that four out of five online adults visited a social media site at least once a month in 2009. Second Life, a popular three-dimensional social network, reported that it had over 14 million registered users in June 2008, users who completed $19 million in "Linden dollar" transactions during the month of May 2008. By April of 2009, Second Life's total transactions had grown to $27 million Linden dollars.

Obviously, social networks and online communities are big business—or at least the successful ones are. Facebook, which was started by 20-year-old Harvard undergraduate Mark Zuckerberg as a means for college students to keep up with the dating games among friends, sold Microsoft a 1.6% interest in the company for $240 million. This kind of rags-to-riches story has become a meme with social networks and has garnered a lot of attention in the popular press. As a result, it has also gotten the attention of many young entrepreneurs, marketing directors, PR specialists, and Web consultants—all of whom are seeking to cash in on the Web 2.0 revolution.

The problem is that while online communities are extraordinarily powerful and useful, the rags-to-riches mythology that surrounds many of them belies the tremendous amount of work and rigorous thinking that goes into their design. This has resulted in what I like to call the "field of dreams" approach to designing social networks and electronic communities. The attitude here is "if you build it, they will come." That may have worked for Kevin Costner and baseball fields in Hollywood's version of an Iowa cornfield, but it doesn't ensure success when you're designing the architecture for an online community. As Carl Zetie, formerly of Forrester Research and now a senior marketing strategist for a major technology company, points out here, we may be facing a situation like the dot-com bubble of 2001:

I'm baffled to be receiving invitations from numerous brand new sites who all seem to think they have identified some unique niche in the market. The worst of them are "targeted at professionals" (oooh, good thing nobody else thought of that!), the best have some unique aspect that can be easily imitated if it catches on. It's a profound mystery to me why anybody or their V[enture] C[apitalist] backer thinks they can jump into the Social Network game at this point without some radically better idea, and it's oddly reminiscent of the late stages of the Dotcom bubble when every VC seemed to think that their portfolio was incomplete without an online medical site. What happened to the good old days of VCs who would dismiss these things with a curt "that's not a business plan, it's a feature"? [7], personal e-mail

You can avoid the problems Zetie describes. And you can avoid the consequences associated with building a failed internal social network or online community for your own organization. Whatever background you come from (Web designer or developer, information architect, content manager, usability or user-experience specialist, PR, or marketing professional), this book will help you build successful and sustainable social networks and online communities.


I've tried to take an approach in this book that shares both my successes and my failures building these online communities and networks for more than 20 years now. My experience with online communities goes all the way back to the "bad old BITNET days" when e-mail distribution lists were all the rage. Back then as a graduate student in the 1980s, I had the opportunity to work in a natural language processing laboratory at Purdue University where a team of computational linguists were working with industry professionals across the country to try to figure out ways to make computers understand human communication.

Of course, despite the best efforts of natural language processing professionals, we still haven't figured out how to talk to our computers and get intelligible answers the way that Captain Kirk or Commander Spock could talk to computers on the TV show Star Trek. Still, what I learned from my experiences watching those early efforts to smash geographical and temporal barriers to online collaboration was that although we couldn't talk to the computers, we absolutely could use computers to transform the ways we talked to each other. I discovered the power of online communities through those e-mail lists and anonymous FTP sites. I became fascinated with the impact, even then, that these early social tools were having on the ways that knowledge was being made among academics and researchers on the one hand and revolutionizing business practices on the other. I recognized that, as Clay Shirky so aptly put it, "Whenever you improve a group's ability to communicate internally, you change the things that it is capable of" (171).

As an educator, I realized that I needed to start preparing my students to work in a radically different world than I had been trained for. I realized that my students were soon going to be working on cross-functional teams solving business and industry problems for multinational corporations. So in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I began experimenting with like-minded colleagues at universities in France, Germany, Japan, and Spain, where we would connect our students in virtual teams and have them work on solving real-world business problems. These pre-worldwide Web international exchanges gave students who had never experienced any cultures beyond those you could find in the cornfields surrounding West Lafayette, Indiana, an opportunity to have something like a study-abroad experience without having to give up a whole semester and paying the travel expense to do so.

During this period, I also found colleagues in industry who were willing to form academic-industry partnerships that allowed students to use online communities and social networking tools to collaborate with corporate professionals on real research projects—projects that were important to the organization but that the company was forced to abandon for some reason.

For example, during the mid-1990s my students in South Carolina collaborated with Time Warner's team of New Media Editors in New York. At the time, women didn't feel compelled to connect to the Internet and were an underserved market on the Web. As a result, the students conducted usability testing research and wrote recommendation reports aimed at helping Time Warner better understand how to meet the needs of women through a portal called "Pathfinder," which the company was launching as an experiment in online publishing. Everyone benefited from these experiences—the companies benefited from the time they invested in the students' education and the students developed hands-on experience with solving problems in online environments.

Not only did the students learn from these "service learning" projects, but I personally gained invaluable experience building social collaboration spaces. In addition to learning how to build "safe" spaces where my students would and could collaborate with other students and/or industry professionals, I also learned to design spaces where my colleagues and I could meet in order to plan the work that the students would do. In these groups, my colleagues from industry and education began talking about our shared passion for understanding what makes for successful online collaborative projects, and I got a reputation for being able to build successful communities. As a result, I began to consult on projects where managers recognized that—if they could figure out how to design them effectively—they could also profit from online communities and social networks the way my students were benefitting.


What I've discovered through my consulting work is that my clients and volunteer projects tend to fall in five groups, and it's these five groups upon which I base most of the experiences I share in this book.

Internal project and professional development teams

In the first group, there are clients who want to build internal groups of project teams or departments in order to promote collaboration and professional development. For example, the manager of an end-user support department recently contacted me. She wanted to connect all the information product developers who create user-support manuals and training materials for the mainframe computer software that her company sells. Her staff members were all busy professionals assigned to work on different product teams and were located at different sites throughout the $1.6 billion corporation, so they rarely had time to meet, socialize, and share ideas as a department. She wanted to have her staff meet online in order to share new ideas and techniques. She was concerned that her department was still cranking out the same old print-based documentation they had been writing for the past 20 years (which is why I'm not using her name) and she wanted her people to start considering alternative distribution media such as video tutorials, wikis. She thought that maybe, by pulling her folks together into an online community, they could support each other and think creatively about ways to enhance the ways they deliver user support and training to their customers.

Communities of practice

The second type of social group with whom I have worked extensively involved professionals working for lots of different companies who come together in order to enhance what Etienne Wenger calls their "community of practice." These groups are primarily made of practitioners in a field or profession who are passionate about the work that they do. For example, one of the online communities I've successfully maintained since 1993 is made up of professionals in the usability and user experience design field who—even though they work for competing companies—come together to help each other better understand the best practices and latest techniques being used in that community of practice.

Networks across disciplinary boundaries

The third type of social groups with whom I've worked have been large-scale social networks where people were working across disciplinary and functional boundaries in order to share information. For example, I worked with the Breadloaf Rural Teacher Network (BLRTN) where middle school and high school teachers in rural states such as Vermont, Alaska, New Mexico, and South Carolina could find other teaching professionals and collaborate. Despite differences in the grades they teach or their disciplines, BLRTN teachers are able to find support from colleagues who also have the same educational "dirt under their fingernails" and can sustain their peers.

Diane Waff, a member of BLRTN, describes her experience this way:

Moving out from the isolation of the classroom to the shelter of inquiry communities that provide safe spaces for real dialog, the sharing of stories, relationships with colleagues, and reflection helped me to develop a critical reflective stance with regard to my own teaching and school reform efforts. [3], 70-71

Similarly, I also worked with an organization that had 35,000 employees with different job titles, different responsibilities, different skill sets, and different educational backgrounds who nevertheless needed to share information across those boundaries in order to help the organization achieve its goals. Like the BLRTN network, a primary goal of these types of clients is their interest in retaining employees by providing them with the social support of peers.

Brand communities and user group communities

The fourth group with whom I've worked are either public relations and marketing specialists or user support professionals who are caught up in the buzz about social networking and what are often called "brand communities." They see the success that Apple or Adobe Systems has had at building a loyal group of customers who are so passionate about their experience with these companies' products that they want to share their experiences with other customers. Typically, these clients end up wanting to build online "user group" communities where their customers can go to share ideas about ways to use their products. These clients hope that these communities will reduce their customer support costs by getting users to support each other and that they will build greater customer loyalty.

Gaming communities

The last group that I've studied closely and learned a great deal from may, at first, strike some as odd. However, my experiences with online gaming communities have actually provided some of the best techniques for designing strong, sustainable communities that I've found. Indeed, as James Paul Gee has also argued in his book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, I discovered that the problem-solving behaviors that gamers use translate perfectly into strategies that both educators and business professionals can leverage.

This is particularly the case in what are called "Massively Multiple Online Role Playing Games" (MMORPGs). The most popular of these today is Blizzard's World of Warcraft, which, as of 2009, boasted over 11.5 million online gamers. Affectionately known as "WoW" by players, this game is an incredibly valuable tool for understanding communities and social networks because WoW is a three-dimensional world where players are required to build and join communities in order to enjoy success in the game. In other words, just like many competitive business ventures, WoW players have to learn to build strong, successful communities or they will fail. Unlike business, however, if you fail to design an effective community in WoW, you don't get fired or lose all your investors. In MMORPGs, you have the opportunity to restart and you get to try again—only this time having the benefit of learning from your previous mistakes. This makes games such as WoW, Everquest, America's Army, Halo 3, and other MMORPGs perfect test beds for learning how to be a successful community designer.


Working with social technologies for more than two decades now has taught me that success isn't determined by technology alone. My diverse experiences working with the five types of groups listed above have given me the opportunity to work with a number of different software packages: Listserv, Listproc, major-domo, Lyris, PostNuke, Geeklog, Cascade, Druple, FirstClass, phpBB, Wikimedia, Lamba-MOO, IRC, and many, many others. The list of "killer apps" that could be used for community building and social networking these days is obscenely large. And I'll admit it—I do suffer from a kind of technological testosterone poisoning, which makes me want to play with them all. What's more, I find that many of my clients also suffer from this same poisoning.

However, working with all these different tools has made me keenly aware of the fact that it doesn't matter what technology you're talking about—the likelihood of success or whether or not your community or social network will still be around in 6 to 8 months depends on factors beyond the particular engine you're using. I still have online communities functioning today that are tremendously successful and recognized as the go-to places in their respective fields—and yet these communities continue to run on technologies that were created in the 1980s. Online communities that have been in existence for going on two decades now have taught me that it's not about technology. It's about the design of the community and four core principles, which I call RIBS.


Excerpted from Design to Thrive by Tharon W. Howard Copyright © 2010 by Elsevier Company. Excerpted by permission of MORGAN KAUFMANN PUBLISHERS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)