Derek has worked on community features for Netscape, Nike, and Sony, along with creating the community sites, {fray}, Kvetch!, and SF Stories. Here is what he had to say about creating effective communities:

UIE: We hear the phrase, "Virtual Community" thrown around all the time. How do you define "Community"?

Derek: I advise clients to never call their sites "communities." Instead, I tell them to provide adequate tools for your members to communicate with each other, plenty of relevant material to talk about, and an elegant structure that encourages conversation. If you're successful, your members will start calling it a community on their own. But since community is a personal business, I'll give you my personal definition of the word: "Web communities happen when users are given tools to use their voice in a public and immediate way, forming intimate relationships over time." I think that covers all the bases. Really what it's about is power: As the site owner, I'm giving away some of my power to my audience, to give them a voice on the site. And that's really a leap of faith sometimes. But when it works, the benefits can be astounding.

What are the major benefits for site owners considering giving some of their power away? In other words, why should designers even be thinking about community features?

There are huge benefits. Studies have shown that community site participants are far more likely to spend money online. And the connection a community member makes with a brand in a community setting can be intense. There's no better way to form a relationship with your audience, and to enable them to form relationships with each other.

What common misperceptions do people have about designing community spaces?

The biggest misconception is that community can be built at all. It can't. What you can do is build an environment that is conducive to social interaction. If people adopt it and make it their home, they'll call it a community for you. Community isn't built—it's grown. That's why the specifics of that environment are so important. The visual design, interaction design, experience design, text, signage … all of it has to work together to make the user feel comfortable and give them clear and welcome ways to communicate with other users.

In 1996, you started a storytelling web site called You've also created two other sites with community features: Kvetch! and San Francisco Stories. What was your biggest take-away from these experiences?

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Christine Perfetti is a consultant at User Interface Engineering ( in Bradford, Massachusetts. She can be reached at