Social Architecture - Building On-line Communities

Came across this book which folks here may enjoy. It’s available to read for free online.

(I haven’t read too much yet, but so far so good):

Social Architecture - Building On-line Communities by Pieter Hintjens

As Social Architects, we participate in communities, we identify successful naturally occurring patterns or develop new patterns (which I call “tools”), and we apply these deliberately to our own projects. We apply psychology (our social instincts), economics (how we create common wealth through specialization and trade), politics (how we collect and share power), and technology (how we communicate). We continually adapt our toolkit based on new knowledge and experience. Our goal is to create on-line communities that can and do accurately solve the problems we identify, grow healthily, and survive on their own.


Just looked it up. If you have kindle prime it’s under the unlimited umbrella so you can read for free.

Social Architecture: Building On-line Communities Kindle Edition


Also some Harvard Business Review articles on

Platforms and new rules of strategy

6 reasons platforms fail

Everything we know about platforms we learned from medieval France


I be with you in agreement, until I read these parts:

I care not about the subjects. I do care about the tone and diction. Vindictive and overtly vitriolic. Even for me.

This author may have good information; that is clearly evident.

The “package” it be distributed in does not give this book a good face.

But then again, I be the sensitive type that picks out this kinda stuff and grunts about it. I know I be guilty of it from time to time.

You not gonna see me do it in a writing project for building online communities.

Sounds almost counter-productive.


Pieter Hintjens is famous for being

a) a brilliant software developer, even as a young kid
b) a brilliant community builder and presenter
c) writing pretty pointedly and insightfully about psychopathy and its role in human interaction (I believe without formal education in the matter… a kinda Scott Adams approach.)
d) Being a bit of an abrasive grump.

The Discourse folks get some flak for being pretty… well the good word is pragmatic and the bad word is harsh, in their online communication, and I’d be surprised if he didn’t serve as some sort of role model for that. I don’t quite buy in to it, but I kinda get it: BSing for the sake of politeness softens your point.

Anyway I like Pieter Hintjens a lot and have a particular soft spot for him at the moment as he’s been an unequivocal badass in announcing his own terminal illness.


I agree. I say that a lot over on FeverBee. I do not BS. To do so puts everyone at a disadvantage with what I feel so strongly, passionately.

But I would not go so low as to take someone–by name; even if a fictional name to save their face–and pummel them in a manner befitting a bully, and in a book to endeavor to bring people together.

I do not hate or dislike Pieter.

I can dislike his behavior, independent of what he has accomplished. And those accomplishments, I feel, do not give a ticket to berate for further accomplishments (or have someone like me call them out like the BS I feel it be).

I do not think even Jeff or anyone else on the Discourse team has written something like that. Sure, some like Jeff be abrasive when he wanna be. Some of it I dislike, even when not directed at me per se.

Never have I seen him berate anyone like that. (Hey, you got examples, I will apologize for assuming otherwise and being so strong in this conviction.)

And I stand right next to you and agree. In that moment, to outright announce thus accept a terminal illness with that kind of confidence to stare it down and give it the middle finger be the art of someone who does not cozy up to BS; they say it how they think it be, and to possibly help others stand too if they ever face this kind of life-changing act of nature.

I admire that.

I can still like someone and not agree with some of their preferences in what they consider BS, what really matters in life to be considered BS and to call it out in a publication that requires a sense of tact to also uphold credibility to the subject itself, considering what that subject be, in this particular instance.

However, if this book be a manifesto to how he accomplished his goals in forming an online community (like a memoir), then, I can truly understand the aim of this book as I did not see that viewpoint previously, upon first glance.


Here are all the TIP:'s from the book:

  • TIP: Use your mission as a slogan, on your website, marketing, presentations, and so on. If you are investing money in your community, you may want to trademark the mission statement.

  • TIP: Change your mission as your community matures. At first, you will want to attract idealists and pioneers, then the leading edge, and then early adopters, the mass market, and finally, the late adopters. Each of these groups wants different things. Understand that, and tune your mission to suit.

  • TIP: When proposing action, small or large, try always to start by identifying the problems you want to solve. Only when you have a clear and real problem on which everyone can agree, move to discussing solutions. A solution for an assumed problem is like a group without a clear mission.

  • TIP: If the founders agree that “success” is defined as “having the most participants possible,” it can help in keeping your focus over the years. It also makes it easy to measure your success as you grow.

  • TIP: Build a “seed” product in public view and encourage others to get involved from the start. If people do get involved, promote them rapidly. If they don’t, treat that as a sign your mission may be wrong. Use the seed product to build the community.

  • TIP: If people are not joining in your seed, don’t continue working on it. Instead, discover what’s stopping them from joining and fix that. Start again from scratch if necessary. Don’t prematurely kill seeds; it can take time for people to appreciate what you are trying to do.

  • TIP: When one person does something in a dark corner, that’s an experiment. When two or more people do something in a dark corner, that’s a conspiracy.

  • TIP: One free contributor is worth 10 paid contributors.

  • TIP: If every contributor owns their specific contributions, and you use a share-alike license, you don’t need copyright assignments or re-licensing from contributors.

  • TIP: Write your rules very carefully, starting with choosing a license for content, and measure how much they help people. Change them over time as you need to.

  • TIP: Promote the most active contributors into positions of authority, and do this rapidly. You have a short window for promoting new contributors before they disappear to other projects.

  • TIP: If you are investing money in the community, then consider taking a US trademark so that you can stop people from making similarly-named imitations that don’t follow your processes. It costs about $750.

  • TIP: Stay away from formal membership models, especially those that try to convert people to belonging to the group. Allow anonymous or unidentified participation. Encourage people to create their own competing projects as spaces to experiment and learn.

  • TIP: To measure how tribal a group is, just start a competing project. If the response is negative and emotional, the group is tribal. A sane group will applaud its new competitors.

  • TIP: Write rules to raise the quality of work and to explicitly allow anyone to work on anything they find interesting.

  • TIP: Communities need power hierarchies. However, they should be fluid and heavily delegated. That is, choose the people you work with, and let them choose the people they work with. Power structures are like liquid cement; they harden and stop people from moving around as they need to. Any structure defends itself.

  • TIP: When there is an interesting problem, try to get multiple teams competing to solve it. Competition is great fun and can produce better answers than monopolized problems. You can even explicitly create competitions with prizes for the best solutions.

  • TIP: If your platform does not support it directly, find ways to tell contributors how well their projects are doing.

  • TIP: When there is something that people are asking for, and you don’t know how to do it yourself, announce publicly that it is “impossible.” Or, propose a solution that is so awkward and hopeless that it annoys real experts into stepping up.

  • TIP: Do you need meetings to get work done as a group? This is a sign that you have deeper problems in how you work together. You are excluding people who are not physically close by.

  • TIP: Make it absolutely simple for logged-in users to create new projects. If projects are organized per user, you don’t need to worry about junk. If they’re in a shared space, you may need tools to purge junk and abandoned projects.

  • TIP: Design your community as a searchable city of projects, where anyone can start a new project, projects represent perhaps a dozen people’s work, and all have familiar structure, as much as possible.

  • TIP: Use classic training tools – presentations, videos, answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs), tutorials – to get people started. It helps if you are part of the community so you can see what kinds of questions people ask when they start.

  • TIP: The more serious your message, the more you need humor. In my ZeroMQ book, I wrote a lot of silly nonsense mixed with the heavy technical explanations. Most people enjoyed and appreciated this.

  • TIP: Perfection precludes participation. Releasing buggy, half-finished work is an excellent way to provoke people into contributing. Though it can be hard for big egos to accept, flaws are usually more attractive to contributors than perfection, which attracts users.

  • TIP: Every time you find it necessary to spend money on the community, ask if you could have found a way to get others to help instead.