design project

Pueblo, the Humane Community platform

Derek Meer

Derek Meer
Posted on 01 Dec 2020 · 7m read


Pueblo, the Humane Community platform

I recently wrote about communities, and how we might improve them. The improvements I suggested are general enough for any community platform, but I'd like to propose specific features which promote healthy communal interaction:

To show off these features, I designed an archetypal community platform which I'm calling Pueblo.

Branding

The platforms we use for community tend to adopt a safe brand. This makes sense; they want corporate clients to trust them enough to purchase their premium offerings.

Slack homepage Zulip's introduction RocketChat's landing page INTERFACES for popular chat tools (top to bottom) Slack, Zulip, and RocketChat. Seem pretty safe and trustworthy, don't they?

In contrast, Pueblo's brand feels bold, original, and quirky while remaining friendly and reliable. All these characteristics feature in the most interesting communities I've found.

Pueblo logotype and UI elements PUEBLO's logotype and interface elements

Fonts

I chose Vollkorn as the main font. It felt reliable and "everyday", and its designer described it as "dark, sturdy, and grainy". It provides a solid base on which we can build our communities. Plus, using serifs in an environment where sans-serifs reign fits the off-beat vibe we want to create.

While Vollkorn might work for body text and headers, it's not a strong UI font. To fill that role, I picked Eau Naturelle. The humanist sans-serif font matches Vollkorn's letterforms and feels friendly.

Plus, putting the two fonts together gives us the two remaining "life essentials" — food and water — to go with our community's shelter.

Colors

Pueblo's primary color is a sun-kissed orange, matching the adobe structures in real-life pueblos. It complements Pueblo's secondary color, maroon, representing the buildings' wooden supports. These colors both feel warm and friendly.

Logotype

The Pueblo logotype shows a vector drawing of a pueblo building with a bold, dark outline and shaded components. It stands out as interesting and a bit quirky.

Layout

While Pueblo's brand departs from those of traditional community platforms, its layout closely aligns with theirs:

image showing how Pueblo matches the communication platform layout Pueblo's layout, which looks quite similar to the layouts above

People are used to this layout from their other tools; changing it would cause usability issues and make people less likely to adopt it.

I considered adopting a forum layout closer to Discourse, but I found the Slack layout more common and therefore more likely to stick. Plus, I found I could merge the forum layout into the Slack layout, as seen below.

Rooms and Forums

Pueblo features two spaces for interaction: forums and rooms. Forums store your long-lasting content and discussion, while rooms are good for short-lived discussions or quick chats. Many communication platforms feature one type, but Pueblo includes both. It recognizes that each has a separate role in a healthy community.

Forums

Pueblo's forum Pueblo's forums, which resemble traditional forums

Forums are Pueblo's asynchronous, permanent records of interaction between community members. They work like Discourse categories, subreddits, or Zulip topics. You can create as many of them as you want, but the app recommends you keep posts in the following default forums:

Forum Posts

Pueblo's forum posts Pueblo's forum posts, where you can vote and leave messages asynchronously

Each post is a traditional forum thread. They do not update in realtime nor show when "someone's typing". These measures promote asynchronous communication, assuring members that it's okay to go offline for a while.

Rooms

image showing a Pueblo room Pueblo's rooms, which resemble Slack channels

Pueblo focuses on keeping communication in its forums. But it recognizes the need for quick synchronous discussions between community members, which is why it includes rooms. Rooms resemble an IRC channel or an in-person chat: you get no context on entering, and your messages are deleted soon after you leave. Thus, they're perfect for transient discussions. Rooms include all the realtime features you'd expect, including member presence, instant updates, and typing notifications.

People might treat rooms like Slack channels and hold all discussions there. To prevent this, Pueblo puts a bot in every room. Its job is to track how long people spend in a room, and how many messages they exchange. Once the conversation passes a certain threshold, the bot interjects and directs discussion to a forum thread (to record the discussion for others) or the room's audio chat (to quickly resolve issues).

image of bot message when room converstation lasts too long Pueblo's bots try to direct long conversations to voice chat or the forums

Private Messages

Like other forum or chat platforms, Pueblo lets users directly message each other. Private Messages appear in the sidebar underneath your rooms. They look like rooms, but the messages last forever and the conversation stays between the two participants.

Notifications & Active Hours

With rooms, forums, or private messages, you'll end up with people who respond to your messages or request your attention by mentioning you directly. We call these notifications. Pueblo comes with a notification system, but keeping it "always on" might cause undue stress.

Pueblo helps prevent this with the concept of "active hours", a copy of Basecamp's "Work can Wait" system. It forwards your notifications directly during your configurable "active hours". Outside those hours, Pueblo batches, summarizes, and sends notifications to you a few minutes before your active hours resume. This approach should help members maintain a healthy attachment to their community.

Almost Instant Messaging

Regardless of whether you use Pueblo's rooms and forums — or another communication platform — you sometimes send messages that you regret. You might want to reword or delete it. Gmail addressed this problem with an "undo sent email" feature. Other tools allow you to edit messages after you post them. Pueblo has a different feature called Almost Instant Messaging (AIM). It creates an admin-configurable delay between when users submit a message and when it's posted to a forum or room.

image of Almost Instant Messaging Almost Instant Messaging gives you the chance to proofread your messages before anyone sees them

This delay subconsciously encourages users to proofread their messages. It gives them the time to run through a hypothetical checklist:

AIM should help keep discussions civil and productive. If nothing else, it might prove an annoying barrier for posting unsubstantial messages.

Mark as...

Barring low-quality content with AIM helps a Pueblo's moderators and leaders keep discussions healthy. Another way to help moderators is to encourage users to moderate themselves. To support this effort, every topic and message in the forums has a "vote" button to promote positive content, along with a "Mark as..." button to flag great comments along with jokes, noise, or malice. Marking a comment as malicious hides it from view, but moderators review all negatively-flagged messages and act accordingly. This system mimics Tildes' moderation system.

image of Mark As... options "Mark As" allows users to self-moderate to a degree

Unintended consequences

"Votes + Mark As" might not work for all communities. Certain groups prefer upvotes and downvotes, or no votes at all. People have debated which system works best for a long time.

In reality, all these systems have flaws. They could all be gamed by members or misused by moderators. Conversely, any moderation system could work if your community has reasonable, high-quality members and moderators.

Everything else

As the unintended consequence above suggests, your platform cannot create an active and healthy community on its own. No platform can:

Community is a human need, and its problems require a human touch to solve. Your tools should help you solve these problems, and that's what Pueblo aims to do.


If you're a community manager, would a tool like this interest you? Are there any unintended consequences I missed? Let me know and I'll look into them.