Dribbble opened to the public last month while generating a lot of talk about community and exclusivity. Drawar runs a great community of its own where this week users discussed what disappointed them about Dribbble:
- “A main problem is that it just doesn’t fill a need that anyone in the community has.“
- “It seems more like an exercise in marketing and branding than a useful tool for designers.“
- “ Dribbble has an identity crisis. It’s somewhere between exclusive, high-quality and universal, mixed-quality…Seems like it’s caught in the middle.“
- “Who is it even for? What void in the community was it filling?“
- “If everyone on the site is using the site differently then the context of it all is constantly changing and its hard to meet the expectations of your users when this happens.“
All those comments suggest the same things: the community doesn’t operate in a way they expect, its purpose isn’t well defined, and the ways its being used aren’t consistent.
Like I said at Drawar, I don’t think any of this matters:
My personal belief is that there are some apps and some communities that are open-ended by design. And there is no amount of strategizing that will help you determine if they succeed. The community must self-police and find its own purpose. And it might mutate over time. Like a restaurant, it will often fail. But when it succeeds, it won’t often be for the reasons the founders originally envisioned.
I’ve joined many communities over the years and one thing I’ve learned by talking to admins is no matter what void they’re trying to fill and what ideals a community is built around, they ultimately have to step back and surrender much of it to the community members themselves. A good community will develop a life of its own, beyond the control or desires of the admins. Predictions are futile.
I actually like that there’s no real endgame at Dribbble. The Design Swap concept is similarly loose. Once a tool is in the hands of a bunch of opinionated, overstimulated designers, it will be used in unexpected ways—that’s the only prediction that isn’t futile. Even if only 5 people find it fun and useful, a void has been filled.
Rather than searching for a purpose, I’ve been enjoying Dribbble for one of the reasons I (finally) came around to appreciating Twitter: because it’s a personality filter. It can indirectly reveal thoughts and personality traits. It can offer a composite of what’s happening in a person’s life.
Take my buddy Pat’s Dribbble profile. You can follow the initial sketches he made for something called Made by Athlete, to the increasing freelance projects, to an image he finally posted that said, “I resign”—
As it turns out (drumroll) he was quitting his job to create a new freelance business called Made by Athlete. Through the same ambient intimacy that lets me get to know people through Twitter, I’ve gotten to see the changes happening in Pat’s life through a series of images.
Lately I’ve been studying old movie posters and title stills. When I make a new blog post, I’ll create a still and promote it at Dribble just for fun.
If you remember, Twitter eventually outgrew their “What are you doing?” prompt because it didn’t reflect how people were using the app. I think Dribbble’s “What are you Working On?” already risks being outdated since, like the movie stills idea, the context of shots isn’t always about paid projects.
Another unexpected Dribbble behavior: people consistently vote hand-drawn illustrations to the top of the Popular view. Illustration skills are something a lot of web designers can envy. Many of these artists aren’t household names in the web design world either, which suggests they rely on talent over self-promotion. That those talents are celebrated seems like a sign of Dribbble’s success and pretty much the opposite of snobbery.
One of my favorite books is William Goldman’s (screenwriter of The Princess Bride, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) “Adventures in the Screen Trade”. What I love is there are no conclusions about filmmaking. Just one recurring anti-conclusion: “nobody knows anything.”
“The single most important fact, perhaps, of the entire movie industry is that ‘nobody knows anything’. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”
Great formulas (ex: attractive cast, epic storyline) fail as often as they succeed. Goldman admits there are so many moving parts to assemble, it’s a miracle any movie gets made, much less a great one.
But then you will have fluke sleeper movies which are open-ended by design. They cost little to make and have no stars. Word gets out, they take on a life of their own, eventually they belong to an audience and the audience’s interpretation. They’re not trying too hard to fill a void which makes audiences connect for exactly that reason. No amount of control or contrivance can create that. Sometimes it’s just good chemistry and dumb luck.