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Design First

Picking a backend system is one of the most important decisions you have to make. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the hardest, because you’ll have to make it in the beginning before you have much input from your future community members. Community sites are, by nature, evolutionary, so your site could take off faster than expected, requiring more robust tools. Or, on the other hand, you could start out with more features than you need, which could backfire and turn people away.

If you’re just dipping your toe into the community space for the first time, try starting out with a free web-based tool. There are the obvious shortcomings (lack of design control, offsite hosting, poor interlinking), but it’s free and will allow you to begin a conversation with your community and gather feedback from your users on what they want. Doing this for a while can teach you some valuable lessons and help prepare you for designing a tool of your own.

In the end, just remember that every tool comes with its own set of design constraints. So design first, then decide on a tool. And when in doubt, build.

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