The Bulbagarden Experience
by, 1st November 2010 at 01:20 PM (578 Views)
I think something we don't analyze often enough here--especially as a staff, but in part as a community--is how we all interact with each other and how we as users actually use Bulbagarden. Because everyone uses it. I use it; I look stuff up on 'Pedia all the time. I'm typing this on the BMGf blog interface. I browse the forums for hours a day. Most of you who read this use Bulbagarden in broadly similar ways.
Of late, I think Bulbagarden has hit something of an impasse. We have a fantastic infrastructure for growth and expansion, but it's becoming a bit stiff and sometimes unwieldy. And sometimes I think we lose our way. So to alleviate this I'm putting forward a solution. I don't think it'll solve all our problems, but I do think it will prevent some going forward. I'd like to think that this basic philosophy, inspired by other design philosophies written by people much smarter than me, will take hold here.
Before I get into it, I want to make clear that this is my private belief and not the announcement of some future path of Bulbagarden. It's up to the staff as a whole--and the community--to decide whether we'll adopt this as a touchstone going forward. I can't force it on anyone.
I'm going to delay the philosophy just a bit further to say what it is not. This is not a Steve Jobs-ian creed that says our users are idiots and we cannot trust them to know what they want. This is not a Microsoft creed that says if we fill it with enough stuff, everyone will find something to like. This is not a libertarian creed that says let the users do anything they want, nor is it an authoritarian creed that says Bulbagarden will tell you what to do.
Here's what it is: three simple beliefs. I think Bulbagarden should adhere to the following when designing rules, policies, and features.
1: Everything happens for a reason
The purpose of our rules and features should be easily understood. Projects should be undertaken with a goal in mind, even if it isn't made public. And the rules should be able to be defended in a logical and consistent way. This is not to say that everyone agrees about what a good reason is. Often the staff is not unanimous on even the most basic of issues. But we should all aim to see the merit of a project or rule, and if no merit can be found we should question why the structure exists.
2: Ease of interaction is paramount.
We should design our site as best we can with the user in mind, which means that the most important/useful features should be easiest to access. On the forums, a good deal of this is out of our control. We use vB software to run the forums. It's pretty customizable but we can't do anything we want with it. But we can order the forums in the most logical way possible, putting the highest-priority items at the top. Templates on the wiki should be top-loaded with important information, with the least used info at the bottom. News should (and does) prioritize its stories by how essential they are.
We do a pretty good job of this already, but we need to be continually evaluating it and keep it in mind going forward.
3: Simplicity (almost) rules.
Excepting what's mentioned in #2--that ease of interaction is paramount--we should create the simplest interfaces possible. Which means that we should not have subforums where they aren't needed, and we shouldn't bury important information behind four or five clicks on the wiki. Visual "clutter" in any form should be minimized or eliminated entirely. Wiki templates should be functional and aesthetically pleasing, not flashy. Forum skins should be easy on the eyes, not garish. A user should not be faced with a dozen choices when it's clear (through surveys or intuition) they only want one or two. And if there are other options that only a handful of experienced or specialized users will request, we should sequester them as to keep the experience simple for the average user.
I hope that the discussion this proposal creates will help advance (and enhance) the overall design of Bulbagarden and the improve experience users have when they visit. I love this place. I think it's a fantastic community. But I'm not so foolish as to think it can't get better.
We need to be constantly self-critical. We must realize that we are not perfect, nor are we even on the road to perfection. We're simply on the path to be better. And we should always aim to be better. "Good enough" is never good enough; if it can be improved, it should not be ignored.
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