Community Builders hack tools to work for them because what they need doesn't exist

I’m sure this isn’t unique to just community builders, but here’s a thought.

We make use of tools and often for what they are not intended for because we don’t have the right tools to hand.

People complain about Slack, which community builders are using in so many places because it is not really a community tool. Yet community people continue to use it every day. We make it work regardless of the imperfections.

People use Notion and Airtable as member directories, even when it’s far from ideal as a long term solution.

I think we do this in many other aspects of our everyday work lives. Today I was trying out a new tool just to see if it would work as a way to capture community notes and ideas. It looked interesting at first, but then I could see that little parts of it wouldn’t work as part of my flow. I could try to make it work, but it just didn’t seem important enough.

The thing to take away from this is that the tools we really need don’t exist yet. It kind of feels simplistic to state this, but I think it’s important to be aware of it. The state of tools is not ideal right now, but hopefully they will in the future!

Keep rustling!

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While I somewhat agree the ideal tools may not exist, I have to strongly disagree with some of the examples you gave, particularly Slack. I don’t think people use it because better options don’t exist; they very clearly do (we’re in one right now, there are many others). They use it for some combination of other reasons that might include:

  • Lack of budget
  • Lack of internal support
  • Inertia (all the employees are already in Slack)
  • Lack of technical expertise
  • Lack of time, interest, or ability to research, test, and select better tools

Those are all fine reasons and very real. But I don’t think it’s reasonable to say that lack of good tools is a primary reason that suboptimal tools are so often used. Slack is definitely the one that pains me the most though because it really does strike me as a somewhat lazy choice (sorry Rosie! :grimacing:). OK, it’s the “inertia” choice as I more tactfully put above. I do hope we’ll move past that at some point.

Having had to use Slack a couple times in a work environment in the past I actually very much do not get the hype. I think I get why it was so successful, but I don’t get the user’s love of it (it seems great for tech admins). So maybe some of this is just my bias, but it’s also clearly not designed for or even very accommodating of community capabilities. It works in spite of its intentions, design, etc. :smile:

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Discourse is still not ideal, as I still have to glue a million other things to make the Rosieland community work…and even then, it doesn’t work as good as I wish it to be.

If Discourse had chat before I launched Slack, then I certainly would have considered it. Also if I could figure out an easy way to manage paid members into private chat then that would be amazing too, but my head hurts just thinking about it. People really appreciate having a somewhat private space to seek help.

Right now I’m still gluing everything together and I get frustrated as heck.

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That’s fair, and I definitely think the pay-for-access component is still one of the most challenging for small businesses in general. This is also the case in the content publishing (newsletter) space where it’s basically Ghost, or a few Wordpress plugins that have varying degrees of problems (and Ghost itself is kind of shockingly basic in some respects, too). That said there are community platforms that solve most/all of those problems (especially in the last 1-2yrs), with varying degrees of success. Discourse doesn’t solve all problems, but many other tools (e.g. Mighty Networks, etc.) attempt to. As far as owning one’s content and self-hosting, well, the options are definitely more limited. But that’s a business incentive issue, not so much a technical feasibility or ecosystem maturity issue.

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Yeah, I constantly feel torn, I kind of just want to open up all content, and perhaps just having paid Slack and gathering events as what people end up paying for. I worry that I’d shoot myself in the foot and not reach sustainability if I did that, but it’s also a big reason why this space is free, I want to find the balance of giving as much as I can freely.

The Guardian, for example, from a news perspective, is free, but it’s always asking for support/subscriptions/donations. I admire that and their content…though I haven’t actually paid anything nor subscribed :see_no_evil:

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I’ve wrestled with this a bunch on my side project – how much do you give away for free vs. put behind a paywall? Paywalled content/community has to show enough value to be a no-brainer, but it takes a lot of work and expertise to get to that point. And to stay on topic, the ecosystem doesn’t make things any easier for solopreneurs or small niche communities – most of the platforms are geared toward enterprise-size communities or ad-driven public communities with large audiences.

The closest I’ve seen for this niche is Circle or Mighty Networks, but even then they don’t offer everything or it’s not up to par with other platforms.

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Really appreciate this topic. I’d love to dive deeper into this perspective. Apologies upfront about just adding more questions to the initial question! But I suspect there are some insights to uncover.

  1. what tools do you think are needed but don’t exist? I don’t have a solid answer but it seems context & timing drives the need and frankly, I don’t always know what I don’t know until after I signed up for a platform and hope they have robust integration options with tools that may or may not exist yet.

  2. Sure there are table stake requirements at a point in time, but won’t there always be the need to hack tools? Is it just a fact?

again, thanks for posting the topic


One example that I always think of in community is that it should be easy to communicate to a specific set of people. When I say “it should be easy”, I mean, not more than 5-10 minutes effort (if you have the content ready to go). And if we want to be able to message a specific set of people, then that also influences how we design the community—members profiles, the channels or categories we create.

Sure, there will always be a need, but my frustration is the balance is off. And the more integrated tools we have the harder it becomes to maintain a good community experience.

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