Edgeryders design principles: evolutionary design

At last! The second iteration of the Edgeryders platform is up and running. We are very happy and very proud, though there remain some minor visualization bugs (don’t access it with Internet Explorer just yet!). We have already covered the results of October’s beta testing phase. Though the alpha platform had many flaws, observing the fledgling community’s online behavior led us to many interesting insights.

I was personally fascinated by how clear patterns of use were: testers decided to use the various pages in the website in ways we had not foreseen. In biological terms, this is called exaptation, and it is one of the processes at work in evolution: it is what happens when a species “recycles” an organ for a functionality different from the one it evolved for. For example, the first amphibians exapted fins as rough paws, to move on dry land. Exaptation was exactly what we had been hoping for in the Edgeryders tests. It is a great gift: our community, by using the platform in a creative way,  pointed to design choices that could have been made and would have been right. So, all we needed to do was pay attention. And we did: we ended up rethinking completely what the different parts of the website are for. Here are some examples:

  1. the home page had a status update facility and a block that visualizes the stream of recent activity (à la Facebook). I thought this would make it a good first stop, a place to decide where to go next. But testers started using it as a social meeting point: so we redeployed it as Hangout - Edgeryders's public square.
  2. the profile page tended to be used as a place to share something about yourself. From it, participants can also get in touch with each other: just visit someone's profile page and leave him or her a message (here is mine - of course you have to be logged in to leave a message). You can also nominate the person as an Edgemapper - somebody whose life path inspires you. In fact, we even have a mission to do it! So, we stripped away other functionalities, making the profile page into the interface of each individual Edgeryder with the community.
  3. that left the need for a "mission control" page, a place where participants can be reminded which missions thay have finished and pick their next one. So we redeployed our Missions page, previously simply a list of links, adding conditional buttons that say "start" or "continue" depending on your status with respect to that particular mission.
  4. the gameplay (points, badges, notifications) was not really working in the alpha. That absorbed quite a lot of work, but now all these functionalities are there.

This process has been long and exhausting for us all, but it has an enormous benefit: it brings the wisdom of the early Edgeryders adopters, the pioneers of the community, into the platform’s design. Let me credit once again the beta testers (who are getting rewarded with a badge) , our development team at nois3lab and the fine folks at Acquia for giving the world Drupal Commons, on which Edgeryders is based. Here’s to you, thanks with all our hearts. And now, let’s get down to it. We have a generation to explore, and a world to build.