Having built community products for the better part of my career, I’ve seen some common patterns in their structure. I wanted to document a common mental model I’ve used to structure a digital community product.

The components of a community product will often include: user Identity (who I am), user Discovery (who are others, and where are they), user Connection (how can I establish a relationship with others) and user Interaction (how can I interact with others).

  • User Identity is typically shown with a profile (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) but you can be a social product with little emphasis on amplifying users identity (e.g Reddit or Quora’s user profile is very sparse).
  • User Discovery is about finding others. This happens all around the product - search, follower lists, who liked this song etc.
  • User Connection is about connecting with people inside the network, and then also bringing people into the network. It’s the first step to establishing an intentional, direct relationship with another user. Some products don’t need this (e.g. Reddit, which focuses on user relationships with subreddits as a membership model).
  • User Interaction is what happens after the relationship is established. It’s about doing something with users you connected with.

A digital community product doesn’t need all four in equal measure, but I’ve seen most successful social products have some dimension of each of these.