Telligent Systems was founded by Rob Howard in 2004, who was previously part of Microsoft's ASP.NET team. Telligent introduced its first product, Community Server, in the fall of 2004. Community Server was one of the first integrated community platforms that brought together blogs, photo galleries, wikis, forums, user profiles and more. Community Server was based on the merger of three then-widely used open source ASP.NET projects: the ASP.NET Forums, nGallery photo gallery, and .Text blog engine. The people behind those projects (Scott Watermasysk, Jason Alexander, and Rob Howard) joined together as Telligent Systems and along with several other software developers created Community Server 1.0.
By 2010, Telligent’s Community Server platform had been renamed, “Evolution,” an extremely versatile on-premise engine for online communities. Built upon the Evolution platform, Telligent Community was a customizable theme package for businesses hosting public communities while Telligent Enterprise enabled internal collaboration within medium and large enterprises.
Telligent is now Zimbra and remains one of Dallas’ most innovative companies. Patrick Brandt and Rob Howard continue to crank out new releases that evolve the company’s customer-centric mission to help people securely collaborate.
About Our Engagement
Josh Ledgard hired me full-time in 2010 to lead UX design on the Evolution platform and the two extension products built upon it, Community and Enterprise. Across two major releases of Evolution and ongoing updates to Community and Enterprise, the product’s new features were well adopted and helped drive both upgrade and new customer revenue.
The greatest challenge at Telligent was the sheer number of different kinds of users we attempted to address. Technical owners, like enterprise IT, community managers, forum moderators, and blog authors to name but a few user roles.
The second greatest challenge was a legacy interaction framework on Evolution that was a real pain to power users, like blog contributors. The existing installed base of on-premise deployments also dominated much of our thinking about how to introduce new feature design.
Even with a backlog of UX debt, Telligent Evolution versions 6 through 7 introduced major platform features, including an extremely powerful data science framework for social experience design.
The framework was realized in a cluster of features I called, collectively, Reputation. We began with content quality, calculating scores based primarily on popularity interactions accompanied by time-based decay.
The foundation of Evolution's Reputation design and implementation is informed by the pioneering work of Randy Farmer and others. I highly recommend his book, [book], and if you have the opportunity to hire him to help you design a reputation system, don’t hesitate. While you’re at it, call Jose Lema - one of the easiest smart people to work with you can find.
As I reflect on my achievements at Telligent, the most memorable and important to me isn’t a feature design or an interaction pattern. It is having found, beyond all doubt, that the most reliable way to define a product or service user experience is through storytelling. (Iterating on stories of increasing resolution, more precisely.) Further, the best way to define a release, let alone a multi-release plan, is to use goal-directed scenarios as the packaging context for all new features and functionality.
In my initial approach to design on the platform, I abandoned the formal use of goal-directed scenarios to define design requirements. They weren’t expected within the culture and the platform supported a wide variety of implementations. In these early days, I would choose three customers and make sure the interaction design worked for them. I would show the widgets in use and most of the functional and behavior specification was delivered via annotated wireframes.
As platform features became more complex, however, large pieces of the product’s behavior could not be described through UI rendering. The ways an Activity Stream (like Facebook’s News Feed) works are endless. Which is the better sorting behavior, by post time or most recent comment? How should similar items be grouped to reduce a noisy feed? How do you enable customer configuration of the way user behavior is surfaced? Does a feed appear the same to all viewers or is a feed’s context defined by the viewer of it?
Without the benefits of a realistic use scenario to set the design context, every product team will tend to add configuration items rather than choose a problem to solve well.
Some important stakeholders were dubious about scenarios and challenged the use of time. Evenso, I advocated scenarios as faster than wireframes for generating technical requirements and we successfully adopted a scenario-based approach for a large chunk of the platform requirements definition. I’m absolutely certain this method seriously impacted (positively) the on-time delivery of the next two Evolution platform releases.
It pains me to say that Community and Enterprise, theme-based products built on Evolution, served mostly as vehicles to realize platform features and I never once released a theme that truly recognized the needs of the power users. We did address the needs of developers, however, who would extend and customize the OOTB theme. In the first theme release during my tenure, we refactored the design to include only what could be implemented via CSS, pulling out older raster elements and enabling much faster theme extension.