Imperfection and community creation

Most recent update: 7th August 2021 - 10:17:23 - 4130 characters

The most productive and welcoming of communities are those where members are allowed to make mistakes. Imperfection is allowed as long as substance exists in a "good enough" form. If the creative tooling in the community doesn't allow for perfection, or at least allows for imperfection as a perfectly acceptable standard, a surplus of productivity flows from the creator community.


It was in first watching How Dreams Became a YouTube for Everything that imperfection being a key ingredient in creative tooling became apparent. Akin to Zeno's paradox if you knowingly can't incrementally march towards perfection you won't try.

Dreams has coarse sculpting tools where the pain to get it to perfection is thoroughly outweighed by instead performing a "good enough" sketch. The Dreamverse they create is known to have a sketch like quality to it, allowing imperfections to exist without being seen as flaws.


Twitter limits the length of tweets to only a few hundred characters. Ideas and arguments must be compressed down to a single tweet or (as tweets are referenced individually rather than as a collection) coherently broken up between tweets.

Twitter is (mostly) understood to be an imperfect capture of intention and content with certain blanks needing to be filled or clarified along the way. Twitter is the long form format for a memetic version of Codenames.


The world of Minecraft doesn't allow you to agonize over the exact aesthetics of a door knob. You may sketch houses, castles, or cities, but you'll never be able to agonize over the infinitesimal granularity of a door knob. Minecraft explicitly forces the inability to achieve perfection. You're not punished for this either. As opposed to Dreams, which does give you enough resolution to painstakingly work towards perfection, Minecraft gives you a broom when you asked for a toothbrush.


If you've ever seen a TikTok video you know that the videos themselves need to be a seed of possibility, not an end state of perfection. Performers might have just rolled out of bed, the video effects may occasionally make their outline fade in and out like an old science fiction film, a creator will play as different characters by changing a single item of clothing, and typos abound in the subtitles appearing on screen. None of that is held against you. Imperfection is in fact a draw for many creators and their audiences.

Why is a productive creator community and imperfect tooling necessary for what is a pioneer in a new medium? Most of the content will be subpar simply as no-one has experience with the novel formats and techniques. If the cost of experimentation is near zero then we can explore the possibility space cheaply. If a novel format achieves success with low production value then it's an even stronger sign that the underlying idea has potential and the community will work to fill in any of the remaining gaps. Compare this approach to Quibi which also tried to pioneer a similar format but instead relied on experts and celebrities of a well established format that has vague similarities.

The perfect encapsulation of this in TikTok video form.


The above was posted in an early form to Twitter and the article has been improved thanks to feedback from there.

Thanks to John Carmack reminding me of the existence of Minecraft, the perfect example of imperfect tooling for perfect community creation.

If you're interested in this Paul Graham's Early Work is on a related topic and has reflections from John Carmack and others in the footnote section. Carmack notes imperfections as advantage for community creation in both Minecraft and Roblox.