The Tragedy of the Commons

The tragedy of the commons is an economic and ecologic dilemma in which individuals, acting in their own self-interest, collectively destroy the value of shared space through individual overuse, exploitation, and a lack of planning, even when it is obvious that it is not in anyone’s long-term interest for this to happen.

The same thing may be happening to your website right now.

For many organizations, space on the “homepage” is seen as prime real estate, and everyone wants their individual share. “Make sure my program is listed there! This exciting new technology just has to be featured this month! This is our biggest event of the year for us!” With every new addition, the collective value and usability is hurt.

Instead, lead through good design and bold decisions. Consider the following:

  1. A prime role of leadership is to distill organizations down to key missions and messages. Tell the story — focus on the most important, valuable identity.  Website design needs focused leadership (as does all design).
  2. Consider Google’s homepage — this incredibly complex, robust organization has an incredibly simple, focused homepage. Good organizations with good leadership are always moving away from the tragedy of the commons in their webspace (and entire mission).
  3. Understand that the idea of “homepage” means less and less as search engines help people jump straight to content-specific pages, sometimes bypassing the homepage altogether. Build great content pages and maximize their search potential, and quit sticking everything on the homepage.

If your organization avoids the tragedy of the commons, you (and your customers) win.