ThDstrct: A Lesson on Building Community and Keeping it Simple

As our world gets smaller, online communities are becoming more and more ubiquitous.  I’m not talking about huge social networks like Facebook, which target everyone, but more focused communities that target a specific niche.  We just ran a post on Scoutzie a couple of hours ago, which brings together mobile designers in one place – and now I am covering ThDstrct, whose goal is to bring DC-based creatives together.

ThDstrct launched quietly 2 months ago – and it is actually a spinoff of a similar site in Vancouver, which launched in March 2011. The Vancouver site has been a huge success for connecting and collaborating with fellow creatives  – and it is still growing daily thanks to a partnership with the blog Vancouver is awesome.

One thing I love about this site is its simple and elegant design.  You just see photos of people laid out in a grid pattern, and when you click on their photo, you go straight to a website that showcases their work (I’m on there – and you can see Tech Cocktail co-founder Frank Gruber in the bottom row of the above photo).  There are no unnecessary bells and whistles – no messaging platform, no social sharing buttons, no Twitter or news feeds.  That kind of restraint is impressive.

I spoke with Alison Napolitano, who contacted me last week, about ThDstrct – where the idea came from, why DC and Vancouver, and where they are expecting it to go. (Alison works for the company that runs the site.)

Tech Cocktail (TC): Where’d the idea come from?  Why did it start in Vancouver?

Alison Napolitano (AN): These sites were started by web agency Domain7, whose headquarters are in Vancouver.  It took off there – especially when we partnered with the local blog. The original idea was taken from We are PRTLND  – a similar site in Portland, Oregon.

TC: Are creatives really using it to find others? 

AN: Yes, absolutely, it has been a huge success in Vancouver.  There are lots of students on the Vancouver site who have found connections to employers.  The DC site is different, as we decided to include marketing strategists and heads of marketing – directors and VP level.

TC: How are you marketing the concept?

AN: We are marketing via word-of-mouth, which we only just started this month, to keep standards high.  There is an evaluation process – you have to be vetted first, so not just anyone can join.  We have been busy connecting with professionals in the DC area, and we have been asking our members to spread the word to others they like and work with.  In Vancouver, our blog partner does a lot of promotion.

Our goal is to no only build a strong community but also be a one-stop shop for companies looking for creatives for projects and part-time or full-time employees.

TC: How will you make money?  Do you have any funding?

AN: Domain7 is funding it – this is a fun project for us and a great way to get to know the community – and create a community.  We have thought about adding advertisements to our Vancouver site, but there are no plans at the moment.

TC: Why DC?

AN: Domain7 ended up with a presence in DC when they merged with a local marketing firm in Old Town Alexandria, so that is where our local office is.  There are a lot of tech-focused sites in this area, and a few for photography – but nothing focused on just creatives.

TC: Will you be spreading to other cities?

AN: Possibly.  We want to see success in these 2 cities first before launching in others.

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Monika Jansen is a writer and editor who is happiest pounding out blog posts, newsletters, website content, and other materials. Follow her at: @monikacjansen
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