There is no "pottery barn rule" on the Web.

You break it. You buy it. The age old rule of retail codified in modern furniture superstore form. Not only does this rule not apply to websites, there’s absolutely no reason to introduce such a thing on the web.

We spend a lot of time making sure that you can’t break it.

So go ahead.



This is a conversation I’ve had several times with my fellow web programmers, always in the context of, “they just don’t get it!” The idea is that we sometimes see people who are reluctant to experiment with the web applications we introduce out of fear that they might break something, or do something wrong, or bring the whole institution to its knees with a single keystroke.

Unfortunately, this prevents people from trying out all the features of the application, clicking on a button to see what it does, or publishing some of their ideas out of fear of reprisal. This is exactly the opposite of the environment we seek to create on the web. The more you experiment, the more things you try, the more you’re willing to push the medium to its extreme, the more you are rewarded.

I’m often asked, “how did you know to do that?” in relation to a feature in a web application. The simple answer is: I didn’t. Nobody was born with a priori knowledge of MediaWiki, WordPress, or any of the myraid content management systems we employ. And I guarantee you that I’ve never read a manual on any of these systems before using them. Instead, I set out trying to do something, pressed any button on the screen that seemed related to what I was trying to accomplish and then judged the response of the system to my interaction.

I’ve never managed to crash any of our servers by doing this.

Well, alright, only a couple times.

But even then, we keep regular backups of everything, we keep a history of all revisions, we engineer error checking and exception handling into our systems, we keep logs to see what went wrong and when it did. We desperately want you to use all of the features and functionality of the services we provide, so please experiment, try things out and test the limits of our systems. We’ll be happy to help you out, and even more happy if you can tell us what you tried and what happened when you tried that.

And if something does go drastically wrong, let me know because I’m sure we can make it work again. And you won’t have to pay for it.

2 thoughts on “There is no "pottery barn rule" on the Web.

  1. Elin Waagen

    A good reminder for all of us – and worth a mention in the intro part of all web training sessions.


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