Media for Everyone?

Media for Everyone?

User empowerment and community in the age of subscription streaming media


The Netflix app is displayed alongside other streaming media services. (Photo credit: Matthew Keys / Flickr Creative Commons)

Fragments of an Information Architecture

In 2002, Tim O’Reilly wrote the essay “Piracy is Progressive Taxation and other thoughts on the evolution of online distribution,” which makes several salient points that remain relevant as unlimited, native, streaming media continues to take the place of the containerized media product. In the essay, he predicts the rise of streaming media as well as the intermediary publisher on the Web that serves its purpose as content exploder. In an attempt to advocate for flexible licensing in the age of subscription streaming media, I’d like to begin by discussing two points in particular from that essay: “Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy” and “’Free’ is eventually replaced by a higher-quality paid service.”

As content becomes more fragmented and decontainerized across devices and platforms (the “Internet of Things”), I have faith that expert domain knowledge will prevail in the form of vetted, quality materials, and streaming services provide that curation layer for many users. Subscription services could provide greater visibility to artists by providing unlimited access and new audiences. However, the current licensing regulations surrounding content on streaming subscription services privilege the corporation rather than the creator, further exercising the hegemony of the media market. The first part of this essay will discuss the role of serendipity and discovery in streaming services and how they contribute to user engagement. Next, I will explore how Creative Commons and flexible licensing in the age of unlimited subscription media can return power to the creator by supporting communities of practice around content creation in subscription streaming services.

Tim O’Reilly’s second assertion that “’Free’ is eventually replaced by a higher-quality paid service” is best understood through the lens of information architecture. In their seminal work Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, Morville, Arango, and Rosenfeld write about how most software solutions are designed to solve specific problems, and as they outgrow their shells they become ecosystems, thereby losing clarity and simplicity. While the physical object’s data is constrained within its shell, the digital object provides a new set of metadata based on the user’s usage patterns and interests. Media is spread out among a variety of types, devices, and spaces, platforms cease to define the types of content that people consume, with native apps replacing exportable, translatable solutions like the MP3 or PDF. Paid services utilize the data from these ecosystems and create more meaningful consumption patterns within a diverse media landscape.

What content needs is coherency, that ineffable quality that helps us create taxonomy and meaning across platforms. Streaming services provide a comfortable architecture so users don’t have to rely on the shattered, seemingly limitless, advertising-laden media ecosystem of the Internet. Unlimited streaming services provide the coherency that users seek in content, and their focus should be on discoverability and engagement.

If you try sometimes, you might get what you need: serendipity and discoverability in streaming media

Not all streaming services operate within the same content model, which provides an interesting lens to explore the roles of a variety of products. Delivering the “sweet spot” of content to users is an unfulfillable ideal for most providers, and slogging through a massive catalog of materials can quickly cause information overload.

When most content is licensed and available outside of the service, discoverability and user empowerment should be the primary aim of the streaming media provider.

While Spotify charges $9.99 per month for more music than a person can consume in their entire lifetime, the quality of the music is not often listed as a primary reason why users engage with the product. In fact, most of the music on Spotify I can describe as “not to my taste,” and yet I pay every month for premium access to the entire library. At Safari Books Online, we focused on content quality in addition to scope, with “connection to expert knowledge” and subject matter coherency being a primary reason why subscribers paid premium prices rather than relying on StackOverflow or other free services.

Spotify’s marketing slogan, “Music for everyone” focuses on its content abundance, freemium model, and ease of use rather than its quality. The marketing site does not mention the size of Spotify’s library, but the implications are clear: it’s huge.

These observations beg a few questions:

  1. Would I still pay $9.99 per month for a similar streaming service that only provided music in the genres I enjoy like jazz, minimal techno, or folk by women in the 1970s with long hair and a bone to pick with Jackson Browne?
  2. What would I pay to discover more music in these genres? What about new music created by lesser-known artists?
  3. What is it about Spotify that brought me back to the service after trying Apple Music and Rdio? What would bring me back to Safari if I tried another streaming media service like Lynda or Pluralsight?
  4. How much will users pay for what is, essentially, an inflexible native discoverability platform that exists to allow them access to other materials that are often freely available on the Web in other, more exportable formats?

Serendipity and discoverability were the two driving factors in my decision to stay with Spotify as a streaming music service. Spotify allows for almost infinite taste flexibility and makes discoverability easy through playlists and simple search. In addition, a social feed allows me to follow my friends and discover new music. Spotify bases its experience on my taste preferences and social network, and I can easily skip content that is irrelevant or not to my liking.

To contrast, at Safari, while almost every user lauded the diversity of content, most found the amount of information overwhelming and discoverability problematic. As a counter-example, the O’Reilly Learning Paths product have been immensely popular on Safari, even though the “paths” consist of recycled content from O’Reilly Media repackaged to improve discoverability. While the self-service discovery model worked for many users, for most of our users, guidance through the library in the form of “paths” provides a serendipitous adventure through content that keeps them wanting more.

Music providers like Tidal have experimented with exclusive content, but content wants to be free on the Internet, and streaming services should focus on user need and findability, not exclusivity. Just because a Beyonce single drops first on Tidal, it doesn’t mean I can’t torrent it soon after. In Spotify, the “Discover Weekly” playlists as well as the ease of use of my own user-generated playlists serve the purpose of “exclusive content.” By providing me the correct dose of relevant content through playlists and social connection, Spotify delivers a service that I cannot find anywhere else, and these discoverability features are my primary product incentive. Spotify’s curated playlists, even algorithmically calculated ones, feel home-spun, personal, and unique, which is close to product magic.

There seems to be an exception to this rule in the world of streaming television, where users generally want to be taken directly to the most popular exclusive content. I would argue that the Netflix ecosystem is much smaller than in a streaming business or technical library or music service. This is why Netflix can provide a relatively limited list of rotating movies while focusing on its exclusive content while services like Spotify and Safari consistently grow their libraries to delight their users with the extensive amount of content available.

In fact, most people subscribe to Netflix for its exclusive content, and streaming television providers that lag behind (like Hulu), often provide access to content that is otherwise easily discoverable other places on the Web. Why would I watch Broad City with commercials on Hulu one week after it airs when I can just go to the Free TV Project and watch it an hour later for free? There is no higher quality paid service than free streaming in this case, and until Hulu strikes the balance between payment, advertising, licensed content, and exclusive content, they will continue to lag behind Netflix.

As access to licensed content becomes centralized and ubiquitous among a handful of streaming providers, it should be the role of the streaming service to provide a new paradigm that supports the role of artists in the 21st Century that challenges the dominant power structures within the licensed media market.

Shake it off, Taylor: the dream of Creative Commons and the power of creators

As a constantly evolving set of standards, Creative Commons is one way that streaming services can focus on a discoverability and curation layer that provides the maximum benefit to both users and creators. If we allow subscription media to work with artists rather than industry, we can increase the power of the content creator and loosen stringent, outdated copyright regulations. I recognize that much of this section is a simplification of the complex issue of copyright, but I wish to create a strawman that brings to light what Lawrence Lessig calls “a culture in which creators get to create only with the permission of the powerful, or of creators from the past.” The unique positioning of streaming, licensed content is no longer an issue that free culture can ignore, and creating communities of practice around licensing could ease some of the friction between artists and subscription services.

When Taylor Swift withheld her album from Apple Music because the company would not pay artists for its temporary three-month trial period, it sent a message to streaming services that withholding pay from artists is not acceptable. I believe that Swift made the correct choice to take a stand against Apple for not paying artists, but I want to throw a wrench into her logic.

Copies of 1989 have probably been freely available on the Internet since before its “official” release. (The New Yorker ran an excellent piece on leaked albums last year.) By not providing her album to Apple Music but also not freely licensing it, Swift chose to operate under the old rules that govern content, where free is the exception, not the norm.

Creative Commons provides the framework and socialization that could provide streaming services relevancy and artists the new audiences they seek. The product that users buy via streaming services is not necessarily music or books (they can buy those anywhere), it is the ability to consume it in a manner that is organized, easy, and coherent across platforms: an increased Information Architecture. The flexible licensing of Creative Commons could at least begin the discussion to cut out the middle man between streaming services, licensing, and artists, allowing these services to act more like Soundcloud, Wattpad, or Bandcamp, which provide audience and voice to lesser-known artists. These services do what streaming services have so far failed to do because of their licensing rules: they create social communities around media based on user voice and community connection.

The outlook for both the traditional publishing and music industries are similarly grim and to ignore the power of the content creator is to lapse into obscurity. While many self-publishing platforms present Creative Commons licensing as a matter of course and pride, subscription streaming services usually present all content as equally, stringently licensed. Spotify’s largest operating costs are licensing costs and most of the revenue in these transactions goes to the licensor, not the artist. To rethink a model that puts trust and power in the creator could provide a new paradigm under which creators and streaming services thrive. This could take shape in a few ways:

  • Content could be licensed directly from the creator and promoted by the streaming service.
  • Content could be exported outside of the native app, allowing users to distribute and share content freely according to the wishes of its creator.
  • Content could be directly uploaded to the streaming service, vetted or edited by the service, and signal boosted according to the editorial vision of the streaming content provider.

When Safari moved from books as exportable PDFs to a native environment, some users threatened to leave the service, viewing the native app as a loss of functionality. This exodus reminds me that while books break free of their containers, the coherence of the ecosystem maintains that users want their content in a variety of contexts, usable in a way that suits them. Proprietary native apps do not provide that kind of flexibility. By relying on native apps as a sole online/offline delivery mechanism, streaming services ultimately disenfranchise users who rely on a variety of IoT devices to consume media. Creative Commons could provide a more ethical licensing layer to rebalance the power differential that streaming services continue to uphold.

The right to read, listen, and watch: streaming, freedom, and pragmatism

Several years ago, I would probably have scoffed at this essay, wondering why I even considered streaming services as a viable alternative to going to the library or searching for content through torrents or music blogs, but I am fundamentally a pragmatist and seek to work on systems that present the most exciting vision for creators. 40 million Americans have a Netflix account and Spotify has over 10 million daily active users. The data they collect from users is crucial to the media industry’s future.

To ignore or deny the rise of streaming subscription services as a content delivery mechanism has already damaged the free culture movement. While working with subscription services feels antithetical to its goals, content has moved closer and closer toward Stallman’s dystopian vision from 1997 and we need to continue to create viable alternatives or else continue to put the power in the hands of the few rather than the many.

Licensed streaming services follow the through line of unlimited content on the Web, and yet most users want even more content, and more targeted content for their specific needs. The archetype of the streaming library is currently consumption, with social sharing as a limited exception. Services like Twitter’s Vine and Google’s YouTube successfully create communities based on creation rather than consumption and yet they are constantly under threat, with large advertisers still taking the lion’s share of profits.

I envision an ecosystem of community-centered content creation services that are consistently in service to their users, and I think that streaming services can take the lead by considering licensing options that benefit artists rather than corporations.

The Internet turns us all into content creators, and rather than expanding ecosystems into exclusivity, it would be heartening to see a streaming app that is based on community discoverability and the “intertwingling” of different kinds of content, including user-generated content. The subscription streaming service can be considered as industry pushback in the age of user-generated content, yet it’s proven to be immensely popular. For this reason, conversations about licensing, user data, and artistic community should be a primary focus within free culture and media.

The final lesson of Tim O’Reilly’s essay is: “There’s more than one way to do it,” and I will echo this sentiment as the crux of my argument. As he writes, “’Give the wookie what he wants!’… Give it to [her] in as many ways as you can find, at a fair price, and let [her] choose which works best for [her].” By amplifying user voice in curation and discoverability as well as providing a more fair, free, and open ecosystem for artists, subscription services will more successfully serve their users and creators in ways that make the artistic landscape more humane, more diverse, and yes, more remixable.

personal life

Body as natural disaster


On supporting a loved on with chronic illness

Originally published on Medium

My mother’s disease is like a natural disaster: It’s not always a raging storm, but when it is, it’s incomprehensible, devastating, and random.

For reasons not entirely understood, my mother’s immune system has been slowly destroying her liver for the last 25 years. When she was diagnosed in the early 1990s, she was given eight years to live, but a liver transplant purged the sickness from her body ten years ago. After a few months of unexplained fatigue this summer, we learned that the disease had returned, a relatively rare occurrence in post-transplant patients. I sat and wept on a bench in Central Square when I learned it had taken up residency in her body again, sure and strange as a warm ocean current, ready to wreak havoc.

She’s lived through cancer, a stroke, epilepsy, diabetes, osteoporosis, shattered bones, dental issues, jaundice, a liver that functions at five percent of normal capacity, and a million other ailments I’ve left out because I simply can’t remember anymore. Modern medicine makes human lives seem less fragile, salvageable but broken like the wreckage from a storm. Her body bears scars like Frankenstein’s monster, incisions that run from her ribcage to hipbones, swollen joints and random bruises, brittle hair and teeth.

My mother’s disease, called Primary Biliary Cirrhosis, is not contagious or causal, and it is not strictly genetic, though I have a slightly higher chance of manifesting an autoimmune disorder at some point in my life. 75 percent of people living with autoimmune disease are women, and though the disease category is one of the leading causes of death and disability among women under 65, research into their genesis as a whole remains largely inconclusive. Although autoimmune diseases are fairly common, and are a diverse category of disease that affects every major organ group, Primary Biliary Cirrhosis is officially registered as a “rare disease.” While research into its management has been promising, I doubt there will be a real cure within my lifetime.

The pained, slightly confused expressions of sympathy that cross peoples’ faces when I tell them about my mother are predictable to me now, and I keep a catalog of promised kindnesses in my head I can call when I need them. In the case of chronic illness, the most well-intentioned acts of compassion can become a burden: trying to schedule when dinner can brought to your home, shoving another quiche into the freezer, an “I can’t imagine what you’re going through,” talk. a hug as you inevitably break down when you run into an acquaintance on the street. Then, of course, there are those who don’t know what to say: the friends who disappear, the family members who never come.

I’ve learned that during a long-term illness, most people fall away, slowly becoming unglued from the spine and dropping like pages from an old paperback or moldering like a waterlogged novel. I recognize that most friends have limited experiences with long-term degenerative illness, though I have become acutely aware that each person carries a significant number of individual, hidden traumas. Even the blessed suffer, and mental pain is unquantifiable because it is as systemic and ubiquitous as a chronic illness. Pain is as inevitable and often random as death or natural disaster. It is a primary life experience that binds us to others.

Ten years ago, my mother’s physical pain was assuaged when she received a new liver from a woman I call Linda, though I don’t know her real name. Linda died in a car crash on a Saturday evening outside of New Haven, Connecticut in September of 2005, and by 9AM the next morning, her liver was pumping my mother’s bile. That Sunday, my father bought three copies of the New York Times so we wouldn’t have to share as we sipped black coffee and waited for the nurse to call our names. Transplantation saved her life, but the disease left marks on her body and mind, leaving her scarred, knocked down, and largely adrift. Wandering the landscape of a life shattered by disease, we can only look in the empty windows of what could have been.

In my college entrance essay I compared my mother’s transplant to my own prom: a momentous life event that felt strange, inevitable, and weirdly glamorous. I used the essay to describe how my mother’s fragility underscored my own need to live vibrantly. I wrote,

Had my mother not been ill for most of my life, I would be a different person. Much of my desire to embrace life and connect with people in my own, small way comes from my sense of mortality. This sense of life’s transience propelled me to grow up quickly… Our serendipitous adventures have proven that our relationship is blessed. …However, the greatest impression that she has made on me is that every minute of the day I know there is someone in the world who loves me more than anything. My mother always says that I am “the best thing that ever happened to her.” Her unwavering affection has shaped me as a confident and capable woman who shares her love of life.

This essay remains one of my favorite personal pieces, and I’ve come back to it often in the last few months. Each appointment and emergency room visit brings me back to a childhood spent in hospitals, the long waits when I first understood life and health are tempestuous and unguaranteed. Tim Lawrence wrote in his recent essay “Everything Doesn’t Happen for a Reason,” “Being diagnosed with a debilitating illness cannot be fixed… [It] can only be carried.” Accepting that some things don’t happen for a reason can free our minds to grieve. Carrying the weight of trauma rather than taking responsibility for events beyond our control helps us better understand our pain and the pain of the people we love.

I’ve been thinking lately of a healer I know who told me that if she could be reincarnated as a plant, she would be a wild raspberry. After cataclysmic weather events, the wild raspberry is the first edible plant to return to the area, so that in times of crisis, it provides valuable sustenance. I try to find a wild raspberry in some hidden spot during the darkest times, whether it’s a few uninterrupted hours chatting in a hospital room or a trip home to drive my mother around town and have dinner with my parents. I savor the metaphorical sweetness of the tiny red berries because I know they cannot last forever, but that they allow my mother to live now, for us to live, together.


Productivity rules

Last month I blogged for Safari about successfully changing fields, being fearless, and improving yourself through reading and learning. My blog post received a wonderful response, and I am proud to share that this month I begin my official new position as Safari’s Product Engagement Manager. I am staying with my team and am super excited to make our product more useful to both our new and existing customers. I’ll be blogging intermittently about what I’m doing, learning, and making with Safari.

While I believe what I wrote in that post, I’ve felt a bit hypocritical because it’s come to my attention throughout this long, dark winter that

I waste a lot of time.

So much time! From time spent writing emotive letters that I never send to time reading the Wikitravel details of places I want to visit. I sleep late on weekends, occasionally drink too many glasses of wine on weeknights, often eat way more than an allotted portion while distractedly checking my phone during dinner, and spend hours looking at pairs of black pants on the Internet that I will never buy. I believe strongly that there is a healthy balance between time-wasting and productivity, and I am afraid that this winter I crossed my own line and need to work on getting myself back to my center.

I’ve always been an over-achieving time waster; I’m the kind of person who knows all the details of Madonna’s Wikipedia page and still somehow finds the time to do all the things. I manage to consistently find the time for birthday parties, lazy afternoons, potlucks, puppet shows, and performing while always submitting applications, papers, and my taxes on time. I have always volunteered with my community, whether gardening or teaching or manning a booth, and I try to be there both in time and spirit for my friends. I am a master of very little and a generalist who can do a lot of things adequately, including playing music, speaking German and Spanish, and holding intelligent conversation on about a million topics. My lack of focus is what drew me to the interdisciplinarity of American Studies and later Library Science, but

because I am okay at a lot of things, I have often felt like I am not good at anything.

My lack of mastery augments an incredible social knowledge that makes me great at cocktail parties, but not so great at specialized skills, particularly those that I have tried and failed to learn repeatedly like drawing or programming computers.

Lounging around and wasting time makes me stressed, and yet I find myself wasting time on the Internet more than I would like to admit. I have an addictive information-seeking brain, and the Internet has been both an asset and a curse for me as I find myself up late, absorbing both everything and nothing at once.

The Internet has made it easier to live vicariously through others, which is another double-edged sword that often makes life feel more complicated than it actually is. All my friends, professional contacts, and the celebrities who interest me seem to be living fulfilled lives, so I submit to the worst kind of voyeurism, one that’s tinged with envy and the feeling that this life could be mine if I were only more “_______.” This kind of time wasting makes me want to delete all my Internet history, take a shower, and maybe smash my phone against a wall. Even admitting that I do it in a public manner makes me feel slightly uncomfortable, but I think it’s important to recognize this is a human byproduct of the Internet age.

I’m not taking the capitalist tack that says all time has to be productive, self-improvement time, and one only has to read a Romantic novel to realize that people actually probably were not more productive in “olden days.” (I wonder how much time a Jane Austen heroine spent staring at the wall?) Instead of judging or feeling shame, (both feelings that society unfortunately encourages,) I want to practice weening myself off behaviors that don’t make me feel like my best self and hope that others feel inspired to make similar changes for their health and the health of their communities.

In order to kick off this process, I did what I do best, and what I do to make most of my decisions: I made a chart.

I titled the page:

“Be more productive. Overcome winter blues. Get moving.”

The chart’s four cardinal directions pointed to:

  • Have to do
  • Want to do
  • Do less of
  • Do more of

I brainstormed for about 25 minutes and then wrote a list of the immediate tasks I needed to do within the next week.

I wasn’t sure what was going to come out of the exercise, but when I looked at the page, I was surprised to see that most of my “negative” behaviors revolved around a few, distinct categories. In making the chart, I saw that “worrying about the opinion of others” came up 4 times, “relying too much on technology” came up 5 times, and “drinking less frequently” came up 2 times.

In contrast, doing creative work like playing music, dancing, and writing came up 7 times and giving back to my community came up 4 times on my “positive” behavior list. Being kinder to my environment, both in terms of resources and social awareness also came up frequently.

I am going to use the weeks leading up to my 27th birthday to take some steps towards doing my best work and realizing my unique talents through this exercise and others encouraged by productivity experts. I am also going to use this month to research improving productivity and share out my findings on this blog.

It’s time to focus on my creative and nurturing self and feel more alive in my body this spring. Winter has been hard on all of us Bostonians, but in adapting my behaviors to fit my goals, I am taking the first steps toward a daily practice to be my best self.




Reading Highlights 2014

I did this last year too, but here are some of the best books that I read this year. I tend to read a bit haphazardly and mostly fiction, but here’s the list of books that surprised or excited me most in 2014. I can honestly say that this year I only read a few duds and that most of my reading life was very rich!

Fiction: I read a lot of Angela Carter this year, including Burning Your Boats (her collection of short stories,) Wise Children, which is so wildly inventive, and Nights at the Circus, which many consider to be her best. She remains my favorite author and I am glad she has such a large catalog. Each book is like a really delicious fruit.

Perhaps the most surprising book I read this year was The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. I picked it up in a used bookstore in London and found it thrilling. I would love to read more monastery murder mysteries.

In the British romances category, standouts include The Enchanted April, Persuasion, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Far From the Madding Crowd.
British romances are my comfort food, and I always turn to them when I don’t know what to read next. I find most through browsing Project Gutenberg and seeing what I haven’t read yet. I love Project Gutenberg and think that the work they’re doing is incredibly important.

I devoured Mavis Gallant’s Paris Stories collection from the NYRB back in January and was very sad when she passed.

In German, I read only one book, which was Schachnovelle by Steftan Zweig. I read it because of the Grand Budapest Hotel connection and it was as good as promised.

I finished off my year with Snow by Orhan Pamuk, which I highly recommend! It is particularly prescient now and asks important questions about Western hegemony, art, and religion.

Memoir: I had somehow missed Heartburn by Nora Ephron and have recommended it to everyone, though it’s halfway between memoir and fiction. It is so smart, so funny, and so bitchy, like the best romcom.

Because a bunch of people have asked me: I had very mixed feelings about Not that Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham. The stories in the collection weren’t novel or exciting; the narratives had appeared in her work repeatedly and seemed like a rehashing of the most boring parts of Girls or Tiny Furniture. By the time she got to the section about her food diary, I honestly wondered if anyone had even thought to edit this work. In all, I found it smug and poorly written.

My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story by Luisa Weiss was a lovely book about remembrance, identity, and food.

Non-fiction: My team read Cultivating Communities of Practice by Etienne Wegner, and it made a massive impression on me and my work. It is a very brilliant book!

I am cheating a bit here because I just finished it this week, but Don’t Make me Think by Steve Krug was also fantastic and asked all the important questions about usability, testing, and the Web.

Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux made some interesting claims and I am not quite sure what to make of it still, but definitely gave me food for thought.

If you don’t yet use it, Safari Books Online is the best tool for discovering literature in your field, both in terms of platform and content.

Historical fiction: I didn’t read so much in this category this year, but what I did was amazing. In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson was so well-researched and engrossing. I am officially a Larson convert!  The Orientalist by Tom Reiss was incredibly exciting as well.

Honorable Mentions: In the field of community management, Jono Bacon’s The Art of Community is a classic. I liked it very much, but found its emphasis on “meritocracy” deeply problematic.

I picked up Good Poems, an anthology by Garrison Keillor at a library sale last month and it is a delight! I leave it on my kitchen table to read while hanging around.

Nicholson Baker is such a good writer, so The Way the World Works was enjoyable, though not my favorite of his.

Feel free to share your favorites as well! Here’s to a 2015 full of even more books!



Bulbes: a soup zine. Call for Submissions!

Please forward widely!

It’s that time of year, when hat hair is a reality and wet boots have to be left at the door. Frozen fingers and toes are warmed with lots of tea and hot cocoa, and you have heard so many Christmas songs that music is temporarily ruined.

I came to the conclusion a few years ago that soup is magic (influenced heavily by a friend, a soup evangelist) and decided to start a zine about soup, called


It is currently filled mostly with recipes, but also some poems (written by myself and others) and essays and reflections and jokes about soup. Some of you have already submitted to the zine, which is why all this may sound familiar.

Unfortunately, I hit a wall at some point and never finished it, but this year is the year! I finally have both the funds and feelings to finish this project and I encourage all of you to send me

* Recipes (hot and cold soups are welcome)
* Artwork about soup (particularly cover artwork!)
* Soup poems
* Soup essays
* Soup songs
* Soup jokes
* Anything else that may be worth including in a zine about soup

Submissions can be original or found, new or old.

Submission deadline is January 20 (after all the craziness of this time of year and early enough so that I can finish it and send it out before the end of winter!) If you need more time, please tell me and I will plan accordingly.
If you want to snail mail me your submission, get in touch for my address.

Otherwise email is fine!

Happy holidaze to all of you.



PS I got a big kick in the tuchus to actually finish this when I met Rachel Fershleiser, who kindly mailed me a copy of her much more punnily named “Stock Tips” last week.  It was pretty surreal to meet someone else who made a zine about soup!

check it out!



Leaving Mozilla as staff

December 31 will be my last day as paid staff on the Community Building Team at Mozilla.

One year ago, I settled into a non-stop flight from Raleigh, NC to San Francisco and immediately fell asleep. I was exhausted; it was the end of my semester and I had spent the week finishing a difficult databases final, which I emailed to my professor as soon as I reached the hotel, marking the completion of my coursework in Library Science and the beginning of my commitment to Mozilla.

The next week was one of the best of my life. While working, hacking, and having fun, I started on the journey that has carried me through the past exhilarating months. I met more friendly faces than I could count and felt myself becoming part of the Mozilla community, which has embraced me. I’ve been proud to call myself a Mozillian this year, and I will continue to work for the free and open Web, though currently in a different capacity as a Rep and contributor.

I’ve met many people through my work and have been universally impressed with your intelligence, drive, and talent. To David, Pierros, William, and particularly Larissa, Christie, Michelle, and Emma, you have been my champions and mentors. Getting to know you all has been a blessing.

I’m not sure what’s next, but I am happy to start on the next step of my career as a Mozillian, a community mentor, and an open Web advocate. Thank you again for this magical time, and I hope to see you all again soon. Let me know if you find yourself in Boston! I will be happy to hear from you and pleased to show you around my hometown.

If you want to reach out, find me on IRC: jennierose. All the best wishes for a happy, restful, and healthy holiday season.


Townhall, not Shopping Mall! Community, making, and the future of the Internet

I presented a version of this talk at the 2014 Futurebook Conference in London, England. They also kindly featured me in the program. Thank you to The Bookseller for a wonderful conference filled with innovation and intelligent people!

A few days ago, I was in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, often considered the most beautiful library in the world. My enthusiastic guide told the following story:

After the Reformation (when all the books in Oxford were burned), Sir Thomas Bodley decided to create a place where people could go and access all the world’s information at their fingertips, for free.

“What does that sound like?” she asked. “…the Internet?”

While this is a lovely conceit, the part of the story that resonated with me for this talk is the other big change that Bodley made, which was to work with publishers, who were largely a monopoly at that point, to fill his library for free by turning the library into a copyright library. While this seemed antithetical to the ways that publishers worked, in giving a copy of their very expensive books away, they left an indelible and permanent mark on the face of human knowledge. It was not only preservation, but self-preservation.

Bodley was what people nowadays would probably call “an innovator” and maybe even in the parlance of my field, a “community manager.”

By thinking outside of the scheme of how publishing works, he joined together with a group of skeptics and created one of the greatest knowledge repositories in the world, one that still exists 700 years later. This speaks to a few issues:

Sharing economies, community, and publishing should and do go hand in hand and have since the birth of libraries. By stepping outside of traditional models, you are creating a world filled with limitless knowledge and crafting it in new and unexpected ways.

The bound manuscript is one of the most enduring technologies. This story remains relevant because books are still books and people are still reading them.

As the same time, things are definitely changing. For the most part, books and manuscripts were pretty much identifiable as books and manuscripts for the past 1000 years.

But what if I were to give Google Maps to a 16th Century Map Maker? Or what if I were to show Joseph Pulitzer Medium? Or what if I were to hand Gutenberg a Kindle? Or Project Gutenberg for that matter? What if I were to explain to Thomas Bodley how I shared the new Lena Dunham book with a friend by sending her the file instead of actually handing her the physical book? What if I were to try to explain Lena Dunham?

These innovations have all taken place within the last twenty years, and I would argue that we haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of the innovations that are to come.

We need to accept that the future of the printed word may vary from words on paper to an ereader or computer in 500 years, but I want to emphasize that in the 500 years to come, it will more likely vary from the ereader to a giant question mark.

International literacy rates have risen rapidly over the past 100 years and companies are scrambling to be the first to reach what they call “developing markets” in terms of connectivity. In the vein of Mark Surman’s talk at the Mozilla Festival this year, I will instead call these economies post-colonial economies.

Because we (as people of the book) are fundamentally idealists who believe that the printed word can change lives, we need to be engaged with rethinking the printed word in a way that recognizes power structures and does not settle for the limited choices that the corporate Internet provides (think Facebook vs WhatsApp). This is not as a panacea to fix the world’s ills.

In the Atlantic last year, Phil Nichols wrote an excellent piece that paralleled Web literacy and early 20th century literacy movements. The dualities between “connected” and “non-connected,” he writes, impose the same kinds of binaries and blind cure-all for social ills that the “literacy” movement imposed in the early 20th century. In equating “connectedness” with opportunity, we are “hiding an ideology that is rooted in social control.”

Surman, who is director of the Mozilla Foundation, claims that the Web, which had so much potential to become a free and open virtual meeting place for communities, has started to resemble a shopping mall. While I can go there and meet with my friends, it’s still controlled by cameras that are watching my every move and its sole motive is to get me to buy things.

85 percent of North America is connected to the Internet and 40 percent of the world is connected. Connectivity increased at a rate of 676% in the past 13 years. Studies show that literacy and connectivity go hand in hand.

How do you envision a fully connected world? How do you envision a fully literate world? How can we empower a new generation of connected communities to become learners rather than consumers?

I’m not one of these technology nuts who’s going to argue that books are going to somehow leave their containers and become networked floating apparatuses, and I’m not going to argue that the ereader is a significantly different vessel than the physical book.

I’m also not going to argue that we’re going to have a world of people who are only Web literate and not reading books in twenty years. To make any kind of future prediction would be a false prophesy, elitist, and perhaps dangerous.

Although I don’t know what the printed word will look like in the next 500 years,

I want to take a moment to think outside the book,

to think outside traditional publishing models, and to embrace the instantaneousness, randomness, and spontaneity of the Internet as it could be, not as it is now.

One way I want you to embrace the wonderful wide Web is to try to at least partially decouple your social media followers from your community.

Twitter and other forms of social media are certainly a delightful and fun way for communities to communicate and get involved, but your viral campaign, if you have it, is not your community.

True communities of practice are groups of people who come together to think beyond traditional models and innovate within a domain. For a touchstone, a community of practice is something like the Penguin Labs internal innovation center that Tom Weldon spoke about this morning and not like Penguin’s 600,000 followers on Twitter. How can we bring people together to allow for innovation, communication, and creation?

The Internet provides new and unlimited opportunities for community and innovation, but we have to start managing communities and embracing the people we touch as makers rather than simply followers or consumers.

The maker economy is here— participatory content creation has become the norm rather than the exception. You have the potential to reach and mobilize 2.1 billion people and let them tell you what they want, but you have to identify leaders and early adopters and you have to empower them.

How do you recognize the people who create content for you? I don’t mean authors, but instead the ambassadors who want to get involved and stay involved with your brand.

I want to ask you, in the spirit of innovation from the edges

What is your next platform for radical participation? How are you enabling your community to bring you to the next level? How can you differentiate your brand and make every single person you touch psyched to read your content, together? How can you create a community of practice?

Community is conversation. Your users are not your community.

Ask yourself the question Rachel Fershleiser asked when building a community on Tumblr: Are you reaching out to the people who want to hear from you and encouraging them or are you just letting your community be unplanned and organic?

There reaches a point where we reach the limit of unplanned organic growth. Know when you reach this limit.

Target, plan, be upbeat, and encourage people to talk to one another without your help and stretch the creativity of your work to the upper limit.

Does this model look different from when you started working in publishing? Good.

As the story of the Bodelian Library illustrated, sometimes a totally crazy idea can be the beginning of an enduring institution.

To repeat, the book is one of the most durable technologies and publishing is one of the most durable industries in history. Its durability has been put to the test more than once, and it will surely be put to the test again. Think of your current concerns as a minor stumbling block in a history filled with success, a history that has documented and shaped the world.

Don’t be afraid of the person who calls you up and says, “I have this crazy idea that may just change the way you work…” While the industry may shift, the printed word will always prevail.

Publishing has been around in some shape or form for 1000 years. Here’s hoping that it’s around for another 1000 more.


New /contribute page

In an uncharacteristically short post, I want to let folks know that we just launched our new /contribute page.

I am so proud of our team! Thank you to Jess, Ben, Larissa, Jen, Rebecca, Mike, Pascal, Flod, Holly, Sean, David, Maryellen, Craig, PMac, Matej, and everyone else who had a hand. You all are the absolute most wonderful people to work with and I look forward to seeing what comes next!

I’ll be posting intermittently about new features and challenges on the site, but I first want to give a big virtual hug to all of you who made it happen and all of you who contribute to Mozilla in the future.


A new look for our Community Newsletter

This post was featured on the Mozilla Community Blog


If you’ve been wondering why you haven’t received the best in Mozilla’s community news in some weeks, it’s because we’ve been busy redesigning our newsletter in order to bring you even more great content.

Non-profit marketing is no easy feat. Even with our team of experts here at Mozilla, we don’t always hit the bar when it comes to open rates, click through rates, and other metrics that measure marketing success. For our community newsletter, I watched our metrics steadily decrease over the six month period since we re-launched the newsletter and started publishing on a regular basis.

It was definitely time for a makeover.

Our community newsletter is a study in pathways and retention: How do we help people who have already expressed interest in contributing get involved and stay involved? What are some easy ways for people to join our community? How can communities come together to write inspiring content for the Web?

At Mozilla, we put out three main newsletters: Firefox and You (currently on a brief hiatus), the Firefox Student Ambassadors newsletter, and our Mozilla Communities Newsletter (formerly called about:Mozilla)

It was important to me to have the newsletter feel authentically like the voice of the community, to help people find their Mozillian way, and to point people in the direction of others who share their interests, opening up participation to a wider audience.

A peer assist with Andrea Wood and Kelli Klein at the Mozilla Foundation helped me articulate what we needed and stay on-target with the newsletter’s goal to “provide the best in contribution opportunities at Mozilla.” Andrea demonstrated to me how the current newsletter was structured for consumption, not action, and directed me toward new features that would engage people with the newsletter’s content and eventually help them join us.

I also took a class with Aspiration Tech on how to write emails that captivate as well as read a lot about non-profit email marketing. While some of it seemed obvious, my research also gave me an overview of the field, which allowed me to redesign the newsletter according to best practices.

Here’s what I learned:

1. According to M & R, who publishes the best (and most hilarious) study of non-profit email campaigns, our metrics were right on track with industry averages. Non-profit marketing emails have a mean open rate of 13% with a 2.5% deviance in either direction. This means that at between 25% and 15% open rate we were actually doing better than other non-profit emails. What worried me was that our open rate rapidly and steadily decreased, signalling a disengagement with the content.

I came up with similar findings for our click through rates– on par with the industry, but steadily decreasing. (From almost 5% on our first newsletter to less than 1.5% on our last, eek!)

2. While I thought that our 70,000 subscribers put us safely in the “large email list” category, I learned that we are actually a small/medium newsletter according to industry averages! In terms of how we gain subscribers, I’m hoping that an increased social media presence as well as experiments with viral marketing (IE “forward this to a friend!”) will bring in new voices and new people to engage with our community.

3. “The Five Second Rule” is perhaps the best rule I learned about email marketing. Have you captured the reader in three seconds? Can you open an email and know what it’s trying to ask you in five seconds? If not, you should redesign.

4. Stories that asked people to take action were always the most clicked on stories in our last iteration. This is unsurprising, but “learn more” and “read more” don’t seem to move our readers. “Sign this petition” and “Sign up” were always well-received.

5. There is no statistically “best time” to send an email newsletter. The best time to send an email newsletter is “when it’s ready.” While every two weeks is a good goal for the newsletter, sending it slightly less frequently will not take away from its impact.

6. As M & R writes, “For everything, (churn churn churn) there is a season (churn, churn, churn)…” our churn rate on the newsletter was pretty high (we lost and gained subscribers at a high rate.) I’m hoping that our new regular features about teaching and learning as well as privacy will highlight what’s great about our community and how to take action.

And now to the redesign!

The first thing you’ll notice is that our newsletter is now called “Mozilla Communities.” We voted on the new name a few weeks ago after the Grow Mozilla call. Thanks to everyone who gave feedback.

Newsletter overview

An overview of the newsletter’s new look.

Mozilla Communities

While the overall feel remains the same and is in line with other Mozilla-branded newsletters, the new look incorporates a few “evergreen” opportunities and actions you can take before the fold as well as features a contributor in their own words. (For the draft of the new design, that contributor is me!) The easy actions on the left hand side will rotate out as needed and increase in commitment level as you read down the page. Also, take a look at the awesome logo from Christie Koehler!


Section 2 of newsletter

The next section presents rotating features on our privacy and educational initiatives. Privacy and education span a variety of functional areas, so this section could be populated by a variety of community endeavors. At the bottom of these sections, there’s a Facebook post and Tweet that you can post to easily take action, promote our communities, and get social to protect the Internet.


Gear store story

The next section features a story that engages the reader to take action! (In this case it invites readers into our awesome new gear store…) This story about Mozilla communities will rotate out according to the content that you submit. It will also be action-oriented, easy, and fun.

Last story and Mozillian Moments

This last story is optional and will be rotated in and out according to testing during the first few issues. (Early feedback feared that there were too many stories.) In the draft design, we’re announcing a new contribution area. This will be a place for new community contribution areas, pathways, and opportunities to connect. The new photo section, “Mozillian Moments,” replaces our “Photo of the Week” section from the last iteration.


newsletter footer

Finally, the footer reminds the reader that this newsletter is community-created and community-supported. It also invites readers to join us on social media. In the upcoming issues, the newsletter will also link to the new “Guides” forum that will help contributors find mentorship opportunities and connect with their fellow Mozillians.


What we need from you:

1. We need writers, coders, social media gurus, copy editors, and designers who are interested in consistently testing and improving the newsletter. The opportunity newsletter is a new contribution area on the October 15th relaunch of the Get Involved page (under the “Writing –> Journalism” drop down choice) and I’m hoping that will engage new contributors as well.

2. A newsletter can’t run without content, and we experimented with lots of ways to collect that content in the last few months. Do you have content for the newsletter? Do you want to be a featured contributor? Reach out to mozilla-communities at mozilla dot com.

3. Feedback requested! I put together an Etherpad that asks specific questions about improving the design. Please put your feedback here or leave it in the comments.

The newsletter is a place for us to showcase our work and connect with each other. We can only continue improving, incorporating best practices, and connecting more deeply and authentically through our platforms. Thank you to everyone who helped in the Mozilla Communities redesign and to all of you who support Mozilla communities every day.