the road ahead

I have gone far too long without an update here. Blogs being what they are, I am certain this has not been a problem but usually I just fail to update because I’m busy or because I don’t have much to say. This time it was much more because I wasn’t sure how to say what I wanted to say. And I still don’t.

In short, I am fine and life is fine, but I made a decision to leave MetaFilter and do a few more things. Unlike leaving a shitty job where you wake up the next morning thinking “I did the exact right thing and why did I wait so long?” this one feels a bit weirder and I think I was putting off writing about it until I had that “This is totally right” feeling but now it’s occurring to me that I may never. It was not a shitty job and yet it was still time to go.

Anyhow, if you know me much at all or follow me on any other social media you know the story already. Revenue was way down, layoffs needed to happen. As employee #1 (after Matt) I had a choice to either continue working but in more of an “everyone works all the time” sort of way or move on and let someone else stay working there. The last eighteen months of working at MeFi had been, for me, difficult. We knew revenue was down, Google’s mechanisms were opaque, Matt didn’t want to tell the community about the problems, he and pb tried an awful lot of cost-saving measures but every so often there would be a “Things are looking worse than usual” email to the staff and continued discussions that the site might have to actually shut down or be sold. As Director of Operations–more of a title that I took when I also had to take a pay cut last year than an actual description of what I did–I offered a lot of suggestions and tried to keep staff morale up, but the final decisions were Matt’s to make. And it was hard, for a long time. And ultimately, as much as I loved the job, I had a few conflicting concerns…

1. I wanted to do more work with libraries. The MeFi job was pretty flexible, but the more public speaking I was doing the more I’d have to get coverage when I was away and the more I’d be working seven-day weeks including travel/speaking time. This was too much. AskMe is an amazing resource and I feel like I had a big hand in making it what it is but it’s not public and it’s not a library.
2. I was getting burned out. People who have done similar jobs know what this is like but I’d find myself looking at big fighty threads and just thinking that everyone was being awful (which, in truth, they may have been) and not wanting to wade into it to help sort it out. The community deserved better than that. Many of the other mods are better at not letting this stuff get under their skin so much. This was a good news/bad news thing. I think I was very good at my job because I cared so much about it, but it also took a lot out of me. And the meticulous attention to the work that I did may have been more than the site really needed. Maybe.
3. I was tired of covering. We’d been living with this news for nearly two years and I’d already nearly-resigned once. After the public announcements were made about the money problems and the layoffs, the community responded incredibly positively and started donating a ton of money to keep the lights on. This was, for me, incredibly gratifying but also sort of a bitter pill since it was a thing I’d wanted to do much earlier in the game, when I was still around. We’d launched a mod-intensive subsite a month before we were announcing that we were laying people off. I love the subsite, I thought the timing of the move was a mistake. But I think more to the point, I was tired of being one of the main public faces of a site where I wasn’t calling the shots, and disagreeing with some of the shots. Matt’s a wonderful guy as a person, he has some shortcomings as a boss. I’m certain I have some shortcomings as an employee. I really wanted to be in a workplace situation where I could work hard and get positive feedback for that work, or if not, feedback on how to improve. Instead I got paid well to work in a vacuum which was great but weird, mostly left alone but with occasional “Hey we’re going to make some big changes in 48 hours” emails. When Matt’s post on Medium about “the troubles” mentioned me only for my scheduling work, that stung. And made me think, more than anything else, that I was making the right decision. I needed MetaFilter to be less about me and I needed me to be less about MetaFilter.
4. I had a place to go. When the MeFi stuff started being difficult I decided I needed a hobby and I started a volunteer job over at Open Library helping do the support email there and beef up their FAQ, trying to make what had been a bit of a ghost ship into a live concern. As I was casting about thinking about what my Plan B was going to be, I asked them if they’d consider bringing me on and they said “Sure!” So I started a part time gig there a month before I left MeFi. Longer description of that here. And, since MeFi was such a good job for so long, I have a chunk of money in the bank so I don’t have to start scrambling for other work just yet.
5. I am aware this may sound snotty but I think I had sort of peaked at MeFi. I wasn’t sure there were new paths to explore there within the structure as it was and I didn’t see the structure changing. Ultimately I took the place from a Matt-and-sometimes-Jess place to a site with a staff of eight round-the-clock employees and a bunch of community-enhancing stuff (April Fool’s events, holiday swaps, music exchanges, the MeFi Mall, a user-built wiki with full podcast transcripts) better than any place else operating at a similar scale. A place where you could read the comments and not be appalled at how terrible “internet people” can be. A place where even if you did have a bad day, you’d have a chance for a better one. A place that was a good place to work as well as a good place to hang out, for the most part.

So it worked out. MetaFilter did right by me and I think I did right by MetaFilter. I’ve committed myself to not starting to look for other work until the summer starts winding down. I’ve been keeping up on my public speaking and redesigned my “Hey you might want to hire me” site and it looks really nice. I’ve taken over the Twitter accounts for Open Library and the Vermont Library Association and I’ve recommitted myself to reading books as if it were my job (check the reading list). I’ve been pruning the junipers at my dad’s place a lot these past few days and realizing that my grandmother (who used to do this a lot) may have really had something there.

And MetaFilter? It’s still my internet home and I’m still there a lot of the time, but being there because I want to be is a whole different kind of being there, and one that I like a lot.

muppet! and tree swallows.


I went away last weekend and headed down to Amherst where I hung out with Jim and my friend Matthew, went walking around outside a lot, ate a lot of delicious food and saw the Asylum Street Spankers for the first time on what was, sadly, their farewell tour. It was a good time.

The last few weeks have been a lot of adjusting to the shorter days and hoping that my poozly sinuses can hold up long enough for my ENT appointment which is in December. So, I’ve been scarfing down a lot of zinc, drinking a lot of tea, trying to get some sunlight and dwelling on my least favorite dwelling-topics: sinus infections (avoiding) and sleep (getting enough of). Mostly successful.

A story you might like is how this video of my colleague Josh and I swearing up a blue streak wound up making $200 for my local food bank. It’s sort of complicated and involves a lot of inside baseball, but I’ve had a frustrating day trying to explain Mac computers to local folks, so I’ll try this.

– There was a thread on Ask MetaFilter where some one asked for good jovial insults to call your friends. It was, predictably, hilarious.
– So, we mentioned it in the monthly podcast. Yes there is a podcast, about a website. And yeah it’s really us talking about the website. I can’t explain it, it is somehow good.
– In the comments for the podcast — yes we put the podcast about the website on the website itself and then people comment on the website, about the podcast — someone mentions that he’ll give $20 to my favorite charity if I read the list of insults into a video camera. He did this knowing full well I would totally do this.
– Josh (cortex on MetaFilter) offers to help and he is much handier with video stuff than I am.
– I do the reading and send the link to my friend who donates $20 to the Randolph Area Food Shelf (my charity of choice) via PayPal. He mentions it on Twitter and a few other people offer to make donations if I send them the link. I do
– The next day, Josh finishes the remix and it is terrific. He makes a separate thread about the new video and people enjoy it and because PayPal is so ridiculously simple, chip in some cash for the food bank.
– I put up the original video of me just reading words off, with no remixing. At some point I decide to explain to the Food Shelf what exactly is going on and I receive a nice note back from them. I have no idea if they saw the video or not.
– I teach a somewhat frustrating Mac class and decide I would rather explain this to internet strangers [and facebook friends] than make myself a drink.

This has nothing to do with tree swallow houses, which I decided to use as an illustration on the off chance that an auto-playing video of me swearing like a sailor might be surprising or off-putting to anyone. I realize this is not likely.

I was waiting for the fire truck

I was waiting, today, for the fire truck picture, the photo of me in the fire truck, before I started typing here in the box. There’s always a reason I haven’t updated, but rarely a good one. Randolph Vermont is still in the lake. I have written a song about it. I need to get the neighbors together to record it. I have been struck down with a terrible head cold for the past week (week!) and I have been marshalling my energy to keep to my word count (successfully). At some point I just decide that a life with a headfull of terrible snot may be all that lays ahead of me for the rest of my life and I get off my ass and clean the house and do what I call “powering through it”

Other people call this “getting better” but I’ll believe it when I see it. I got a neti pot. It’s okay and fits my personal ethos of ridiculousness.

There was some drama last week in the MetaFilter world which I don’t have much to say about except that it raised a very interesting point about my job there. You can read more about it from the sources linked on this page. Thanks to the 24 hour news cycle there’s not much more to it. The women involved are safe and staying with some MetaFilter people in New York. Nothing bad happened to them. It’s tough if not impossible to prove that anything bad ever was going to happen to them, and a dramatic story becomes a non-story. I talked to a guy from Slate yesterday about who I could put him in touch with, to verify the chain of events, the actual threat, the urgency of the matter, etc. All of the people involved in big ways [lawyers, cops, government workers, aid agencies] can’t really say anything. And all the people from MetaFilter are people I know “from the internet” and it all goes from being a very interesting and dramatic and gripping story to being like telling someone about a comic book you read. “And then the really big monster, he has like these metal claws, and he goes up to the big fuzzy snakelike thing, which has these articulating teeth and goes GRARARARAR and sort of waves his tail around, and then….”

I’m okay being under the radar. And okay being under the lake.

the last thing I will say for a while about MetaFilter

I wish I could say I’ve been not-around online because it’s been lovely outside, but in truth it’s been raining an awful lot, but it’s sunny today! MetaFilter turned ten years old yesterday which was an occasion for much online grab-assery as well as a lot of “awwww” reminiscing. I’ve been using the site since maybe early 2000 and it’s been my paid job (or one of my paid jobs) since 2004-ish. It’s a great job, my co-workers are terrific and I’ve met a lot of real life people who make my life excellent. Tomorrow I’ll be heading to New Orleans for an in-person MeFi Tenth party and a few days of hangout time. I made this little movie yesterday in response to Josh’s little movie and I think it’s amusing and you might enjoy it.

how do I get a job like yours?

I’m on my way to the SXSW Conference in Austin Texas. This will be the third time I’ve gone. The first time was in 2000 and I met my boss and co-worker there, though I didn’t know it at the time. The second time was last year and I gave a little presentation about being a community moderator for a job. As I mentioned in this photo on Flickr — and I’m working on a longer post about the topic for — I culturally identify as a librarian, whatever that means, but being a community moderator (or Chief of Operations when I’m sounding fancy) is what pays the bills and is the bulk of my income. It also keeps me in computers and free Internet when I travel but I’m one of those folks who loves what they do so I could probably get paid in sand and still be doing this.

It’s only been lately, really, that you could say “Oh I ‘run a community’ for my job” and have people know what you meant. Back in the day AOL had people who sort of kept track of what was going on in chatrooms and had some admin privileges but nowadays if you interact with any website that allows you to post or comment or rate anything, chances are there’s someone like me behind the scenes making sure it goes smoothly. The panel is going to be talking a little bit about that: what does it mean to do this sort of thing as a job, or even a career? I’ll be on the panel with people from Flickr, YouTube, CurrentTV and Etsy, all big name sites. I’m sort of the small potatoes person. MetaFilter was a community before any of those sites existed, but it’s stayed pretty small (relatively) and texty and off of people’s radar. That said, Matt Haughey who runs the place has been doing some form of community moderation since 1999 which is the Stone Age in Internet time.

People often ask how they can get a job like mine. Sometimes that means running a website, sometimes it means doing public speaking stuff, sometimes it means rural public librarian stuff, sometimes it’s teaching email to old people. The way the crazy swinging mobile of my work-life arrangements work, it would be hard for me to do any one of these things without the other three (though I do think about it) and my advice often turns into some hippie-dippy “follow your bliss” combined with “don’t get into debt so you can work for cheap while you wait to get paid well for being good at what you do” The last bit of advice I have is “You don’t want my life” Not that it doesn’t work well for me, it does, but when I talk about what’s really involved in keeping all these balls in the air (lots of travel, lots of online time, lots of multitasking, lots of new faces and places, lots of diplomacy, lots of apologizing for me and for others, lots of late nights) it’s really rarely other peoples’ idea of a good time.

I tend to re-configure these questions into something more like “How can I live where I want and do what I want while feeling like I’m having some sort of positive effect in the world?” and that’s the question I try to answer. I’m looking forward to hearing what the other panelists have to say about similar questions.

a few worthwhile things from the internet

coral snake fights alligator thing.

Every so often I rue the fact that this part of my website is really more of a journally thing than a bloggy thing. Sometimes I have internet things that I want to refer to that don’t fit on This is one of those times. Here are those things.

  1. I made a post on MetaFilter about a chapter in the excellent book my friend Matthew gave me. The book is called Amazing Rare Things, about the history of nature illustrations with tons of lovely drawings, and the chapter I found links for was about The Paper Museum
  2. My friend Adriana made a few great posts on her blog about the poetry of ASL. You may want to read Flying Words and Good Things. A while ago I also made a post on MetaFilter about my favorite at-the-time YouTube trend of people who spoke sign language doing signed versions of popular songs. I guess it’s standard fare for ASL classes, and some of the people whose songs I enjoyed were clearly hearing folks, but I had a good time watching people signing songs I was familiar with and perhaps you will too. And, amusingly, my favorite of all these is a Mexican Sign Language version of Hips Don’t Lie (originally by Shakira) who is a singer Adriana turned me on to originally.
  3. I am speaking on a panel at SXSW next weekend. My panel is called Social Network Coups: The Users Are Revolting. It’s amusing because the name of the libraryland book I co-edited has the word Revolting in the title too and yet has nothing to do with this. The panel is on Saturday at 5 pm at the same time as seventeen other SXSWi events. If you’re nearby, stop on in, but I’ll understand if you don’t.
  4. Someone else on MetaFilter helped me remember a book that I loved from when I was a kid: The Animated Thumbtack Railroad Dollhouse and All-Around Surprise Book! by Louis Phillips and Lynn Braswell. As I related to someone, I can remember going to visit my great grandmother in Pennsylvania and she had this book, among other things as distractions for us kids while the adults did that boring “sit around and talk” thing they always did. I loved it and its wacky humor and think it went a good ways towards my love of Donald Barthelme later on in my adult life.

I can’t remember what else there was I wanted to show you, but I may add it here at some later date if I remember.

away and return

I was away. MetaFilter had an eighth anniversary party in Portland Oregon and I got flown out to attend. I also got to see some friends I haven’t seen in a while and meet some new ones. I like Portland. It feels like Seattle did when I first got there, before Seattle got hinky and most of my friends moved away. The MeFi party was at Ground Kontrol, a video game and pinball arcade. MetaFilter sprung for free games all night and an open bar. Maybe 120-130 people showed up over the course of the evening, some I knew, some I didn’t know. I got a high schore on Tempest but it didn’t last. I did some more hangout stuff over the weekend — photos and links forthcoming — but now I have the “I waited to come home til the last minute” problem where I was on the redeye last night and I’m at work today. Sleepily at work.