I think I’m ready to consider my next large contract, but only if it’s exactly right.  And I mean that: I’m perfectly happy right now hanging out in Small Contract Land, and I won’t let anything big into my life unless it’s absolutely the right match for both of us.  But maybe that perfect match is out there somewhere, just waiting for me to wink in the right direction. Let’s find out…*

Passionate Multi-Talented Consultant Seeks Online Community that has Lost its Way

Me? I’m a smart, tech-savvy online community organizer who gets really excited about making good stuff happen in the world.

You? You’re the extended online community of a company that appreciates you and wants you to be happy, but that doesn’t quite know how to take good care of you yet. You have a lot to offer and you can tell this organization wants you to shine, but for some reason, somehow, the pieces just aren’t lining up.

At your core, you’re a real catch (and you know it, too). You enjoy lively, informed discussions and you sincerely care about helping people. (In fact, you often have so many ideas about how the world could be better that you can hardly contain yourself! It’s okay, I understand that.) You’re creative and multi-faceted with lots of hobbies and interests, and you bring what seems like lifetimes of experience to the table. Anyone would consider themselves lucky to have you, but it’s disappointingly rare for you to be with someone who grasps exactly how precious and invaluable you really are.

If you let me in, I will be that someone. I will listen to you, find out what you need, and do whatever I can to provide for you.  I will ease your internal conflicts and nurture the parts of you that want to make the world a better place.  I will help bridge that gap between your needs and your organization’s needs, and I will empower you to make a meaningful difference in the way they approach their work.  Under my care, you will grow stronger and healthier, making it possible for you to also grow bigger.

But I need to tell you up front: I’m not interested in a traditional relationship. If you’re looking for the perfect partner who will meet all of your needs for the rest of your life, you’ll have to keep looking — that’s not me.  I have a rich and varied lifestyle with room only for hot, life-changing affairs, and I want us to live in the moment on this one. I’ll come in to your life, strengthen you, heal your wounds, and make the connections you’re craving. I’ll show your organization exactly how valuable you can be to them, and I’ll teach both of you to take care of each other directly, so you won’t need to rely on me. And then I’ll let you stand up on your own.

Are you okay with that?  I know the goodbye will be hard, but I think you’ll agree with me that it will have all been worth it.

A little more about me… I’ve founded and nurtured several online communities that grew in size and scope over time by natural interest. I’m fascinated with what drives people to contribute to things, and obsessed with helping them find ways to do it. I’m excited, engaging, optimistic, and interesting. And I also work my butt off.

I’ve been blogging and building websites for over ten years, and have expert skills in HTML and CSS, as well as strong social media savvy. I’m also a formally trained technical writer with a knack for making complex things easy to understand.  I’ve been making a living as a technology consultant for over five years, and I work well in lots of different environments, including from my home. I’m in San Francisco, but you can be based anywhere.

The arrangement I’m looking for would involve a contract (I’m not an employee) at respectable business rates.  My ideal commitment would be about 20 hours a week over a period of 6 – 12 months, but I want to make sure all your needs are being met, too.

If you know the matchmaker who can arrange this affair, please send this to them, and I will owe you a hundred hugs.

And if that matchmaker is you, I look forward to your reply. Please email me here:

info at sarahdopp dot com

…and we can further explore our compatibility.

With great appreciation,
Sarah

* a hat tip to Havi for this format. (Have you read her stuff yet? She’s wonderful.)

I tried to give a talk called “Aikido Moves for Online Community Management” at Social Media for Social Change in Oakland a few weeks ago, but it didn’t quite go as planned.  About fifteen minutes into me babbling tips and techniques to a room full of people who looked at me like I was speaking German, someone finally asked the question no one else would:

“What’s an online community?”

There were nods and exhales all around.

Woops. Ok. Let’s start over.

A community is a group of people who recognize that they have something in common.  An online community is what they get when they interact with each other on the Internet.

Unlike blogs which have a mostly-standardized format, online communities show up in lots of different structures.  These include:

  • Forums and message boards
  • Chat rooms
  • Email discussion groups
  • Blog posts
  • Blog comments
  • Wikis
  • Community areas (groups, fan pages) within a big social networking site
  • Community-specific social networking sites
  • Any number of custom-feature websites, widgets, applications that let people do stuff
  • Interactions happening anywhere on the Internet

Really, if you think online communities usually come in formulaic cookie-cutter websites, please go read that list again a few times. What we’re talking about here is how people want to interact — not how we think they should.

There are three other quirky things about online communities that I want to make absolutely clear:

1) The levels of commitment people have to them vary wildly. More often than we want to admit, it’s just a fleeting interest, and that’s okay. (Example: If I have a question about my HP printer and go digging through Internet forums for answers, I become part of the HP consumer support community for about an hour. And then I don’t care anymore.)

2) The levels of interaction people get into also vary wildly. See the 90-9-1 Principle: in any online community, about 90% of the people involved are just there to read (and please don’t demean this group as “lurkers” — think of how many websites you visit that you don’t say a word on!).  9% will respond to or improve the content that’s already there.  And 1% will generate new content from scratch.  Yes, this is an über-simplification and will vary by structure, but I can tell you from my own experience that it’s accurate enough.

3) The uniting factor for a community can be pretty much anything. Pick any combination of people, places, things, identities, experiences, and ideas. If people have it in common, there’s a potential community there. This isn’t to say that every topic is worth putting energy into, but please: if you have a limiting idea in your head about what people actually care about, now’s a good time to ditch it.

Now this leads us to the next question: “When does an online community need a manager?”

Not always. But sometimes.

If you or your organization created the space that the community is using to interact, and if it’s important to you that the community maintains a certain level of focus or respect, then you probably need a manager.

A manager is someone who smooths out the edges, advocates for what’s most important, encourages participation, and helps people get what they need.  They are not dictators. If a manager’s unchecked goal and approach is to control a community, the community will find a way to mutiny.

Thus, I want to offer you a set of techniques I’ve picked up in my experience managing the communities at The Writ (an online writing workshop that had 2,000+ members; no longer open) and Genderfork (a volunteer-run community expression blog with 10,000+ readers).  I call them Aikido Moves for Online Community Management.  They’re ways to keep the peace and stay on track without being a jerk.

And now that you’ve read this intro material, I’ll post them soon.

Love,
Sarah

Over the course of June, I moved from a large one-bedroom apartment in the residential near-the-ocean side San Francisco to a tiny studio near Market St. We’re talking massive downsizing and culture change here.  I’ve been “settled” for a month now, but am still lacking some important furniture and tripping over boxes in the morning.  I’m close, though.

Here are the gem lessons I’ve picked up so far…

  • Getting a sunny paintjob and having a bed built into my walk-in closet were both really good ideas, and also made the fact that I had a month of overlap time between the two apartments completely necessary. I don’t know how it could have been done otherwise. (I have to keep telling myself this because paying double rent for a month was rough.)
  • I can live alone, but I can’t move alone. Getting help from friends made the job 75% easier.
  • Friends who have buff arms from rock climbing are inclined to carry heavy objects in exchange for bottles of bourbon.
  • Of the stuff that needs to be given away, offer the exciting things to friends. Crock pots, it turns out, are very exciting.
  • There are some things that are too nice to trash, not exciting enough to give away, and not [whatever] enough to donate. Things like half-used hair products and hot sauces.  I filled two trashbags with these things, called them Grab Bags, and offered them to friends under the condition that they take EVERYTHING inside them.  They went for it.
  • If your friends aren’t biting, Craigslist will literally take most anything off your hands within an hour. Swallow your pride and use the “Free” section. You need the quick solution, the extra time, the good karma, and that excited person’s undying gratitude way more than you need $20 right now. Unless you thought ahead, that is, because…
  • Whatever nonessential downsizing and upgrading you hope will happen in the midst of the Momentum of Moving actually needs to happen at least two weeks before the final move. Any sorting you procrastinate into those last two weeks has a good change of just getting thrown into a box and taken with you, and you’ll still be sitting on it after you unpack.
  • It wasn’t enough just to move and give away half my stuff. I also needed to migrate computers, face having to get a new phone (still procrastinating that one), and quit my job (sorta. long story. more on that one later), all at the same time.  There’s something to be said for dealing with lots of change at once, but damn that was a lot of painful displacement. I think I’d be easier on myself next time. (My poor partner kept half-joking, “Are you gonna get rid of me, too?”)
  • Professional carpet cleaners are AWESOME. But most of them need more than a day’s notice if you’re calling at the end of the month (when the rest of the city is moving, too).
  • How to clean when you’re moving: Start with the farthest room or closet from your front door, make sure everything is cleared out of it, spray it down with some fierce cleaner stuffs,  leave it for a few minutes, wipe it down, air it out, close the door, and tape that door shut. You’re done with that room for the rest of your life.  Now do the next one.
  • DON’T BE FOOLED. Moving doesn’t end when you’re done with moving.  Then you have to unpack.  AND UNPACKING TAKES LONGER.
  • But you can procrastinate that, since there’s no landlord looking over your shoulder reminding you of your deadline. Which means you may never finish it. Which sucks.

I think I’ll stay here for awhile.

I recently spoke at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA about the “grey areas” of gender and sexuality. The event was sponsored by the school’s FMLA student organization (a feminist leadership group), and we called the presentation, “Sex, Queers, and Finding Home.”

I mixed up the talk by telling my own story, talking about Genderfork, performing some spoken word pieces about queer identity, and answering questions. Thanks to Sheik (one of my Genderfork volunteers), I have some pretty decent footage from the event, which I’m excited to share.  (This is also one of my first ever attempts at video editing, so forgive the amount of time it took me to get it to you.)

Here’s me answering some questions about where Genderfork came from and how it’s working…

More telling stories and answering questions…

And here’s a spoken word poem that (sort of) clarifies my sexual orientation:

More spoken word…

The last two pieces on the list are marked “not safe for work” because they talk about sex.  This means you probably shouldn’t play them loudly at your office.  It ALSO means that if you would rather I didn’t tell you about my sex life, you probably don’t want to watch them at all.  Family members and professional colleagues: I’ll let you make your own call here. I’m including them because they were relevant to the talk.

The night was a LOT of fun with a great audience that was so wonderfully engaged it was humbling. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

And speaking of which… if anyone else would like to lure me out to a microphone somewhere, please send me an email: info at sarahdopp dot com.

(note: if you don’t see two youtube videos embedded in this post, try reloading the page. thanks.)

wiiI’ve always traveled in gamer circles and never been a gamer. I don’t what it is about them, but I love the gamer types — they’re passionate, geeky, focused, funny, creative…. something. Or maybe it’s just that everyone in the world is a gamer except me, and that’s why I always feel surrounded. Regardless, for the last 15 years or so, I’ve always taken the emergence of a video game console or colorful set of 20-sided dice as my cue to leave a party and call it a night.

So I was rather surprised at myself when I bought a Nintendo Wii in January. Maybe it was my rebellion against feeling socially excluded for so long — this Wii is mine, all mine. Or maybe I just thought it would fit me.

I ditched Wii Sports immediately (I hate sports), bought a Wii Fit (which is a nice way to get myself to move when I don’t want to leave my house), picked up House of the Dead and some gun accessories for zombie-killing date nights (way more romantic than you might imagine), and splurged on Super Paper Mario Bros (which I love).

Here’s what my Wii has taught me so far…

#1) I get really excited when I can figure out a strategy on my own. I don’t want to be told how to do things — I want to be given information to work with and make my own decisions. Even if I’m going to come to the same conclusions everyone else did and, really, we could have just saved me an hour just by spelling it out up front… I won’t love it unless I came up with it myself.

#2) I pay attention to feedback when it can help me refine my strategies. Otherwise, I ignore it. Points, music, flashing colors, info bars, whatever… if I recognize that it can help me do something better, it’s on my radar. If I don’t, it may as well not exist.

#3) I want to be able to test and refine my strategies immediately, as soon as I come up with them. A game is addictive to me when there is minimal barrier between “Oh, I think I know what I should have done differently,” and trying that out.

#4) I like kid stuff. I don’t care how much I grow up, I think I’m always going to like something that’s simple, colorful, and pleasantly engaging… as long as I can connect with it without messing with my social reputation too much.  And Wii is cool, so I’m okay.

#5) With my lifestyle, I’m probably going to get RSI. My Wii arm gently informed my mousing arm of this fact. And the RSI is probably going to be because of my mousing arm, not my Wii arm.  And I should probably do something about that likelihood sooner rather than later.  Argh.

Okay, so that last one was a downer. But the rest were really intriguing to me, and I want to apply them to web development and community management somehow.

What patterns have you noticed about your brain in gaming?

I have a friend who’s bigger than me. He’s in his fifties and has big arms, big legs, and a convex belly that’s soft to curl up against.  It’s Sunday today, so he’ll probably be running 12 miles this afternoon — he’s training for the Alcatraz Triathlon. This would probably concern me (they built that prison on that island so people would DIE if they tried to escape and swim away!!), except that he’s already done it twice.

I have another friend who’s petite, thin, and beautiful. Her arms, legs, and belly are small and firm, and they look like they came straight off an airbrushed magazine cover.   She’s in her thirties, and she will probably be thin and gorgeous her entire life.  She never ever exercises, and she eats whatever she wants.

The idea that body size and body fitness are separate things is a fairly new concept for me.  I grew up thinking that big meant bad (lazy, unhealthy, ugly) and small meant good (active, healthy, beautiful). Unfortunately, at 5’10” with a large bone structure, it didn’t really matter how much I exercised, I was always going to be big.

My mother and I spent a long time being at odds with each other on this subject (we’re now on neutral, mutually-respectful territory, and I should mention she’ll probably read this post — hi Mom!).  She, too, was conditioned by experiences and culture to equate big with bad and small with good,  and she passed some of that on to me.  More than that, though, she believed that exercising makes you happier (it does), and hoped to heal some of my adolescent depression by encouraging me to go to the gym.  Her intentions were in the right place, but when paired with the “big = bad” philosophy, this encouragement just poked more holes in my self-esteem. She was saying, “I want you to love yourself more,” and I heard, “You’re not good enough the way you are.”

I probably don’t have to explain how any attempt to express, “You should go to a gym,” can easily come out wrong.  But it’s worth mentioning that even her attempts at positive reinforcement were thwarted by the screwed up body image culture.  I heard any compliment about my body (“You’ve gotten skinnier!”) as “What you weigh is very important to me.” This further reinforced the big = bad, small = good problem, and reminded me that I’ll always be big. You can’t win at a game with broken rules.

Moving to San Francisco and meeting phenomenal people like Debbie Notkin and Laurie Toby Edison (who put out a beautiful book of artsy nude photos of fat women called Women En Large, and who also write the body image activist blog, Body Impolitic) changed a lot for me. They explained to me that our cultural aversion to large bodies is severely disproportionate to our interest in being healthy, and that a lot of the time the two are completely unrelated.  Debbie and Laurie’s work also helped me unlock another part of my brain that had been shamed into hibernation: I find confident, curvy women hot! Even further?  Big men are hot, too.

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Parents, children, or anyone who has ever been either one of those; fans of social skills development, special needs advocacy and/or special education fundraising; or anyone who simply enjoys a good storytelling session:

Come join editors Shannon Des Roches Rosa and Jennifer Byde Myers as they talk about the mission of the Can I Sit With You? Project, then laugh and squirm through live story readings by four of our most popular authors.

The Can I Sit With You? Project’s frequently hilarious and often heartbreaking stories will be appropriate for anyone who has ever struggled with awkward social scenarios at school — especially so for currently curious, concerned, or socially cornered children.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009, 7:00 PM
Redwood City Main Library, Fireplace Room
1044 Middlefield Road, Redwood City, CA 94063

Featured Readers:
Mike Adamick, The Weirdest Kid in the World
Amanda Jones, The Cure of Nowhere
Sarah Dopp, Will You Go Out With Me?  (hey look! that’s me!)
Judy McCrary Koeppen, Men-Stru-a-Tion

Copies of Can I Sit With You Too?, our second story collection, will be available for purchase (and signing).

Remember, all proceeds from The Can I Sit With You? Project (www.canisitwithyou.org) fund SEPTAR, the Special Education PTA of the Redwood City School District.

Thank you for your support.

Parents: please review the featured stories (linked above) if you have concerns about subject matter.

We’d really love to see you all there!

——

Direct page link to the information above, for copious forwarding, Facebook Status updating, or Tweeting:

http://www.canisitwithyou.org/?p=345

First of all, thank you for all the kind notes of support you’ve been sending me over the last month. I’m so grateful for your comfort, inspiration, and encouragement.

sarah-tree-byamygahran.jpgI just got back to San Francisco after that three-week emotional roller-coaster. In a nutshell: I got to NH just in time (thanks to you). I held my grandmother as she died. I picked out her casket. I spoke at her funeral. I held the hands of two young cousins as they walked through everything they feared about death. I wrote. I worked. I spent two weeks living with my grandfather, helping him sort through details, clothing, trinkets, sympathy cards, visions for the future, and messy smatterings of sadness. I missed two Queer Open Mics. I left my car parked illegally. I forgot to pay my rent. I attended my cousin’s wedding. I fixed issues on four family computers. I found people. I held space for grief. I invented a new card game. I flew to Colorado and hiked beside the Continental Divide.  I threw a snowball in August.

And the lesson I’m taking home from all this is actually about dancing in China six years ago. It may seem completely unrelated, but it’s not.  Here’s what happened:

The “Dancing in China” Story

In 2002, I spent four months living in China. More than half of that trip was unplanned — I attended a 5-week study abroad program, and then just didn’t get on my plane home. Instead I set up shop in Qingdao, connected with other ex-pats, taught English under the table, and rented an apartment illegally. I spent many nights at a local bar called the Jazz Bar, which was the central hub for foreigners (and Chinese people who wanted to meet foreigners).

The bar was large and had great floor space. A local band named Angel Hair Tobacco played covers of American rock songs three times a week. It was a neighborhood pub set up for drinking, chatting, and playing darts. No one there danced.

My friends and I spent most nights playing cards, where the winner of each game always dared the loser to do something small and silly. After one particular card game, where I came out as the loser, the winner dared me to get up and dance to the next song at the front of bar.  This was a hugely bold dare and my pals laughed at the idea, figuring I would refuse to break the no-dancing taboo.

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Okay, here’s the plan:

Everyone in the Bay Area who’s paying attention right now, please do the following (even if you’re in a monogamous relationship)…

  1. Go to CrazyBlindDate.com.
  2. Walk through the SF Bay Area site wizard (it doesn’t ask for any personal info until the end)
  3. Make yourself available for Sunday, Monday, and/or Tuesday nights (the more the better).
  4. Make your territory as broad as you feel comfortable with, but at least include San Francisco’s Mission District (you can get there. i know you can).
  5. Make yourself available for all ages and genders with no other restrictions (come on! you can deal with this! okay, specify gender IF YOU MUST).
  6. Use the “Intention” box to be honest about the fact that you’re just doing this for fun and to meet new people. (You should probably mention that monogamous relationship of yours, too.)
  7. Finish the wizard, sit back, and see who it sets you up with (you can always say “no”).
  8. Show up (even if it seems really really weird. You’re totally allowed to bail after 20 minutes).
  9. Twitter an update about your date every time you or your date goes to the restroom (keeping in mind that your date might see those tweets).

You’ve got nothing to lose except your pride, and that’s really not worth keeping anyway. Ready? Go.

The other thing that came up in my conversations with Emma today was ego and its relationship to creativity and public presence. Basically, when my inflated ego is running the show, my work kinda sucks. But when I can skirt under its radar and stay decently humble, I can do wonderful things.

I got hit in the head with this fact about five years ago when I was living on the East Coast and calling myself a “poet.” I was performing frequently, winning slams (competitions), influencing local arts culture, and being told daily how amazing I was. My ego inflated to the size of a rhinoceros, and then — almost immediately — something horrible happened: I stopped writing poetry for three years.

It was the kind of writer’s block that I’ve heard referred to as Superstar Syndrome: I felt like I couldn’t top my own work. I had become so invested in the identity of being impressive that I lost all willingness to make mistakes. It felt safer to create nothing than to risk creating something less-than-awesome.

Fast forward to now, where I’m slowly inching my toes back into the poetry pool (the water’s nice!), and playing around in Social Media sandbox. I’m aware that I’m mumbling into a megaphone with all these fancy tools, toys, and words, and that I don’t get to control the outcomes. Occasionally I get hit with an ego bomb that catches me completely off guard, and I’m reminded to check in with my intentions.

Encouragement is helpful and I usually need some kind of validation, but I also have to constantly work to find a safe balance in my self-image. It’s not something I can just “fix” — it’s constant maintenance. It’s spiritual grounding. It’s remembering that we’re all equal. It’s remembering that when other people give me attention, it’s not about me; it’s about them.

But oooh…. look at all my shiny twitter followers… Look! I must be awesome!

Down, girl. Sit. Stay.