Last week I asked some of my recent and current clients to offer up a short paragraph that describes what it’s like to work with me, in an effort to update my website’s sidebars.

What I got back was overwhelming.  If you need me, I’ll be over in the corner being bright red and hiding under a jacket.

“I just love Sarah Dopp!” is a pretty common phrase uttered around our office.  Sarah is amazing at what she does—she’s fast, efficient, and detailed oriented—yet she remains humble. No question is ever too stupid to ask Sarah, no task too small.  But the most important thing about Sarah is that she gets our organization, through and through.  Unlike others we’ve worked with in the past, we’ve never had to question Sarah’s advice or intentions, because we know she inherently shares the same set of beliefs as our organization.  And there’s nothing quite as refreshing as working with a consultant like that—a consultant like Sarah Dopp.

— Amy Lafayette
Community Engagement Coordinator/Web Specialist
Planned Parenthood of Northern New England

The first person I hired to set up my website made all sorts of promises and delivered on very few of them. The site languished. As soon as Sarah took over, she sent me lists of everything we should try to do to improve traffic, and immediately set me up to track visits and to easily send her updated tasks. Whenever I have an idea, it goes into our planning grid. We prioritized the tasks and are gradually implementing them as the budget allows.

She has made numerous changes to QlownTown, improving keywords, membership setup, access to the daily cartoon, text and more. She gives me helpful feedback on my ideas and provides great ideas of her own. She always works in my best interest and—very important—can be trusted with confidential information.

I finally have someone I can partner with to take my website to the next level–and beyond!

— Don Smith-Weiss
Cartoonist
Qlowntown.com

Working with Sarah has been a real pleasure, she is fast, direct, communicative, funny and kind to those of us who know very little about the particulars. She brought her skills to our design and concept seamlessly, and made some serious magic.

— Nancy Schwartzman
Filmmaker and Activist
WhereIsYourLine.org

Rarely are people this gifted in technical troubleshooting, editing, and understanding the nuances of communicating with target audiences. Sarah Dopp, it turns out, is a one-stop-shop. Our team loves her! Of all consultants I have hired and collaborated with in my career, she is by far the most thorough, efficient and pleasant to work with. Always focused, prepared and completely tuned in to the project.

My organization can either pay me for 10 hours of frustrating work to troubleshoot something, or I can call Sarah, who will solve my technical problems within minutes with humor and incredible expertise. She is pleasant, accessible, thorough, and knowledgeable. All her suggestions are well considered and appropriate for the scope of whatever project is at hand. I have yet to get any advice less than brilliant.

— Valerie Vass
Director of Community Engagement
Planned Parenthood of Northern New England

Sarah has the remarkable ability to distill a project down to its essence, even as that project changes, which they always do. Building and developing on that essence is where Sarah truly thrives, and I’d have been lost so many times without her magic moonshine.

— Hugh Howie
Producer
hughhowie.com

And on that note, I’m currently available for new clients. :)

deviants online

I’m really excited, and really proud, of what’s starting to happen with Deviants Online.  Not familiar with it? No problem – here are the basics.

Deviants Online was started because, while there are plenty of social media resources for mainstream businesses, there just aren’t many (or any!) for us “deviants” – queer folk, artists, sex geeks, undergrounders, and others that don’t walk the straight and narrow. We wanted to create a way for us to network, learn from each other (and from guests who are experienced at handling the personal / professional / volunteer blend), teach each other, and talk about best practices for handling social media and online networking. Think – a Facebook tutorial for the queerly minded….a Twittering lesson for those who value their personal privacy but want to get the word out about their projects…ideas for blogging artists to get their work in front of more people…and other sexy things to do with Google.

While we’re having the workshops monthly in San Francisco, we wanted to make the conversations available to others who can’t attend, so we’re happy that we’ve got the edited recording of the December ’09 meeting up for your listening enjoyment. We give attendees a chance to chat “off record” and we edit out any mentions of identifying information that slip during the gathering, so what you’ll hear combines the amazing resources & information that come up during the discussion with a healthy respect and protection of personal privacy.

>> Listen to the first workshop here! <<

We’d love for you to join us in coming months – you can see a full schedule at the website. On January 12, Meitar “maymay” Moscovitz will be our featured guest for the next workshop. While we encourage donations to cover the cost of the meeting space, please don’t skip it if money’s an issue for you – we value your presence and energy far more than your money!

Any questions? Just ask…and please come check it out!

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 believe that some communities need managers (or facilitators or moderators — there are a few different flavors to this role).  I also believe there are ways to hold that space respectfully, in a way that takes care of everyone, while still being very strong.  As promised, I want to offer you some of the “moves” I’ve learned over the years in this role, with hopes that you can use them to help guide your own community spaces.

There’s just one problem.  Every time I try to write this blog post, it keeps growing to the size of a book.

So here’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to let it be a series. Last week I gave you the prologue.  Now here’s Part 1: “Aikido Moves for Online Community Management: The Basics,” complete with even more intro material for context.  There will be a Part 2. I promise.

My Training

I’ve been building websites since ’97 and have held the reigns on a number of community-rallying projects.  There are two in particular, though, that I can attribute most of my lessons to.  They are:

The Writ – An online writing workshop and publication that had 2,000+ members and an ever-changing staff of volunteers. It started in 2003 and was just officially closed a few months ago, because it was time.

Genderfork – A community expression blog about gender variance that has 10,000+ readers a month.  It’s run by a staff of 10 volunteers who all have clear responsibilities for maintaining the site. The broader community contributes through submissions and response comments. It’s been around since 2007.

I built both of these spaces from scratch, with the help of friends and community members who wanted to see it succeed. And it’s important to note that in both of these communities, our goals were to:

  • make as many people as possible feel welcome and comfortable, especially newbies.
  • stay focused on a specific topic.
  • collaboratively create something bigger than we could build as individuals.
  • nurture and encourage quality storytelling and art.
  • inspire and guide community members to support and help each other.
  • represent ourselves in a positive way to the rest of the world.

So pretty much all of my advice comes from advocating for this culture.  There are lots of other community cultures that are just as relevant, but I can’t speak about them from experience.

What’s an online community and when does it need a manager?

I’m happy to report that I answered this question in detail last week.  If you’re not 100% clear on what I’m about to talk about, please go read it.  What follows is the beginning of an advanced discussion.  Last week’s post is the 101-level introduction.

Why Aikido?

Aikido is a martial art that involves a lot of rolling around on the floor.  I’ve taken a few classes, I’m not an expert, and if you’re interested in going deeper than the light metaphor I’m offering here, I encourage you to — there’s a lot to learn from it.  But for our purposes, let’s just look at a few basics.  When practicing Aikido, you…

  • blend with the motion of your attacker and redirect their force, rather than opposing it head-on.
  • protect your attacker from injury as you defend yourself.
  • stay in control with minimal effort.
  • remain balanced and focused.
  • roll with the punches.

I find this an incredibly useful metaphor for online community management.

And a few more disclaimers…

1. The thoughts below are limited in scope and context.  They are not comprehensive, and you should not assume they will all apply to your situation. They might not. Sorry.

2. I wish I could tell you I’m coming at this from a place of stability. I’m not. Even as I write this, a discussion is underway in the Genderfork community that might push to have my curation guidelines and original mission statement completely restructured.  This is actually okay.

3. I’m also aware that a lot of people will have plenty of reasons to disagree with me on some of my points.  Go for it — I’m always up for hearing how things can be done better.  (Just, you know, be nice about it please. Thanks.)

“The Basics”

Okay, ready? Here are what I consider to be important foundational moves.

1) Don’t punish people for stuff they haven’t done.

Be careful about comment and moderation policies, and make sure they’re addressing real needs rather than pre-emptively striking against imagined ones.

I anticipated that Genderfork would get a lot of hate mail, and I strongly considered turning on the “you have to be pre-approved to leave comments” setting to guard against it.  If you’ve ever left a comment only to see a “now waiting for moderation” message, you know what a slap in the face that setting feels like.  Fortunately, I decided to wait and see if I really needed it.  70,000+ total visitors later, we still don’t get a single shred of anti-queer hate in our comments.  ZERO. NADA. GOOSE EGG.  (Okay, well there was that one day, but it was super-isolated, and there was a miscommunication, so I say it doesn’t count.)  I now have it set up so that people can even comment anonymously — no name or email address required — because I know they appreciate the option, and they respect the privilege.  Still no hate.  Magic.

2) Set the tone, and the tone will maintain the tone.

Okay, so lack of hate isn’t really “magic” — it’s the tone we set from the beginning.

Have you ever shown up to a conversation that was already in progress?  What did you do?  You listened to what was going on, how people were interacting, and where they were in the discussion before you joined in.  You drew all sorts of conclusions about expectations and protocol just by taking a quick inventory of the situation, and then you went with the flow, adding your perspective in a way that seemed to fit.

That’s what people do when they show up to online communities, too. They take a brief scan around, they pull in whatever cues they can gather, they decide if they want to join in, and then they do so in a way that fits all the factors.  Think of the quality of comments on Flickr versus YouTube.  Flickr takes community management very seriously, and people have gotten the message over time (whether consciously or unconsciously) that being respectful in comments is important.  On YouTube, the expectation is more or less that people will be idiots.  So people are idiots.

Take note of what kind of conversation people are experiencing when they show up to your site. If you monitor it carefully enough in the beginning, it will begin to (mostly) monitor itself.

How do you set the tone? By contributing in the style that you’d like others to contribute. By offering some simple, clear guidelines on how people should treat each other and why. By suggesting to the people in your inner circle that they engage in a certain way. By showing up and being personally involved to positively redirect things when someone goes off course.

3) Stay detached from emotional conversations.

If your job is to keep the community healthy, then your “at ease” stance needs to be slightly above any emotional discussions.  You’re at your most helpful when you’re keeping a bird’s eye view on things and can understand everyone’s perspectives.

This might make you feel like the community’s not really yours.  That’s right. I’m sorry. It’s not. It’s theirs. You are the steward and caretaker, and when you’re hanging out there, you’re on duty.  Like a bartender at a good club, you get plenty of perks from being in the room, but you still need to stay behind the bar.  (And, preferably, sober.)

If you find yourself emotionally involved in a challenging situation, that’s your cue to go find someone else to advise you — someone who understands the community but isn’t involved in the drama. You can’t hold the Smite Buttons and be angry at the same time — that’s just not fair.

But even if you are angry, and you are getting advice from someone more balanced, you still probably need to keep your venting off the Internet. People need to trust you, and blame-heavy ranters are hard to trust.

So go off and kick trashcans, let a friend keep an eye on things while you’re gone, and come back when you’re ready to be sane again.  You just saved yourself from a mutiny.

~~~~

More soon.

Love,
Sarah

I’ve been a busy little monkey lately, reorganizing my work, my home, my life…  Big things are shifting!  I’ve got new clients (who are WONDERFUL), new energy, new undertakings, and new partners helping me keep track of it all.

For the new and confused: I build websites. Right now I’m focused on smart, creative clients who do good things for their communities, and who like to be really involved in their own web presence.  Magically, they’ve been finding me.

What I need right now is an enlarged posse of Kick Ass Collaborators.  Maybe that’s you.  Maybe I already know you’re amazing and we haven’t merged brains in awhile, so it’s time for you to tug on my sleeve.  Maybe you just ran across this post through the ethersphere and you need to introduce yourself.  Maybe it’s somewhere in between.

To be totally clear: I don’t have a specific project that I’m hiring for. There is no work for you in my pocket. Not today. Opportunities are flying around in the air, though, and it helps to know who’s ready to jump on them.

I love working with people who…

  • Can clearly tell me what they kick ass at, and be honest about where they’re less experienced.
  • Prefer the freelance world to the employment world.  (There’s a big culture difference between the two.)
  • Have other clients, creative projects, and exciting stuff in their lives. (Just be sure there’s some space in there for more.)

I should also add, if you don’t already know, that I’m extremely LGBT-, gender-variant-, and “quirky weirdo”-friendly.

Right now I’m MOST interested in Designers.

The one I’ve worked with for years has moved on to other passions, and I need some new talent in the house.  I’m interested in designers who can…

  • Ask a confused client all the right questions to develop the look and feel of a new brand from scratch (logos, colors, fonts, etc).
  • Take an existing brand and a bunch of user experience requirements, and design a website layout in Photoshop that makes everyone happy.
  • Take an existing website design and make it better according to some requirements.
  • Create interesting illustrations for content.
  • Look at some examples of a style, and then design something new using that style.
  • Design something new using your own unique style.
  • Slice up mockups and export images for coding, being careful about file sizes and color quality.
  • Work within an existing webpage using your bonus HTML/CSS skills to change and restyle content.   (Note: WYSIWYG skills don’t count here.)

It’s okay if you don’t do all of those.  In fact, it’s fine if you can only do one of them, as long as you do it really well.

If you’re still nodding “yes that’s me,” please send me an email (info at sarahdopp dot com) with the following:

  • What, from the list above, can you do really well?
  • Please show me some examples of your work that give me a sense of your style and skills.
  • Please tell me what hourly rates (or package prices) you charge for your work.  (Unfortunate truth: I don’t have a lot of energy for negotiation, so if you don’t give me this piece up front, there’s a good chance you’ll fall off my radar. I can tell you that if it’s over $100/hr it’s too high for me, and if it’s under $20/hr it’s too low.  Yeah, I know, that doesn’t quite narrow it down.)
  • Please give me an idea of how experienced you are, both with professional design and professional freelancing/consulting.  Be totally honest. I can work with all kinds of experience levels, but only if I’m clear on what I’m working with.
  • Tell me about how much space you think you’ll have for new projects between now and, say, March.
  • If you’re not absolutely sure that I already know you, please tell me how you found me or where we’ve met.  Links to where I can find you on the internet are also really helpful.
  • What are you really excited about these days?  (Tell me anything.)

Please take your time and get it all into one email.  If you send me follow-up “oops, I forgot this…” emails, I promise I’ll lose at least one of them.

And while I’ve got your attention, there’s space in my world for other kinds of posse rockers, too.  I’d love me a broader network of…

  • Drupal experts
  • WordPress experts
  • XHTML/CSS coders
  • Smart, clever copywriters
  • Quality Assurance detail-checkers
  • [insert backend programming language here] developers
  • … you tell me.

Just adjust the requests above for what you do, and send me an email. Remember there are lots of people who can claim the same job title, so find a way to be more awesome than them.

Thanks, and I look forward to working with you!

Warmly,
Sarah Dopp

email: info at sarahdopp dot com

I had a timeline all worked out, and it involved me being unemployed right now. I was going to take a few weeks off to sit down, reorganize how I want to approach my work, identify the kinds of contracts I’m looking for, redo my web presence, and then begin The Search for New Clients.

Instead, I’m not even done with my old contract yet, I haven’t asked anyone for new work, and I already have seven clients. Hi. Okay.

Here’s the thing.  The kinds of clients I’m interested in (and, magically, the ones that I’m attracting) are creative individuals and organizations who are doing cool and meaningful things in the world, and who need a stronger web presence to reflect that.  That may sound like “everyone,” but it’s not.  It’s a very specific type.  Clients of this sort tend to already have an interesting public personality, or an established “voice” that they want to make more public. They come equipped with the professional motivation to update their web content without my help.  They learn quickly. They need periodic guidance and technical assistance to setup, rejuvenate, and maintain certain things.  And as a general rule, they don’t have a lot of money to burn, but they can afford to spend some here and there because this help is very important to them.

The challenge, apparently, is not finding these clients.

The challenge, already, is keeping track of them all and coming up with the right agreements.  Let’s be honest: having a dozen small contracts is not the work equivalent of having one large contract, even if they add up to the same number of billable hours.  And when every hour is carefully budgeted, “what I think we should spend time on” is much less important than “what they need to move forward on.”

I’m waist-deep in reorganizing.

If you’re working with a similar client base, now’s a good time to get in touch with me. We have notes and resources to share…

Somewhere in the middle of running the “Hacking, Mashups, and Other Rebel Coding” session in the BlogHer 09 Geek Lab yesterday, I remembered that I never told the Internet how I solved the “Twitter to Facebook Pages” problem. It turned out to be an impressively convoluted daisy chain of a hack, and I’ll lay it all out below. But first: what am I talking about?

The Twitter to Facebook Pages Problem

A number of people (including myself) live on Twitter these days, and keep Facebook around as a secondary home. Personally, I’ve found it helpful to auto-broadcast my twitter updates as facebook status updates, so my Facebook friends know what I’m up to. There’s a very simple facebook app called “Twitter” that will manage this connection, and it’s super-easy to set up. (Note: If you want to start doing this, please do it with care. If you tweet a LOT, you could seriously annoy your facebook friends with this connection).

Meanwhile, Facebook launched their new and improved “Pages” functionality a year or so ago, which means that non-people (companies, projects, organizations, websites, okay and people too) can have facebook profiles that look and act like normal profiles, except that folks become “Fans” instead of “Friends.” This is awesome… except that the Twitter app FAILS MISERABLY when it tries to connect a twitter stream to a facebook page. It just doesn’t work right. A bug somewhere. They say they’re working on it, but it’s been a year now, and I don’t think we should hold our breaths.

So… I started a Facebook page for Genderfork, and wanted the Genderfork Twitter updates (which are AWESOME, thanks to the fantastic work of Bird of Paradox’s Helen) to show up as status updates on that page. This would be helpful and relevant, and it would make a lot of people happy. But, of course, it can’t be done. At least, not the easy way.

It’s also worth noting that we schedule our tweets for this account in advance using TweetLater.com. This means that any solution that requires us to tweet from X application probably won’t work for us, because it would mean we’d lose our scheduling abilities. It’s also worth noting that TweetLater does have a paid solution that would cut out some of the steps below… but Genderfork has no money, so we kept looking.

The Daisy Chain Hack

Ready for the answer? Here it is:

TweetLater.com -> Twitter.com -> Yahoo Pipes -> Twitterfeed.com -> Ping.fm -> Facebook Pages

Didja get all that?

Lemme break it down…

TweetLater.com -> Twitter.com: This is how we normally do things. I won’t go into those details here.

Twitter.com -> Yahoo Pipes: You’ll need to use your Twitter RSS feed, and this includes your username before every tweet, which gets annoying quickly on Facebook. So we’re going to run your feed through a hack someone set up on Yahoo Pipes that will remove your username from it. Go to this page, enter your Twitter username, wait for it to generate a feed, and click the “Get as RSS” menu option. When you end up at a funny-looking text-based page that shows your tweets on it, copy that URL. You’ll need it for the next step.

Yahoo Pipes -> Twitterfeed.com: So you copied the URL to your RSS feed, right? Cool. Now go to Twitterfeed.com and create an account. The go to “Create New Feed” and set the dropdown box to Ping.fm. Give your feed a name (doesn’t matter much what it is) and enter that RSS URL you grabbed. You’ll want to make a few changes under Advanced Settings on this page, too: (1) Change posting frequency to 30 minutes, (2) Change Post Content to include “title only,” and (3) turn off “Post Link.” Now wait here a minute.

Twitterfeed.com -> Ping.fm: In another window, browse to Ping.fm, create an account, and make sure you’re logged into it. Then jump back over to your Twitterfeed window and click the “Application Key” link (it’s a section header) on the page. It will launch another page that will give you a long secret key. Put that into your Twitterfeed window under Key to complete the process. It will ask how you want to post to ping… via microblogs, status updates, etc. It doesn’t really matter what you choose as long as you remember it and pick the same method when you get to Ping. Now submit that page. You’re done here.

Ping.fm -> Facebook Pages: This part’s a little confusing. You need to follow Ping’s instructions to set up a connection between your Ping account and your Facebook Page. This involves first creating a link to your profile, then adding the Ping app to your Facebook page, and manuevering buttons and switches until everything is set to the right thing. When you think you’re done TEST it by posting via the Ping.fm interface to microblogs or status updates or whatever you set in your Twitterfeed setting. It should show up on your Facebook Page and NOT on your Facebook Profile. If any of that’s not perfect, keep clicking and poking.

If all of that went as planned, you’re done now, but have no instant-gratification way of checking your work. So just sit back and wait for your next tweet to fully propogate, and see if it ends up on Facebook. You’ll need to give it an extra hour or so of wait time to be sure… there are some delays built into this process. (If you run into problems, go back and check to see that Twitterfeed.com is recognizing new posts.) Mine didn’t start working for three days because Twitterfeed was blocking Yahoo Pipes URLs (they seem to have fixed that now). But now it works beautifully.

Lemme know if it works for you.

Tags:

Ever been good at something you weren’t quite sure what to do with?

I think I need to make some choices this summer about where I want to put my energy, and I’m generously blessed in having a few too many options. Not that any of them are easy. They’re just… there. If I want them.

Over the last year you’ve seen me kindasorta turn into an expert on non-traditional gender and queerness. It was unintentional and a little awkward (which, hey, fits the topic nicely), but it happened. Genderfork, an online art project I started, grew to 5,000 regular readers and is being run by a volunteer staff of 11. Allegheny College flew me across the country to speak on the grey areas of gender and sexuality (which went extremely well). And I’m also running San Francisco’s Queer Open Mic, which is thriving.

I could do more of this. The path is even in front of me, staring me in the face: Genderfork would make a great book. It would also make an incredibly cool Etsy-esque online marketplace for artists and clothing designers. And it would make wonderful nonprofit organization, funneling its funds toward genderqueer and trans youth art projects, community spaces, and workshops (I have a bunch of ideas already). I’ve got the resources and support I’d need to make it all happen, even simultaneously, and I would position myself at the same time to become a more prominent public speaker on the topic.

I could do that. And I might. It seems like a lot of people would like me to, and it might be the right path for me. I’m at a point where I love public speaking, and genderqueerness is a very fun and rewarding world. (Do you know how many people get in touch with me just to tell me I’ve changed their lives? About 3-5 a week right now.) I just haven’t decided yet.

The truth? Gender’s a hard topic. It kinda wears me out.

And the thing is, I didn’t get here because I wanted to be a Gender Expert. I got here because I spent about six months actively exploring my own gender, accidentally created a community around the topic (I did the same thing with creative writing five years ago), and then had fun using the project as an opportunity to hone some of community management skills. It’s also worth mentioning that Genderfork isn’t my voice anymore; it’s intentionally not about me at all. I have a heavy hand in guiding its focus and values, but as Kate Bornstein puts it, the site is a “prism of genders” — it exists to show that there are many, many people in this space. We curate it quietly and we let the content speak for itself. Queer Open Mic has a comparable setup — my role is to create a thriving space for other people’s voices.

In other words, for a Gender Expert, I’m not saying much. (Or maybe I’m just confusing that role with “pundit.”)

At at the same time, this blog (Dopp Juice) has been a little short on content lately, and it’s bugging me. I want to speak. But I’m stuck because I’m not sure what I want to talk about. This doesn’t seem like the right place to hit you with my gender theories somehow. Doing so feels like it will seal the deal on me fully entering the Gender Expert arena before I’m ready for it. I’d kind of rather still talk about social media.

But social media marketing is for “douchebags” now.

::rolling eyes at own internal critic.::

I love community management and sincere social media marketing. That’s something I actually set out to do (or rather: realized it was perfect when i found myself accidentally standing in it). I spoke last week on a panel about Online Promotion for Artists and turned into a giddy 5-year-old, so excited to be able tell people how to make the Internet do more wonderful things for them. I can talk for hours about this stuff. (And a lot of people have figured out that I’m secretly a much cheaper consultant than I let on to be — all you have to do is buy me dinner and I’ll brainstorm on your project with you for two hours.)

But I don’t talk about it — at least not so much online. Unlike with genderqueerness, the blogosphere is saturated with pundits on this stuff. And honestly? I don’t like most of them. There’s a lot of superficial manipulation going on in social media right now, and I don’t like carrying that reputation by association. I’ve started adding wincing disclaimers to my self-description when I tell people I’m a social media consultant. (“Well, sort of. I’m the good kind. I mean…”) I’m no longer quite so proud of something I’m still completely in love with.

You see my dilemma.

More truth: I’m taking this situation very seriously this summer. I’ve given my primary gig notice that I plan on repositioning myself come September. That might mean doing the same job with a new perspective. Or it might mean a different job within the same organization (the creative freedom we have there is hard to match). Or it mean something completely different.

Three months seems like long enough to be able to figure it out.

Wanna help? Maybe we could get coffee soon?

Thanks and love,
Sarah

sarahdopp-lyingdown

genderfork-logo

Genderfork, a community art blog project I started a year and a half ago, has taken off. It’s running three posts a day, each one representing a different face or voice from the community, and has about 5,000 regular readers. From the outside, it seems like this would be an insane amount of work to maintain, but it’s turns out that it’s not, because I’m not doing the blogging — 10 passionate volunteers are. My job at this point is just to take care of them, and to continue making things better.

A bit about how we’ve set this up…

genderfork-blueeyes

  • Everybody who’s helping is doing so because they asked if they could. When I realized I needed help last December, I put out a post asking people to email me if they were interested. Since then, they’ve mostly just come knocking at my inbox without my asking.
  • Each volunteer has their own responsibilities, and their commitment can be met with less than two hours of work a week (this usually goes for me, too).
  • We separated the tasks of preparing blog posts from deciding when they should be published, so most of the volunteers can blog several weeks’ worth content in one sitting if they choose to.
  • Whenever one of us has a question or get stuck, we try to run our ideas past the rest of the volunteers to get feedback on it.  This has helped keep the vision for the site a collective agreement, and it creates a sense of shared responsibility — we’ve really become a team.  (We’ve also started accumulating a stack of silly inside jokes — the inevitable consequence of liking each other.)

genderfork-shineHere’s what’s on our technical toolbelt….

  • WordPress blogging software
  • A Google Groups mailing list so our volunteers can talk to each other
  • Several Google Docs set up for sharing submissions between volunteers and keeping them organized
  • Tweet Later for managing the content in our daily twitter feed

We’ve souped up our WordPress installation with the following uber-useful plugins:

  • Contact Form 7 for our submission forms
  • IntenseDebate for better conversations in the comments
  • Flickr Blog This to Draft to let photo curation volunteers blog directly from Flickr without it showing up on the site immediately
  • Role Manager to let me configure exactly what Contributor accounts have access to (i found this necessary for allowing volunteers to blog photos and videos)

And it’s going well. We know this because our community takes the time to tells us this over and over again, every single day.  Here’s a note we received anonymously last week:

“This blog is wonderful =). Who knows you could be saving peoples lives by doing this.

“I’ve read all the archives, and when i came to the photo of the person with long hair in a brown leather jacket, a strong serious face with a beard and quite obvious breasts, it finally occurred to me, ignore the fact that i am gender queer myself, “this isn’t an exemption to some rule, or people being different – it is people, we’re alive and living, this is who we are”. It is legitimate and beautiful, no different from anything else people do. Thank you because it has taken a long while to be able to feel like that.”

And here’s a handful of the direct messages people have sent us through our twitter account:

“YAY Genderfork! -this site has been one of several things that has enabled me to explore and affirm my gender. Thanks!”

“hi, i’m more than a little forked at the moment, so it’s good to see you around here”

“the tweets are great. Some of them were how I felt when I was 13 so it’s cool that peeps can now share that and not just bottle it up”

“i went clothes shopping yesterday and felt totally confident in both the men’s & women’s sections for the 1st time.”

“Such gorgeous people, such moving words.”

“thank you for existing.”

So that’s what we’re building right now. Neat, huh?

Stick around. There’s a lot more to come.

genderfork-sunlight

When I started Genderfork a year and a half ago, I made a deal with myself: I would only attempt to keep it alive if I could keep maintenance work down to an hour or two, once or twice a month.  Even that would be a lot for me, but I figured I could commit to it for a few months and see what happened.

WordPress has a nifty little feature that lets you determine in advance the date and time a blog post should go live.  Flickr has a nifty little feature that lets you blog photos directly from a photographer’s photostream to a WordPress blog (as long as that photographer has given strangers permission to blog their photos).  Some other brilliant creature in the world wrote a script that turns Flickr-to-Wordpress blog posts into drafts instead of live posts.  Between the three of these free gifts from the web, I was able to set up a photo-a-day website where I had legal permission to blog other people’s photos and could maintain it with, literally, 2-4 hours a month of work.  I could ignore the entire project for weeks on end, even though it was still blogging daily.

When I put it that way, it sounds a bit like I didn’t love the project, but the opposite is true.  This was the only possible way the project could have survived.  If it had required more than that from me, it would have gone the way of all my other unrequited time-consuming projects and ended up in a large long tupperware container under my bed.  I’ve learned that once something goes into that bin of lost loves, it never comes out.

The other day, as I was waddling back through San Francisco still carrying luggage from my impulsive trip to Portland, I ended up on a street car next to Emchy, the founder of Queer Open Mic.  I excitedly told her that just this week, I had enlisted some more organizing help for the event, and now the project was much more self-sustaining.  I buzzed about how our new venue, Modern Times Bookstore, has a widely-read email list and calendar, and that they’ve been doing most of our marketing for us without any effort on our part, and packing the show every time.

Still bouncing, I went on to tell her that Genderfork is now run by a team of ten volunteers, and that the team manages the blog content themselves.  All I need to do is some really high-level editing that only takes a few hours a month — I’m back to my original time commitment, only now the website now has four times as much content and an audience of thousands!  

She smiled and said, “You’re good at that.  Making things big and awesome.”

I chuckled.  “No, I’m good at making things that can live without me.  Whenever something needs me, it dies.”