Update! The fundraiser is live and we’re over here now: http://genderplayful.tumblr.com

~~~

Wow. Okay. Hi. So it sounds like you want a Genderplayful Marketplace to happen. Awesome.

I’ve been humbled and overwhelmed by the letters, comments, tweets, likes, views, posts, and reblogs from the last 5 days. Ya’ll are phenomenal.

And videos are a lot to ask. I know. So far I’ve received four of them. I can work with that, but really, it would make a huge difference to our upcoming fundraising effort if we could bring in more. Also: all of the videos I’ve received so far appear to be from transmasculine crowd (trans men, butch/androgynous women). These are fantastic, and please keep them coming, but it would also mean a lot to the balance of the project if we could pull in some representing trans women, femmes (men, women, and so on), drag queens, and other genderfabulous faces.

So here’s where we get serious. If you’ve been thinking about making a short video of yourself explaining why this marketplace is important to you, go do it. Get it done. Go go go! Don’t worry too much about making it clean and perfect — I’ll be editing it down to chunks and weaving it together with other videos. You will be beautiful.

The best way to send them appears to be through Google Docs. Just log in, hit “Upload”, get it up there, and then hit “Share.” Share it with genderplayful@gmail.com.

For those who might be new to this conversation, here’s my overview of the project, complete with me sitting naked in a towel:

And here’s a small handful of the things people have written…

Why is a marketplace for androgynous clothing important? Because of people like me.

I want to be able to dress up, feel comfortable, feel like myself on a daily basis. I want to be able to have variety in my clothing styles besides just “jeans and a t-shirt” while mainting an androgynous image. I want suits and dresses and kilts and dress shirts that don’t accentuate the fact that I was born biologically female. I want to be able to find a place to buy and replace binders and packers of all varieties. I want a place where boots and shoes are bought and sold that fit my feet and don’t have a high heel.

To those trying to get this project off the ground, and turn this into a reality, I am grateful.

You’ve been to the department stores…

Here is an example of a genetic male androgyne shopping experience:

Go into any department store and look for clothes in the mens section, and you will find the following colors: beige, brown, gray, black, and navy blue. If you’re lucky you’ll find some red, forest greens, or maybe even a colorful Hawaiian shirt. The only place you’ll ever find a sense of color is in men’s dress shirts, but they all of the same cut, and usually are solids or pinstriped if you’re lucky – no scoop neck, V-neck, or something innovative and fun. If you want teal trousers or a paisley patterned shirt then you’re out of luck. Also, the men’s clothing isn’t fitted – it’s meant to fit baggy and not show off your figure. Fitted shirts or slacks are a rarity for men in department stores.

So you go shop in the women’s section and find the color and pattern you’ve been looking for. But the sizes aren’t big enough, the tail of the shirt is too short to tuck into your pants, the darts in the shirt are useless on your flat chest. The trousers would look cute on you, but don’t fit right around the hips, so you find a pair that does, but the pant cuffs are too short and barely cover your ankles.

I think there is a niche market for genderqueer fashion – the only other option I see is to break out my sewing machine and spend all of my free time making my own clothes, and I’m not that good at it anyway.

–Timi

Buying from our peers just feels better.

Where I get my stuff from matters to me. I like the idea of being able to dress the way I want to and buy from my community at the same time. I love the idea of a place where the genderqueer community could come together to swap second hands stuff that worked. I adore the idea of having a place to talk about how to make stuff fit or look cool with other people who get it. It would be fabulous to have a place where I could find people who made genderqueer stuff and support them in making my life a little bit easier.

I am also super excited about having a place where I could sell (or heck, give away) some of my funky femme clothes to my super beautiful funky femme brothers and sisters and siblings.

These are rocking my world, ya’ll. Keep the stories coming!

~ ~ ~

Update! The fundraiser is live and we’re over here now: http://genderplayful.tumblr.com

For the last few years, I’ve been neck-deep in conversations about non-normative gender. Those conversations just expanded today with the announcement that Diaspora‘s alpha launch collects gender as an open-ended text field (which was met with some backlash). For everyone just getting to this conversation, here is some context and backstory, based on what I’ve experienced so far. Note that this is limited to my own perspective and exposure, so please add links to other sources in the comments, in an effort to better flesh out the bigger picture.

The Preface, from Doppland

Two years ago, I wrote an open letter to Silicon Valley, requesting that everyone think about how they are approaching Gender in their data collection forms. If you’re the least bit totally baffled by why we’re even talking about gender at all right now, PLEASE start by reading that letter. It’s gentle, it’s in plain English, and it explains a lot.

(I should also add: I organize Genderfork.com, a community expression blog about gender variance, which gets over 20,000 readers and a helluvalot of contributors and commenters per month. This is a large group of people who don’t don’t fit well in traditional gender categories, and their numbers are only scratching the surface of a bigger demographic. They exist. They vary. I know many of them personally. And I identify with them in many ways.)

Last year I attended the She’s Geeky unconference in Mountain View, where I led a discussion called “My Gender Broke Your Dropdown Menu.” I started by reading that letter, and then tasked the group with trying to solve the design problem of “what would be better than a two-option dropdown menu?” It turned into a conversation about all of the user experience, data management, and business issues that get pulled onto the table when Gender is in question, as well as a brainstorming session on how we might solve them. No surprise: we didn’t come up with a clear answer. But we did learn a lot more about the problem. Really, it comes down to the question of “why do you need the data?” Is it about encouraging self-expression, helping people find dates, making marketing decisions, or reporting user statistics to investors? Your primary goal impacts your choices for implementation.

I followed up on that workshop by writing another post called “Designing a Better Drop-Down Menu for Gender,” which listed all the ideas I thought could reasonably improve the data collection process, from a user experience standpoint (again: just go read it — this will all make more sense if you do).  This set of ideas was a work in progress, and the last idea in the post — a method for open-ended tagging — sparked a few follow-ups.  A designer proposed some early, stylized mockups; Kirrily Robert at Freebase created an alpha version, and Phil Darnowsky further riffed on the idea.  We were all just messing around with ideas at this point.

Then it got real.

Enter: Diaspora

Diaspora is an open-source, community-funded social networking platform that aims to have better privacy than Facebook and lets you own your own content. It’s in the very early stages (they just let in the first round of alpha testers last week), and is facing a lot of criticism on the quality of its code. But it’s still a great idea.

Sarah Mei, a contributor to the Diaspora project, was in that She’s Geeky workshop about gender and drop-down menus. That discussion, coupled with her own personal and professional experiences, led her to change the data collection method to an open-ended text field. She writes about the process she went through to get to this decision over here: Disalienation: Why Gender is a Text Field on Diaspora.

This has received support.

It has also perturbed some people.

…which has sparked further support for the change.

anil dash

Since Diaspora’s code quality still has a long way to go before it’s accepted as stable, I’m sure there will many more iterations to this field. So let’s keep an eye on the conversation and advocate for the best possible scenario.

vCard (and Microformats, and OpenSocial)

Guess what? Diaspora’s not the only project dealing with the Gender Data issue this week. As we speak, the vCard specs team is pinning the next iteration of how our address book data will be organized. Their original plan was to have a field called SEX that allowed for the following attributes (based on the ISO):

  • 0 = not known
  • 1 = male
  • 2 = female
  • 9 = not applicable

Tantek Çelik proposed a two-field solution: SEX (male, female, other, or none/not applicable) and GENDER IDENTITY (an open-ended text field), based on data and solutions he’d explored earlier at Microformats.org. This seems like a reasonable solution to me. (Note: this suggestion is strictly about organizing data behind the scenes. “What will profile forms look like?” is a different conversation.)

I chimed in with an explanation of about why the ISO system is inadequate and offensive, and expressed support for Tantek’s plan.

Kevin Marks pointed out that he and Cassie Doll had also worked out a reasonable data organizing solution, which was accepted in the early stages of OpenSocial and Portable Contacts:

gender:
The gender of this contact. Service Providers SHOULD return one of the following Canonical Values, if appropriate: male, female, or undisclosed, and MAY return a different value if it is not covered by one of these Canonical Values.

In other words: male, female, nuffin’, or fill-in-the-blank. Works for me.

Things are still being finalized, but it looks like vCard will settle on one of these solutions, or a close variant of it.

What Else?

That’s about the extent of my knowledge on the Gender Data Collection story as it’s playing out right now. Let’s pool any links that show where progress is happening, and bring solutions to this obscure but highly sensitive design dilemma to light. Comments offering more constructive views and info are encouraged here (and flaming won’t be tolerated).

Thanks so much,
~ Sarah

Tags: , , , , ,

It’s been a rollercoaster around here and I’ve kept my game face on, but there are things that need saying.  Things about what matters, and why, and how keeping a Pollyanna attitude is no more naïve and no less radical than a scowl.

I don’t presume to take goodness at face value, and no, I don’t believe that all we need is love, or that tragedy and injustice aren’t happening every minute in every town the world. I get that. I do. But I also believe in the power of slicing through that grim nightmare with a sharp and unflinching force of forgiveness, kindness, and grace.

I believe in putting all that noise on MUTE and working tirelessly to build haven after haven from the rain.

I believe in disrupting expectations by giving someone a second chance.

I believe in putting white-knuckle fists to the steering wheel and getting the hell out of dodge — even just for a night — when anything is stuck, or broken, or stagnant. And I believe in ending up the next morning with your feet hanging off a cliff, staring at the ocean, the grand canyon, a cityscape, a mountain range, a cornfield, a playground, or even an empty Walmart parking lot if you have to — just as long as the sun is rising and you’re paying attention and you feel free. I believe in bringing that feeling home with you and pouring it into your work, your home, your loves, and your willingness to fight for another person’s moment of relief.

And it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I still believe in the Internet. Like I did in 1999, when my secret and hand-coded log/journal/diary thing that didn’t have a genre name yet was an oasis for people digging through Alta Vista and HotBot late at night for someone who was being honest and telling a story. It didn’t matter what story was being told as long as it sounded like secrets being whispered in the dark. Because that was the sound of not being alone.

I still believe in the Internet like I did before everything was archived and cross-referenced in the Wayback Machine and Google’s public caches.  Like I did when still I believed in anonymity.

And some days it’s harder to stay focused on what matters, but I do still believe in the Internet like I did before SEO was a competitive sport. Before businesses started dropping vowels in order to score a good domain name. Before plastic and aluminum grade disposable ads, widgets, and apps littered every square inch of the Internet’s surface like empty Coke bottles after a high school football game.

I believe that sincerity and excitement are critical ingredients for anything to matter, and that that is why the Internet is winning. I believe that everyone who tries to fake those ingredients will either fail or have a house dropped on their heads during a tornado as punishment for their lies and their laziness. But I also believe it’s now commonplace for people to see Internet marketing as a set of cold strategic formulas void of genuine connection, and that this is morally wrong.

It’s not the large companies and marketing agencies that bother me (this has been part of their game forever). It’s the individuals — the folks who are just trying to carve a reasonable space for themselves in the Digital Land of Opportunity — who’ve been taught that analyzing social media profiles and then contacting large groups of strangers with canned and solely self-promotional messages counts as “making connections.”  That it’s not spam. That this is how they’re supposed to do it. That this is what it means to contribute to a community. That’s the part that breaks my heart.

And yet.

And yet, on the same Internet, regular people collaborate with strangers to build free software that makes our lives better. Building a decent website without technical skills is possible.  Designers hand out attractive site designs for free, just to make the Internet a more beautiful place. Photographers give strangers permission to use their photos. Musicians offer their tunes up freely for remixing into podcasts and other creative projects. Artists can raise funds for new projects by getting friends excited about them. Anyone can start a community discussion space. Committed members are happy to volunteer.

While I sometimes miss the days when the Internet didn’t feel like a sensory and information overload bomb, I don’t think I’d go back to them. Our tools, creativity, and commitment to each other have come so far. We’re real people now; not anonymous screen-names looking for fantasy cybersex on AOL chatrooms. Our online and offline lives are so tightly woven together that we get to grapple with one another on questions like “How and when should I keep my social circles compartmentalized?”. My mom is on Facebook, and my she has the power to hide my feed because I talk too much. AND we’ve all stopped using <blink> tags. That’s progress.

Last week, the feature for Queer Open Mic (an event I co-organize) opened with a poem that stunned and rocked me back into place. It started with…

She said to me that most trailblazers
may never see the trail.
May never see the path they cut into the earth,
or the feet that come behind them.

Most days, she said, the act of walking
without a set route probably won’t feel like revolution.
There are too many goddamned branches in your face,
Too much to hack through, dulling the machete
and making your muscles scream for the kind of comfort
your mind can’t hope to welcome.

And it ended with…

She told me it was all impossible, and still
she said, “Go.”
She said, “Leave, and scare the shit out of yourself.
You’ll be glad you did.”

— excerpt from She said, “Go” by Tatyana Brown

We’re pushing paths into this Internet together. I believe the tools and opportunities we want to see are worth fighting for — that these branches are absolutely worth hacking through — but only with our feet firmly planted in the what we care about and love.

It’s cool. I understand. You got here through a different door. You haven’t been blogging since before blogs were invented, Facebook didn’t demand that you use a .edu email address when you signed up, and you weren’t on Twitter when the “@” convention was just something people added cuz it felt right. You’re newer than that. And that’s totally okay — there’s room here for you, too.

And I know you’re one of the good ones. You’re not a spammer. You’ve been doing your homework — watching how it works around here, learning a few tricks, testing them out, and realizing this internet community-building stuff is pretty freaking neat. You can get a big audience for free, just by being in the right place at the right time and sounding like you know what you’re talking about. You can connect with people you didn’t know how to reach before. You can get good free advice whenever you want, and pull in free contributions to your work from lots of people. You can be famous. You can sell things. You can work from anywhere. You can change the world.

It’s true. But let’s talk about a few things.

The way I see it, there are two major problems people can crash into with social media marketing:

Problem #1: Being really good at the strategy stuff, but missing the importance of sincere relationships.

Problem #2: Being really good at sincere relationships, but missing the importance of strategy.

Those of us who grew up around here are often prone to the second problem. We don’t like to admit it, but we honestly do believe that relationships will conquer all and strategy is just an outsider’s rationalization for magic. It’s okay. We know we’re delusional. We’re working through it together on Twitter.

You, my friend, are in a different boat. You’re not coming at this with ten years’ worth of internet strangers being your cheerleaders, so your Achilles’ heel is in Problem #1. You’ve figured out how to establish a reliable presence or get a spike of attention, but it’s from carefully calculated moves — not instinctive exploration. You’re the kind of person who stops to think about it.

Believe me, we have a lot to learn from you. Please keep explaining to us how this stuff we call “magic” actually works — it’s very useful for us. But let’s also let it stay magical. Please? We like the magic.

Here’s how we’d like you to do that… in as strategy-like terms as I can put it:

Be human.

Here’s an exercise: brainstorm a list of 20 words you want people to think of when they think of you. Funny? Interesting? Trustworthy? Go on… come up with a lot. Now do two things:

1) make sure that EVERY SINGLE THING you put out to the world supports that lovable, human image that you have of yourself.

2) make sure whatever you say is put into words that you would actually say out loud to another human being in person.

If it doesn’t pass those tests, don’t write it.

This also applies to system-generated messages, like letting Youtube tweet everytime you favorite something. That’s not human. Knock it off.

Don’t litter.

If you’re writing something that’s not meaningful or valuable to the people around you, you’re littering. If you’re promoting something that’s not awesome, you’re littering. If you’re reposting a press release without adding your own two cents for why this is worth paying attention to, you’re littering.

No one likes to wade through your trash, even if it does give you an attention bump for a minute. It’s not worth it.

Only ride the waves that are meant for you.

Sometimes you can see an opportunity — a thing that’s getting attention — and you’ll want to jump in on it. Before you do that, please make sure it’s your wave to ride. Does it fit what you’re into? Is it something you feel strongly about? Does it match your lovable, human image of yourself? Does it make sense in your life? Is it carrying you in the directions you want to go? If yes — ride it. If not, then step back, and be a good audience member. It’s time to let someone else rock the spotlight.

Give give give give give give give.

And don’t ask. Okay, you can ask a little, but keep it to stuff that people will be excited to help with. Cuz then it’s still giving. Give give give. And don’t complain, either. Celebrate. Look for the good stuff, applaud the success of others, offer your support, include people in neat things, and be there for people. And keep doing that. And don’t stop. And don’t expect anything in return. Make everything sincere and generous, and engage people in your stuff by making it about them. Really. Not in an underhanded “i’m gonna get something out of this way,” but in a “yes, i can really make your life better” way. Do that.

And I hesitate to say this, because I know it’s what your strategy mind is hoping for, but yes, that’s when it will really start to pay off.

Well THAT was cool.

After posting yesterday’s set of suggestions for designing a better drop-down menu for gender, someone took me up on the design challenge that I slipped into the last paragraph, and within an hour, had sent me this early concept mockup:

The Dopp-Down Menu

(click for full version)

(In the interest of creating a new standard, this is admittedly more graphics heavy than necessary — all of this could also be achieved with standard HTML elements. Layout, etc, could also vary quite a bit.)

I LOVE that she’s experimenting with a scrolly-menu to the right that auto-populates based on related words to what the user is entering (rather than just “words that start with the same first letters”). That’s even further than I was gonna take it!

(This designer, btw, is working with me on another project that hasn’t been announced yet, so we’re gonna hold off on proper attribution until everything else is a little more public.  Just know: she rocks.)

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

Just a few minutes ago on Twitter, I quoted a snippet of my phone conversation today with John T. Unger:

Me: “…so basically, I’m just going to get everybody to love everybody.”

John: “If anybody can do that, it’s you.”

Then, realizing how out of context that snippet was, I added some clarification:

By “everybody” I mean “queers, sex nerds, artists, deviants, geeks, and creative folks who dance to the beat of their own drum.”

Call me naive, but I really do believe that covers everybody, with lots of internal overlap.  But okay, yeah, I live in a bubble, and it’s worth defining what that bubble’s all about sometimes.  I also acknowledge that a whole lot of somebodies have stopped defining themselves in those ways, so I’m not gonna worry about them right now.

I want to tell you about the dreams in my head… about the things I’m most excited about, and the structures I’m looking at for how I can serve more people and make our lives more exciting.

One of them is a monthly discussion series I’m kicking off in December at the Center for Sex and Culture (San Francisco) called Deviants Online.  Here’s the press info for it:

Deviants Online
hosted by Sarah Dopp
with special guest Mollena Williams

Tuesday, December 8th, 6 – 8pm
Cost: $10-20 sliding scale, no one turned away for lack of funds

The CSC is proud to announce this new monthly discussion workshop!

Deviants Online will explore the ever-changing “best practices” for social media: facebook, twitter, myspace, flickr, blogging, email, websites, and everything else.  How can we shine spotlights on what we care about without annoying our friends? What are smart ways to strengthen our relationships and broaden our networks? And how exactly do we get our (many) personal sides to co-exist with our professional life on the same Internet?

As queers, creatives, sex nerds, and other rebels, our lives depend heavily on our friends and extended communities.  Whether we’re looking for work opportunities, an audience, or an army of allies, we can all benefit from having a broader network built on trust and appreciation.

In this discussion workshop, we’ll explore what works and what doesn’t when it comes to representing ourselves online. The material will include a balanced mix of “how to think about it” and “how to do it,” and we’ll have plenty of time for questions. Whether you’ve just signed up for facebook or have been blogging for years, you’ll leave this workshop full of ideas on what you want to try next.

Deviants Online is hosted by Sarah Dopp, social media educator and founder of http://Genderfork.com.  It will also have a special guest co-facilitator, Mollena Williams!

For more information, please contact Sarah at [info at sarahdopp dot com].

I’ll have a real website up for it soon. (Promise.)

I also want to tell you that I’m partnering with Sarah Sloane of Equilibrium Consulting to make magical things happen. She’s helping me manage my consulting work (omigod i have a schedule now) and scheming exciting plans with me about how we can do more for those everybodies I mentioned above.

What’s really going on? We’re building a self-sustaining community of smart, creative, interesting people who work together (as clients, consultants, and co-conspirators) to make awesome things happen. I’m already in it… we’re already doing it… we just need to iron out a few more edges.

“…so basically, I’m just going to get everybody to love everybody.”

I’ll tell you more soon.

Love,
Sarah

ETA: The Deviants Online site is available here:  http://www.deviantsonline.com (YAY!)

Someone I’m personally close to works at a marketing agency. She emailed me this morning, asking about how to contact bloggers for a campaign.  Here was my advice…

A number of bloggers are used to being contacted by marketers.  As a result, they can smell a good one from a bad one from a mile away.  Therefore, you should…

– Do your research. Don’t contact anyone whose blog is a bad fit, and if possible, make an effort to show that you get the topic and style of their blog when you approach them.  Contacting fewer people more personally will probably yield better results than contacting more people less personally.  The smaller newer bloggers might take anything, but the seasoned ones with real readership are very selective. If you treat them well and they like your products, they’ll expect to develop a relationship with you and be on your list for future offers.  It’s like being in a secret elite club.

– Have a single person on your team be their contact person.  They need to feel like they know someone.

– Speak in plain English and edit out any marketing language that may sound unnaturally excited or insincere. They need to feel like that contact person is a real human being that they could have a drink with.

– Don’t expect them to do you any favors.  They won’t blog about your product just because you ask them to — there needs to be something in it for them.  Offer something free to them that they’ll consider to be of value.  That might be the product itself, access to a really cool event, cash payment, something valuable that they can give away to readers on their blog through a contest that they create themselves, etc.

– Don’t ask them to blog positive things.  Ask them to speak honestly, and mean it.  They have to have your permission to speak negatively if they don’t like it.  (If they like and respect you, they won’t be jerks.)

– The FTC changed some rules this year, and bloggers now legally need to publicly disclose when they get free stuff or payment for a post.  Go look this up and read about it — bloggers will appreciate it if you know more about the rules than they do.

– Screwing up on any of the above will either result in being ignored or being publicly ranted about. They don’t really have a middle ground.

For contact info… Most bloggers have their email addresses listed on their blog somewhere, or at least provide a contact form.  Also try checking their sidebars for other blogs they like to read… that’ll clue you in on what the social circles are and who’s popular.  Also check who regularly has comments versus who doesn’t — that’s sometimes an indicator of popularity (tho really not always).

(Friends don’t let friends market badly to bloggers. Pass it on.)