Best known for her work in the library space, she’s also an experienced online community practitioner, having spent 10 years on staff at MetaFilter, leaving as director of operations. Building on our recent discussions about the thoughtful way to close a community, we look at mlkshk as an example of a group that has done it right. Plus:
- The differences and similarities between dying and being banned from an online community
- Why it’s easy for community members to love new ideas, but hard to get them to commit to helping make them real
- The disconnect between wanting to be a moderator and actually being good at it
“One of the things that happens with hobbyist communities, as opposed to giant corporate communities, is the person who’s running it has to kind of love being there as one of the primary things in their life.” -@jessamyn
“I like to joke that I’ve created 20, 30, 40 online communities just by banning people, where they get mad and they say, ‘I’m going to create a new community.’ I’m like, ‘Okay. That’s fine. Create your own thing. That’s great. We just can’t do that thing here any longer, because it’s not what we’re about.'” -@patrickokeefe
“For some people, I really do feel like the internet kind of flattens who we are to a certain extent. Not in a negative ‘the internet isn’t real’ way, but just in a ‘the internet can’t tell you certain things about people you interact with, and some of those things may matter’ way. It’s hard to say it without sounding really judgmental.” -@jessamyn
“It’s so important for [some people] to not be judgmental about personality problems that you wind up with people who are borderline sociopaths, who are unmoderatable, just because people are like, ‘Well, that’s just how that person is.’ You’re like, ‘Well, how that person is, is that they harass female Wikipedians.’ You’ve got to make a choice, right? You just have to make a choice.” -@jessamyn
“If you make a decision to leave [our community], that’s your choice, and maybe you’ll come back. You’re welcome, even as a non-member, to talk to us about what the issue is. But for people within the community, they’re like, ‘The goal is that nobody leaves.’ To me, that’s like saying the goal is that nobody dies. Sure, that sounds like a good idea at some level, but realistically, if nobody died, there would be huge problems and, if nobody left the community, you would wind up with a stagnation that would be difficult in its own way, that the community is not supposed to be everything to everyone.” -@jessamyn
About Jessamyn West
Jessamyn West is a librarian and community technologist who writes a column for Computers in Libraries magazine. She consults with small libraries and businesses in Central Vermont to help them use technology to solve problems and runs a regular drop-in time to help digitally divided people use technology. She is the author of Without a Net: Librarians Bridging the Digital Divide and is a frequent public speaker at library conferences throughout North America. She has a library newsletter and a blog.
- Jessamyn on Twitter
- Computers in Libraries magazine, which Jessamyn writes for
- Without a Net: Librarians Bridging the Digital Divide, Jessamyn’s book
- MetaFilter, an online community where Jessamyn was a member of staff for 10 years, resigning as director of operations
- TILT-Y MAIL, Jessamyn’s librarian-themed newsletter
- librarian.net, Jessamyn’s blog
- David Lee King, digital services director at the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library, mutual friend of Jessamyn and Patrick
- Community Signal episode with David Lee King
- Nashua Public Library, one of Patrick’s libraries as a kid
- Community Signal episode about the IMDb message board closure with Timo Tolonen
- Community Signal episode with Gail Ann Williams
- mlkshk, an image sharing community
- Andre Torrez, application engineer at Slack and founder of mlkshk
- Matt Haughey, founder of MetaFilter, who works in editorial at Slack
- Amber Costley, design lead at Begin and founder of mlkshk
- “Beloved Image Sharing Site mlkshk Saunters Off Into the Sunset” by Matthew Panzarino at TechCrunch, about mlkshk’s plans to close in 2014
- Post from mlkshk’s blog about why they didn’t shut down in 2014
- Discardia, a book by Dinah Sanders, that provides “a flexible, iterative method for cutting out distractions and focusing on more fulfilling activities”
- Josh Millard, who currently runs MetaFilter
- Paul Bausch, known as pb on MetaFilter, who previously served as the community’s sole developer and technical administrator
- Greasemonkey script that enables you to see, on MetaFilter, who has been marked as a librarian by Jessamyn
- Ask MetaFilter, the community’s question and answer section
- “mlkshk Shutting Down”, about the site’s forthcoming closure
- GitHub, a development platform where some current members of mlkshk are collaborating to build the next place they will hang out at
- “holdkris99’s Death Was a Hoax” by Josh Millard, about a MetaFilter user who faked their own suicide
- Community Signal episode with Matt Haughey, where we talked about the fake suicide
- “A Member of Your Online Community Lies About Committing Suicide: What Do You Do?” by Patrick, which Jessamyn left a comment on
- Wikipedia page for Godwin’s law
- LearnedLeague, the online trivia league that Jessamyn is a member of
- “Jeopardy! Contestant Who Died Before Show Aired Keeps Win Streak Going” by Keith Allen for CNN, about a former member of LearnedLeague
- LearnedLeague’s in memoriam page, created at Jessamyn’s suggestion
- Community Signal episode about managing a cancer community with the online community manager of Breast Cancer Network Australia’s online community
- Details about MetaFilter’s “brand new day” policy, which allows banned members to return
- ColdChef, a MetaFilter member who is a third-generation undertaker and funeral home manager
- Jessamyn’s consulting website
- Jessamyn’s personal blog
00:05 You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Tweet as you listen using #CommunitySignal. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
00:20 Patrick O’Keefe: Hello. This is Community Signal and I’m Patrick O’Keefe. Thanks for listening. On this episode, my guest is Jessamyn West, and we’re going to talk about member-led efforts to save online communities, identifying moderators, and the awkward circumstances that can occur when a member leaves community, by choice or otherwise. Jessamyn is a librarian and community technologist who writes a column for Computers in Libraries magazine. She consults with small libraries and businesses in Central Vermont to help them use technology to solve problems, and runs a regular drop-in time to help digitally-divided people use technology. She is the author of Without a Net: Librarians Bridging the Digital Divide and is a frequent public speaker at library conferences throughout North America. Formerly, she was the director of operations at online community MetaFilter. Jessamyn has a library newsletter at tinyletter.com/jessamyn and a blog at librarian.net. Jessamyn, welcome to the program.
01:14 Jessamyn West: Thanks so much for having me.
01:15 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s a pleasure. Someone that I’ve been familiar with for many years through your work at MetaFilter. It’s one of those areas where I feel like, in some ways, two different verticals, if you will, two different areas of work come together: librarians and library work, because you’re not the first library-focused person that I’ve had on the show, my friend David Lee King, previously. And it kind of lends itself really well to the online community space, and especially in your case, you have that direct experience at MetaFilter. So, it’s great to have you on finally.
01:45 Jessamyn West: Great. Yeah, happy to be here, and oh gosh, I loved listening to your show with David. Huge fan/friend of his, as well.
01:51 Patrick O’Keefe: Thanks. Yeah, he’s a really good guy. He actually gave me … He let me have my first keynote talk I ever gave in Topeka, Kansas.
01:58 Jessamyn West: Serious?
02:00 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. It was at the library, the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, and it was a really amazing thing, you know. It was a really great event. It was only five dollars. But I don’t know if it’s a coastal bias, but when I flew out there, it just seemed like people appreciated me being there more than they do in the East and West Coast. Which is not to say bad things about the East and West Coast–I lived my whole life on the East Coast–but I did like ABC, NBC, CBS for a five-dollar conference at a library, and my pitch to them was, you know, it’s five dollars. You get breakfast and you get lunch. If you don’t like what’s going on, you leave. You leave after lunch, you’re good. You had a good deal, right?
02:32 Jessamyn West: Right.
02:32 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, I mean, but it was so awesome. I really enjoyed that conference, and to this day, like, David and his small team of volunteers from the library, probably the most well-run conference of that size of anyone I’ve ever spoken in, so it was just a great experience.
02:46 Jessamyn West: They do great work. And Kansas has a really thriving library culture just in general. The state library has always been doing some really interesting stuff, and you know, Topeka & Shawnee Public is just kind of an example. I tell people that in the library world, because I love living in New England. I love the library traditions here. But I tell people, if I was going to live somewhere else, you know, it might be Kansas, because they’ve got a lot going on. And again, people’s East Coast-West Coast bias. They’re like, “Really?” I’m like, “Yes, really. Very seriously, yes.”
03:15 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s really cool, because you know libraries. [Laughs] So, if you say that it’s good, then it’s good! But there was a beautiful library. And as a kid, libraries for me … I liked the library, but I can think of, uh … The main library I have in my memory is one in Nashua, New Hampshire, and it was … I always regarded it as a dark place with kind of mean older ladies in it, and so, you know, I didn’t find it particularly friendly. But when I went to David’s library out there, it was so bright and nice, and everyone was so nice to me. And I was like, this is amazing. Like, I wish this library from Kansas had, in fact, been my library.
03:45 Jessamyn West: One of the things that’s sort of so special about what David does and one of the things that appeals to me about the library space in general, is that there’s a lot of space to go with community engagement, even though you think, like, we’re a community institution. Like, what needs to be done. But when you look at people who are really, really doing it well, really making you feel welcome in the library, really making you feel like the library belongs to you and is yours and that you have agency over kind of what happens within those walls. You realize that libraries can become, in some ways, even more. I mean, there are still libraries–many fewer–in kind of what I consider the old model. You know, the older women in town kind of hang onto the books and everybody’s a little concerned about whether they can or cannot have access to them.
04:29 Patrick O’Keefe: [Laughs]
04:30 Jessamyn West: And the new model is really like, “Hey, we open the door. We let you guys come in. You tell us what you want here and we try to deliver it to you. But in many places, it’s … you know, especially in New England, where there’s not a lot of regional control over libraries, it’s very much town-by-town, you might have one “open door, welcome everybody, have a wonderful time here” library, and then the next town over, you might have kind of a smaller, quiet, darker library with one older lady from town. And this is not an ageist thing. Like, there’s many older ladies from town that run many welcoming, opening libraries. But it is the older model, you know, that maybe wasn’t a professional position. The job was more to kind of take care of the books and less, you know, be a community space where everybody in town, every single person in town, not just the bookish people in town, you know, there’s something for them there.
05:21 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, and I have to say, that’s just my view as, like, an eight- to ten-year-old. [Laughs]
05:26 Jessamyn West: Have you been back?
05:27 Patrick O’Keefe: I haven’t. We left when I was, like, 12 or 13 and I haven’t been back, but one day, I’ll go back there, and maybe it’s a totally different place, but as a kid, you can see things a certain way.
05:37 Jessamyn West: I grew up over the border from Nashua in kind of Central Massachusetts, so I drive through Nashua basically on my way to see my parents, or my mom and my sister. So, I’ll stop by and let you know.
05:49 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. The Nashua Public Library. I’ll just put them on blast. That’s exactly what it was. Yeah, it was right across the border from Tyngsborough. I remember that. So, yeah, anyway, that was a nice nudge of me in the community direction. So, we have been talking about community closures quite a bit recently here on Community Signal, and we had an episode focused on the IMDb message board closer, with Timo Tolonen.
06:08 Jessamyn West: Yeah.
06:08 Patrick O’Keefe: And a couple of weeks ago, the topic featured heavily in my conversation with community pioneer Gail Ann Williams. You are a member of an online community that is closing called mlkshk — M-L-K-S-H-K.
06:20 Jessamyn West: Yeah.
06:21 Patrick O’Keefe: I hadn’t heard of it before you brought it up, even though it looks like a beautiful, wonderful online community. What is mlkshk?
06:25 Jessamyn West: Well, and I was just sort of a super fan of mlkshk, but basically, it is an image-sharing site, very friendly, very easy to use. If Flickr, the photo sharing site, existed to kind of share, like, internet memes and YouTube videos among your friends … I mean, there’s no way to say it without it sounding goofy and being like, “Jessamyn, what are you, a middle-aged lady, doing hanging out there?” But there’s a lot of people that came from, for instance, MetaFilter, an online community that I spent lots of time in. And you can share images, share videos. There’s commenting. You can curate your own little thread of stuff. So, like, I have one little thread that’s all pictures of moss, which is my kind of hobby thing, keeping little mossariums in my house. Or maybe you really like Lynda Carter, you find all these old YouTube videos of Lynda Carter on YouTube and you share them with your friends, and it’s very straightforward. It does about four things.
07:19 Jessamyn West: But there’s kind of a rich community there, and for me, who doesn’t spend a lot of time just kind of noodling on the internet, it’s where I got my “this is what’s going on on the internet” education. You know, it’s where I learned about new internet jokes or things people were … you know, what are the kids today up to? And, you know, it’s maybe four or five years old, I think. It was started by Andre Torrez, who’s done a whole bunch of other sort of internet stuff you would know about, and he just kind of did it as a side project because it was a thing he wanted, and it didn’t really exist, kind of the way Matt started MetaFilter in ’99 because he wanted a group blog that he could share with his friends.
07:59 Jessamyn West: And so, that was kind of where it’s been, and you know, it’s become one of my four or five bookmark-y places that I visit on the internet, and probably the only one besides MetaFilter that’s not kind of run by some giant megacorporation, but is run by, like, a couple–Andre and his wife Amber, who did the design–that I know. And there’s something really great about that, writing a support email and getting an email back from someone who knows you.
08:24 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, no doubt. And like I said, I hadn’t heard of mlkshk, so I Googled it, looked into it a little bit. It seems like it’s a site that has maybe not struggled, but it’s been challenged keeping it online. I read an article on TechCrunch saying that this beloved site’s closing, and then apparently, Andre got a job at Slack, and people at Slack liked it, so it kept going. And then it had kind of a subscription model. But you know, it seems like they’ve fought the fight for a while to kind of keep it going.
08:48 Jessamyn West: Well, I think that was it. I mean, you know, it’s not cheap to sort of pay for hosting and storage of your own stuff. The more open your community is, in many ways, especially with stuff like this, the more expensive your community can be. So, there were no, for instance, technological barriers to hotlinking. If you wanted to upload a picture of, say, the Abraham Lincoln Memorial animated gif giving someone the finger, as a notable example, and that caught on, and everybody started sharing it around the internet but linking to the original file that was on mlkshk’s servers, then you’re paying for cloud storage and bandwidth. That can add up fairly quickly, and it did. And maybe you’ve got a full-time job that you like and you don’t want to spend your whole time sort of putting out fires and whatever.
09:36 Jessamyn West: I mean, one of the things that happens with sort of hobbyist communities, as opposed to giant corporate communities, is, you know, the person who’s running it has to kind of love being there as one of the primary things in their life. And Andre and Amber have a family. They have jobs that they also like. And so, I’ll often think of … There’s a book I really like. It’s called Discardia, about how to improve your life by getting rid of some of your things. And I’ll have to name-check my friend who wrote it, Dinah Sanders.
10:07 Jessamyn West: But one of the sort of central premises is you can really kind of only hold onto, like, four or five buckets of things in your life and still be able to enjoy each of those things. So, maybe you’ve got your family, your work, and your hobby, or maybe you’ve got your church, your family, and your pets, or maybe you’ve got your pets, your church, your family, and your internet community, or whatever it is. But when you start adding more and more of those buckets and you can only kind of give everything partial attention, it’s kind of a recipe for stress and unhappiness. And so, I think for a lot of people, figuring out what to dial back on legitimately, not just kind of phoning it in to all these various things, like keeping mlkshk running but maybe it goes down at the end of the month when the bills add up, or something like that.
10:57 Jessamyn West: You know, you want to kind of give it your all, and then you want to get to a point where you don’t want to give it your any anymore, because there’s no way to part way it. You know, I think it’s not like having mosstariums, where if I ignore them for a week or two, they’ll be fine. If you ignore your community for a week, it might not be fine. Or the email adds up, or maybe there’s a technical problem. And you know, I respect those decisions. I think they’re complicated, but I do sort of respect people who make the decision that, man, they just can’t give the thing what it needs, and so maybe it’s time to kind of move on.
11:33 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, definitely. And you know, as someone who, I think I ran eight forums and five blogs at once and checked in on them basically every day, I can sympathize, because the time to downsize did come and it was not easy. You know, it’s funny. People start these communities you love and then they leave for Slack. Matt Haughey starts MetaFilter; he’s at Slack. Andre Torres, mlkshk, he’s at Slack. Like, Slack, take it easy on the people who create the communities that Jessamyn loves.
12:01 Jessamyn West: We all use Slack, too.
12:02 Patrick O’Keefe: Oh, there you go. Yeah.
12:03 Jessamyn West: I mean, that’s a funny joke, right? I think one of the things that makes Slack so great is it took a whole bunch of minds of people who really understand the community experience, not just they know how to build a chatroom out of code. You know what I mean? They understand what human beings in conversation need to be able to do their things. But it does mean, you know, those jobs are good. And so, as a result, they take up a bunch of time and you enjoy it, which means you don’t need kind of a side hustle in order to kind of keep it real with yourself. You know, like Josh, who runs MetaFilter now, when he first started, when it was just kind of me and Matt and I guess PB, you know, he had kind of a day job-ish that wasn’t very fulfilling.
12:44 Jessamyn West: And so, MetaFilter was like his side hustle, and he enjoyed it, and that’s where he went to kind of be himself while his day job was what he did to kind of keep food on the table and pay rent. And so, I think he’s sort of the happiest man alive, because he could leave that day job which wasn’t fulfilling him and be himself at his job, basically. And one of the reasons I kind of moved away from MetaFilter, as much as it was my favorite place, and I still hang out there and enjoy it, is that librarianship is really kind of central to who I am. And even though there’s hundreds of librarians on MetaFilter and we’ve built little tools so that if you run Greasemonkey, you can kind of see who all the librarians are. You’ll see their names with little books next to their names or whatever so you can see it.
13:29 Jessamyn West: You know, in Ask MetaFilter, the question and answer thing, people are answering their questions, that are librarians. But I wanted to do more library stuff, because you know, online community, love it, super important, but it wasn’t sort of my central thing. And so, for my world of buckets, which is really a thing I’ve taken to heart. MetaFilter needed to be not my job anymore so that I could make librarianship more central to what I did.
13:53 Patrick O’Keefe: That makes perfect sense. And, you know, back to mlkshk for a second, one thing that really bothers me is, with communities that close … Because like you, I mean, I’ve closed communities. I understand closing communities. Like, nothing is forever. Nothing lives forever. But it kills me when communities do not close right, when they close too fast, when they close without regard for the connections that their members have made through the community. That’s somewhere that I’ve been really critical of IMDb. It’s terrible that they close in two weeks when they have been around since 1999. Imagine closing MetaFilter in two weeks. You know, you just don’t do that. Someone could go on a vacation for two weeks, come back, and they have no way to … you know, vacations go for two weeks. Anyway, not to get sidetracked on IMDb, but it’s an area where I think, from what I’m seeing, from what I read, mlkshk deserves some credit. You know, they’re taking their site offline on May 1st after having announced it on February 22nd, giving members more than two months to come to terms with the closure and, just as important, they are providing a way for members to easily download all of their content. So, it seems like they’ve done a really good job in that area.
14:50 Jessamyn West: Yeah. Well, I mean, I feel that. I feel like we got warning. I mean, the funny thing is there is almost a “sky is falling” aspect to it, because the first time mlkshk was maybe going to close, they kind of decided not to because of reasons. And this time, it looks a little bit more serious. But one of the things that is sort of my favorite part of the whole thing is, you know, it’s an active community. It’s an active community of nerds. And so, there was the sort of inevitable kind of hand-wringing. “Oh, what are we going to do? How are we all going to find each other?”
15:20 Jessamyn West: And then there was a whole bunch of people who said, “You know, maybe there’s a way, kind of, we can keep the band together. You know, that we respect and love Andre and Amber and the work that they did, and Brad, who worked on the code, and the three moderators, who kind of helped keep everything spam-free. But maybe there’s a way … We’re all grown-ups with jobs, for the most part. Maybe we can pitch in and put together a thing that is, if not mlkshk, at least mlkshk-esque. And, you know, Andre’s not mad. You know, it’s not … [Laughs] He’s not closing the doors because he had it, but it’s just not where he wants to be right now.
15:57 Jessamyn West: And so, we kind of floated a trial balloon to Andre, like, “What do you think about this?” And he’s like, “I’d be open to it, if it were done right with certain caveats.” And so, we’ve been kind of in discussion. And I say “we” — it’s probably 175 people from mlkshk. You know, we’ve set up a little expat community in Slack, in Facebook, sharing Google Docs, sharing a whole bunch of spreadsheets. We’ve done a bunch of surveys. We’re trying to get the tech together, and I think what we’re going to do is build … I don’t know if “clone” is the right word. I don’t know what the technical term is. But probably have a membership model version of mlkshk that isn’t mlkshk. Like, the domain’s going to expire and it’s just going to go away, but a new thing that kind of rises from the ashes that we’ll be able to do. And I’ve been sort of part of the steering committee for that, and it’s kind of fun and exciting.
16:51 Jessamyn West: You know, as a non-coder, I feel a lot of times like I don’t get to build the things. And, you know, there’s arguments about, “Well, just learn to code,” and you know, it’s just … again, it’s not me. Like, I do engagement. Like, that’s my thing. I do the people work. And for a project like this, there actually does need to be a person who does the people work, in addition to the people who think about money, in addition to the people who think about code, in addition to the people who think about data porting and all the other things that need to happen. And it’s been really exciting to work with a bunch of people who I adore from the internet, as well as thinking that there’ll still be a place that we can share stupid internet memes. Like, I didn’t know where I was going to get my internet education in the absence of mlkshk. [Laughs] I was very concerned.
17:42 Jessamyn West: And, you know, there’s a bunch of people where I really wouldn’t have another path to hanging out with them, really, if that place ceased to exist. But instead of just being like, “Well, see ya,” we decided to see if we could make it work. And it’s early days yet, obviously. We’re in between the time where mlkshk said it’s going to go away and where it actually goes away, and we have a lot of big ideas. We have a name. Names are cool. We’re working on our graphic concept. We have a GitHub repo but the code isn’t there yet. Like, we’re part of the way there, so it’s maybe easy to be excited about it, but I’m excited about it.
18:17 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. It sounds like you’re really optimistic about the prospects of it working, which is good. I mean, one way or another, even if he said, “No, I don’t want to help with this,” just that you have the opportunity to get together is something that, I think a lot of times, people lose in online communities. They don’t have that opportunity. so, that’s really good, and it makes sense for someone like yourself, given your experience to ascend or be a part of the steering committee. But one thing I thought about as I thought about this story is, for most groups like this, for groups who are leaving an online community because it’s closing and trying to get something else going. Or in my case, I like to joke I’ve created 20, 30, 40 online communities just by banning people, where they get mad and they say, “I’m going to create a new community.” I’m like, “Okay. That’s fine. Create your own thing. That’s great. We just can’t do that thing here any longer, because it’s not what we’re about.”
19:05 Jessamyn West: Oh, MetaFilter, so much, so much like that. Yes.
19:10 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. So, I mean, it happens, and some of those communities might be successful. Good for them. Some might not be. Whatever. But for a lot of groups like this, they are used to being members of the community, not actually used to being responsible for it, which, as you know, is quite a difference. And I don’t know how the management structure of mlkshk was. It sounded like there were some moderators. And I know obviously, you have extensively experience in moderation and management at MetaFilter. But do you feel like the step from member to manager or responsible party is a challenge for efforts like this? Not only the work that goes into it, which you highlighted, but also the potential for conflict? Like, “Who made you king?”, right? [Laughs] Like, who’s the boss?
19:45 Jessamyn West: I do think so. I mean, one of the things that often was challenging to me when I was at MetaFilter was, you know, everybody’s on the internet for a reason. If you are somebody who spends a lot of time online, there’s various reasons for that, usually. Some are good. Some are bad. You know, maybe you have a job. You’re a nightwatchman with a computer, or maybe you’re stuck at home because you’re taking care of a family member, and you really maybe would like to socialize in person but you can’t because of restrictions. Maybe you’re time shifted. Maybe you’re an expat and there’s a language barrier between you and the people in your country that you live in. And some of those … You know, maybe you’re managing mental health issues that are super challenging and you’ve got good days and bad days, but you can be on the internet all the time, etcetera.
20:29 Jessamyn West: And I think for some people, I really do feel like the internet kind of flattens who we are to a certain extent. Not in like a negative “the internet isn’t real” way, but just in a “the internet can’t tell you certain things about people you interact with, and some of those things may matter”. You know, it’s hard to say it without sounding really judgmental. But, like, when we’ve tried to do projects at MetaFilter, historically, it was always easier to get people excited about doing a project and daydreaming about how the project should go, and telling you how the project should be–like, you know, having very strong feelings about the project–than it was to get them to do kind of the routine drudgery aspect of the project, whatever that was. And some people were super into the routine drudgery aspect and didn’t want to kind of be in charge of it, or whatever. But it was always sort of part of the finessing of managing a community like that.
21:28 Jessamyn West: And one of the things that I think is sort of special about the work that I do, the work that Josh does, the work that Andre did, where you have to kind of take the good that you can get from people’s good expectations, but also have some realistic expectations and kind of a punch list of what actually needs to happen to get the job done, and make sure that you’re sometimes almost ignoring the community in order to be able to sort of look at your punch list and figure out, like, is this really going to happen or is this not.
21:57 Jessamyn West: Like, we had one year kind of a summer camp idea that we were excited about doing. Like, let’s all get together somewhere on the East Coast, spend a week together camping. Like, that would be terrific, like, super fun. But the parts that actually had to go into that weren’t just show up with your sleeping bag. A lot of them were the completely less fun, “We gotta find a place that will accept 75 people”, and, “Oh, are we going to allow pets?” and “Oh, are we going to allow kids?” and “I have very strong feelings about kids one way or the other.” You know, “Is it going to be accessible?” That creates certain issues.
22:31 Patrick O’Keefe: “I have a peanut allergy.”
22:33 Jessamyn West: Yeah, yeah, yeah! And all those things are real. But, like, your peanut allergy doesn’t have to be a concern on the internet, you know, but your peanut allergy becomes front and center of the issue of our sleepover, or your children’s peanut allergy, or your kids’ bad sleep issues when we’re all in tents. And not only managing that, but also, you know, okay, who’s going to step up and do the completely uninteresting, you can’t make any funny meme jokes, you just have to make 15 phone calls and talk to people. You can’t research it on Google. You literally have to go do the stuff. The less interesting stuff is very difficult to get done, and yet still needs to be done as much as the interesting stuff.
23:19 Jessamyn West: And as somebody who had kind of a mile-high view of it, I could see that kind of happening over and over and over again. And you don’t want to jump in and be like, “Look, you guys are enthusiastic about this, but realistically speaking, it’s going to take somebody who can work at this like it’s their job,” and it was my job, but it wasn’t most of the other people’s. But I wasn’t getting paid to do summer camps. And so, it was always really challenging, because you want to be the last person to tell someone, like, I know you want to do this, but kind of I know your follow-through, and your follow-through isn’t likely to line up with actually doing this. You know?
23:56 Patrick O’Keefe: [Laughs] Yeah, no, I get it. I totally get it. I mean, as someone who … anyone who manages volunteers, right, in a community setting, which is a lot of us, do now or have in the past managed volunteers. I’ve managed hundreds of volunteers.
24:08 Jessamyn West: Sure.
24:09 Patrick O’Keefe: And the reality is that people who might want to do it or feel like they want to do it or commit or raise their hand aren’t always the people who are going to actually do the things that have to be done. And, you know, volunteers get a light load in general, because they should, ethically, and they have to, legally. But it’s hit or miss. You can have someone who looks wonderful who doesn’t follow through, or you know … I’ve never put out an open call for moderators. You know, some people have and they have success with it. But for me, I never found that the people who would raise their hand or submit a form entry are necessarily the people that I want to be moderators. Instead, it’s like the people who are in the community already kind of modeling the behavior and doing the things that give the appearance that they would be the people to bring up to the next level, you know, tend to be the right people.
24:47 Jessamyn West: The last couple moderators that MetaFilter hired … I think the last two, and this was after my time …
24:52 Patrick O’Keefe: And these are paid moderators. I should be clear, right?
24:55 Jessamyn West: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. MetaFilter pays their moderators. There is no such thing as a volunteer moderator. We have flagging. Volunteers can flag. Moderators …
25:03 Patrick O’Keefe: Right. Members can, yeah.
25:03 Jessamyn West: And they’re real jobs. They pay decently. The last couple moderators, it was really interesting, because they did want to hire from within the community, which totally makes sense, but they did kind of want to sort of open the door and say, you know, if you think you’d be good at this, tell us what you got. And it was fascinating to me, as someone who was slightly disinterested, because I wasn’t going to work with these people — I just saw who was applying. You know, a lot of the people who applied, their assessment of their own abilities, even on the website, did not jive with the moderators’ assessment of their abilities on the website. In cases, it wasn’t just kind of me thinking one thing and them thinking another thing. It was all the moderators being like, “Wow, that person thinks they’d be good at moderating and we think that person would be terrible at moderating.”
25:47 Jessamyn West: And again, being good at moderating is one specific set of skills. Like, you’re not a bad person because you can’t moderate. But, you know, people who had temper problems, as an obvious, basic example. We’d be like, “You know, you kind of can’t have a temper problem and do this job. And it’s interesting to me that you think that you could,” because it’s so clearly sort of one of the … you know, “must be this tall to ride this ride” thing. But you know, people’s assessment of their own abilities is all over the map. And one of the things, sort of back to what I was talking about before, about online communities, is you only get feedback about those aspects of yourself that are the ones that you share, you know.
26:29 Jessamyn West: So, in real life, if I have a temper problem and I’m asking to run the Girl Scouts, you know, somebody’s going to just come back to me and be like. “I saw you in person doing that thing, and no.” Like, you get a lot more community feedback on your entire self, or at least your entire public self, which, to me, is a bigger part of you than your entire public online self; whereas I think that feedback in internet communities, because you’re only sharing what you choose to share, there may be aspects of your personality that are important for employment purposes, let’s say, but that you don’t get kind of useful feedback on because of various reasons, either because people don’t feel like it’s their place to say anything because it’s not important. I mean, people try, I think, really hard to be very nonjudgmental about aspects of people’s personalities, which is super, you know.
27:19 Jessamyn West: But you see that, like, in Wikipedia. People are so … it’s so important for them to not be judgmental about people’s personality problems that you wind up with people who are borderline sociopaths, who are unmoderatable, just because people are like, “Well, that’s just how that person is.” And you’re like, “Well, how that person is is that they harass female Wikipedians.” You’ve got to make a choice, right? You just have to make a choice. And watching different communities come down on different sides of how much you can moderate based on things people may not be able to control about themselves is one of the more fascinating aspects of sport of observing online communities, to me. Because I think there’s ways of saying with love, “Hey, you know, you have a little bit of a temper problem, and that might make moderating challenging for you, and it might not make you the best candidate.”
28:06 Jessamyn West: But a lot of times, people don’t even get that level of feedback. Like, we definitely had some feedback from people who really thought they were a shoe in for the position, and we thought they were absolutely unhireable. But it was interesting to just kind of think about that. Like, why does this person have a very different view of themselves than everybody else seems to have about them? And if that’s something they should know. Like, is it part of our job as kind of internet friends with that person to be like, “Maybe you don’t know that you come across in this way.” Because it may not be part of that person’s whole personality. It may just come across sort of in internet land. You know what I mean? So, you may not be aware of it, or it may not feel central to them, because they only act that way online.
28:49 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. I think I’d be a great moderator, because I spend so much time talking to them, every time they remove my post. [Laughs] No, I totally get it.
28:57 Jessamyn West: I mean, people sometimes think because they’re very verbose, that has utility. And maybe it doesn’t. Or they think because they’re very discerning, that has utility, and maybe it doesn’t. Like, you know, the flipside of discerning is judgmental, right? And you have to almost be the opposite of judgmental, at least in your online public persona, to be able to kind of be good at what you do, right? I mean, obviously, we all know online communities where, you know, the mods are super judgey, and that’s just the way that community runs. But I feel like in general, less judgmental moderation except to whatever the guidelines or rules are is a better way to move forward.
29:35 Patrick O’Keefe: I consider myself highly discerning and not judgmental, thank you very much. I’m just kidding. [Laughs]
29:40 Jessamyn West: [Laughs] Doesn’t everybody, right?
29:42 Patrick O’Keefe: Right.
29:42 Jessamyn West: And I mean, I think that’s also part of community management, is it’s not that we don’t, as community managers, have opinions about these various things. It’s that you understand very clearly the difference between having a private opinion and having that be a public statement that you make about the thing. You know what I mean? I mean, I think that’s happened a lot with the politics as of late, where you’re fine feeling how you feel about politics, but as soon as you start talking about it, you’ve made a performative action, and that performative action actually can be judged, as you made a decision to say that thing. Like, it’s very rare that people just become so overwhelmed with emotion that they completely can’t affect how they behave. It’s unusual, and often, it’s something that requires you to get attention for that.
30:34 Jessamyn West: And so, one of the things we always said about MetaFilter, and I bring it to every community I’m in, including real-life communities, is just because you feel a certain way, doesn’t always mean you have to act a certain way. Getting a little bit of distance between our feelings and our actions is kind of the difference between being mindful of the people who are around you and just being kind of an id-based–to be Freudian for a second–individual who’s not quite clicking with the people around you.
31:00 Patrick O’Keefe: Speaking of people choosing what to share … I mean, we all do that. We all choose what to share online. I’ve talked to people about this, and they’re like, “Well, that’s dishonest.” And my thing is, “Meh,” you know. The things that I share are me, but I don’t share … like, I share, let’s say, 10 to 15 percent of me with the internet. And my family get … My friends get a large portion of that; my family gets the rest. And so, you know, it’s like there’s a little bit of what I share that is me. But it’s me, so anyway, not to get far off the tangent there. But speaking of people choosing to share what they want, you know, years ago, you had a member fake their own suicide at MetaFilter, and I talked about that on the podcast with Matt, the founder of MetaFilter.
31:37 Patrick O’Keefe: So, we don’t need to kind of rehash the whole story, but I wrote about it at the time. And when it happened … And you left a comment on ManagingCommunities.com where you said the following: “The oddest thing to me about online communities, as opposed to offline communities, is how quickly one can become a non-member, either by someone dying with very little real-world information known about them, or by doing something like this, where they’re banned and can’t come back. And users who felt close to that person have to reconcile how much or how little they may have known about them.”
32:07 Patrick O’Keefe: How do you think … And you kind of started to talk about this, but how do you think community leaders should deal with that? That’s an extreme case. Like, faking their own suicide is an awful thing — thankfully, a rare thing for most of us, or nonexistent for most of us. The reality is most of us will never see that. But people disappearing … You ban people for reasons, and maybe they’re not immediately clear to the whole community, and if you do your job well, maybe they don’t notice how awful that person was. How do you think community leaders should approach that, of a member disappearing? And the whole picture isn’t exactly clear, in they’re questioning themselves, as far as what they may or may not have known.
32:40 Jessamyn West: Well, I think it’s a great time to sort of bring in the backchannel, a lot of times. Because again, real-life community. I live in a small town in Vermont, and if somebody dies, there’s a notification in the paper. There’s a picture of that person. There’s a story about their life. There’s who their next of kin are. There’s information on the services, and all of that is public, right. So, maybe it’s somebody I didn’t know that well, but they worked at the butcher and, you know, I have fuzzy feelings about them. I can show up at the service and maybe get to know the people who knew that person, and get to know that person even a little bit better after they’re gone. You know what I mean? That there’s hooks into that in sort of the real world.
33:18 Jessamyn West: Whereas, you know, in an online community, you ban somebody who may not have even been there under their real name. Most of the time, they’re not. People share as much as they want to share. And I think people have a challenging time reconciling that, both because they acutely feel the loss in some ways, but then in other ways, it sort of occurs to them that they didn’t maybe know that person. I mean, I think that’s the wake-up call, when you realize how little you may know about people from your online interactions with them, which isn’t always true, but in many cases, you get somebody who passes away, which is one of our more sort of … happens more than never.
33:59 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s like Godwin’s law of, you know, the longer a discussion goes, the more likely it approaches the likelihood of mentioning Hitler. It’s like, the older your online community is, the closer the chances approach of someone passing away.
34:10 Jessamyn West: Well, exactly.
34:11 Patrick O’Keefe: And it’s an unfortunate reality for someone who manages a long-term community. I manage a community that I’ve been responsible for for 16 years, and MetaFilter’s been around since ’99. People are going to pass away.
34:20 Jessamyn West: Yeah. Yeah, and whether you know about it … I mean, I’m sure many more people have passed away to whom MetaFilter was kind of tangential in their lives and we never even knew about it. But usually, if you have somebody who’s in the community, people know them and they know MetaFilter. I have sort of a friend/colleague, somebody I went to college with and then kind of lost touch with, and then she kind of showed back up on my radar again because she went to library school and was doing library stuff. So, we kind of reacquainted online, and hey, she was also on MetaFilter and wasn’t that cool. And then she got a terrible cancer diagnosis, and etcetera, etcetera, passed away last year. And one of the things that was really interesting to … And I posted sort of an obit thread. I think it’s kind of important for community to be notified, at least, to the extent that you can.
35:05 Patrick O’Keefe: Mm-hmm.
35:06 Jessamyn West: And one of the things that was really interesting to me, you know, “Hey, I miss my friend, and this is more that you could learn about her, and here’s a link to her obit post, and we’ve invited her brother to read this thread, so just FYI … ” is the remembrances of people who knew her personally versus the remembrance of people who just knew her online. And they’re different. They’re not better or worse, but it’s definitely, there are people who acutely feel that loss, even though she wasn’t a person that they knew. And then there’s people who, you know, sort of like me … like, I wasn’t … and we still didn’t hang out. We were still internet friends. But it was based on sort of a corporeal initial friendship, and I always felt that those were slightly different.
35:52 Jessamyn West: But realistically, from kind of a just acutely, like, “I look at this like a robot” MetaFilter perspective, the only way that’s different than somebody you just kind of banned for life is you don’t think that you could maybe find that person somewhere on the internet. I mean, we’ve definitely had users historically at MetaFilter who you ban; you never know who they are–like, as moderators, we did not know who they were personally–they had a sort of obscure username that didn’t link to any personal information; and I don’t even know if I’m interacting with that person in other online communities, because I never knew who they were. I mean, I’m one of those people who firmly falls down on the side of the internet is real, you know. Those friends are real friends in very specific ways. But it is sort of an odd artifact of the way we interact through typing, or, you know, meetups, or hanging out in chat rooms, or whatever the thing is, that someone could sort of disappear so completely.
36:55 Jessamyn West: And as moderators, one of the things you have to kind of think about is, if you ban someone from the community, particularly someone that’s like that, you may be sort of cutting off everybody’s pipeline to that person, if that person doesn’t choose to make themselves available somewhere else. And where I started with this was talking about the backchannel. We’ve definitely had some users historically on MetaFilter, and also in other communities that I’ve been on–giant librarian communities, also–where you kind of ban someone for very good reasons, like clearly breaking rules or whatever, but that person also had a lot of useful aspects to sort of what they did, you know.
37:33 Jessamyn West: Like, we had somebody on MetaFilter, really interesting doctor type who would often give people useful information about medical stuff in Ask MetaFilter, which was very helpful to people, and would form personal connections with people in ways that were really useful — but I also had kind of a personality problem and would harass and sort of borderline threaten people in ways that were just completely not okay. And every now and again … I mean, still in community conversations, I’m not even in charge of them anymore, but they still happen. People will be like, “Oh, I miss that user,” and that person does still exist on the internet. And sometimes, if people feel strongly about it and I know who that person is, I’ll sort of backchannel them, send a private message, get them on instant messenger, and just be like, “Just FYI, you can do a little bit of work and figure out that that person still exists other places on the internet.”
38:26 Jessamyn West: I mean, without me giving away sort of private, moderator-only access, but just to let people know that that person’s still there, because a lot of people might not even think to look, you know. They maybe don’t look beyond their own community. A lot of people that belong to MetaFilter don’t belong to a lot of other communities. I mean, I think the same is true for, like, this big librarian community I work with on Facebook. Like, people don’t belong to tons of online communities. They belong to their local. And so, telling somebody, “Look, that person isn’t gone. They’re just somewhere else on the internet,” and it also makes me feel better doing sort of community management stuff, where you say, “Look! We didn’t ban you from life. We just banned you from this community with a certain set of expectations.”
39:08 Jessamyn West: And one of the things this sort of relates to, you know, one of the other communities I’m in … You know, MetaFilter, mlkshk, librarian community; I belong to an online trivia league. Like, you know, I nerd out with people online, answer trivia questions, and there’s a little community forum as part of the trivia league. and we had a fairly notable member of our community who passed away. Many people may have seen her on Jeopardy! It’s basically one of those things where she was on Jeopardy! when she already had a terminal diagnosis, and the shows aired literally after she had passed away, and that made the news. Like, it was a well-known thing in the news, and she was also sort of part of our community.
39:45 Jessamyn West: And you know, I mentioned to the guy who runs that community, “You know, it really might be a nice thing if there were a way to retire.” You know, we all have little flags that are next to our name and the forums that we post on. And I was like, “You know, it might be nice if there was a way to kind of retire usernames, so that people could know about that person, so that people could see discussions that that person participated in and know more about them, but also maybe know that that person was not only not a member of our community anymore, but had passed away. And I feel like that’s one of the things that helps a community be a community and not just a chat room, that people’s entire arc of life–“hey, I was in high school, and now I’m in college, and now I’m a mom, and now I’m going through a divorce, and now … “–become part of something that you know about somebody.
40:33 Jessamyn West: And the fact that somebody passes away or commits suicide or leaves in a huff or whatever is sort of part of them, but also part of the community. And so, I helped a little bit, and now our online trivia league has a little sort of in memoriam page. And when we learn that somebody has passed away … Because a lot of these trivia people know each other in real life. I don’t know many of the kind of high-ranking trivia people, but I have some of my friends in the league. You know, there’s a little page, and you can figure out what had happened to that person and maybe read or know a little bit more about them, and it’s sort of the functional equivalent, I think, of the obit in the paper that I get in my real-life community here, which actually is about the same size as my internet trivia league online.
41:17 Patrick O’Keefe: You know, we talked a little bit about the processes around death in communities, which is just the most uplifting topic. [Laughs] But last episode, I had a community manager who leads the Breast Cancer Network Australia community. And so, when you run a community about cancer, you know, death is a reality. It’s a reality in general, but when you run a community around the disease, it’s a more in-your-face reality.
41:39 Jessamyn West: Sure.
41:40 Patrick O’Keefe: And so, you know, you develop processes around things that happen repeatedly. And, you know, one of those things could very well be death. And so, you know, how do you handle their account? How is their account retired? Does something change with it? How do you preserve their legacy on your community? What happens after? Discussions? Who’s notified? Who gets told this? What topics do you start, etcetera? And so, it’s natural for there to be a process around it. In some ways, I feel death is tragic and hard and sad and we cry, but in some ways, it’s easier to handle than some nasty jerk that you just banned, because death is a finality, right.
42:12 Jessamyn West: It’s conclusive.
42:13 Patrick O’Keefe: Yes. It’s conclusive. And we have this person, and usually with death, you remember people fondly or better than they left. Death tends to improve people’s standing, in many cases. You know, you forget the bad things and you think about only the good. And so, you reminisce and you talk about it, and it’s a beautiful thing, a moment of healing for the community, for the people who cared about that person, and in many cases, for the person’s family when they read those replies. But if you just ban some guy who had 2,000 posts but privately you know he’s like a Nazi, it’s one of those things where you have people that have a disconnect from the reality of what you had to see, versus what they saw. And in some cases, you can kind of talk about that in vague terms.
42:53 Patrick O’Keefe: I mean, my professional standard has always been that I try not to get too deep into the dirty laundry with people of, like, “This person did these things and this is what happened.” It’s like, “Well, they violated our guidelines several times and they had many opportunities to remain a member who could contribute here, and you know, we’re sorry, but unfortunately, it was just time that they had to go.” So, you know, that’s maybe not the most satisfying answer, but it’s tough. You can’t post an announcement every time you ban some long term member. You can, but it’s tough, because it kind of reopens the wound and you’re kind of going over the dirty laundry and, you know, when you do that, you have the opportunity to also get dirty. So, it’s dark humor, I guess, to think of it that way–death is easier and jerks are harder–but it seems like that often is the case.
43:34 Jessamyn West: Well, and one of the things that’s trickier … I mean, there’s two other things that that spurs for me, is, okay, you have users who pass away, you have users who you ban, and one of the things that MetaFilter, which is still acting policy, is this thing that Matt came up with called “Brand New Day”, where if you get banned for doing a thing, with a couple of exceptions, but mostly, you have the opportunity to come back as a different new user, and if you don’t do that thing anymore, we won’t tell people that you used to be the user that does that thing. Now, if you out yourself as being the same as that previous user, all bets are off. But you know, sometimes people go through some stuff, right? They’re in a bad relationship. They’ve got a substance abuse problem. They had a mental health issue that wasn’t being treated very effectively. And maybe they come back around and they are sorry or whatever. You know, everybody’s got sort of an open door.
44:29 Jessamyn West: But one of the things that was always very tricky at MetaFilter was users who would leave of their own accord, because people can close their own accounts at MetaFilter, and people who would leave because they were angry about a certain thing. Because you can come back, people would say various things about that, like, “Oh, that person, you know … ” We’d call it buttoning, because it’s like pushing the big red button to leave. But part of it was that was sort of the most emphatic political statement that you could make about not being okay with the way the community was. And if a certain number of high-profile members leave over a certain issue, it definitely sends a message to the moderation team that there’s a problem, both because those people leave, but also because so many of the other members who stay point to that as sort of an essential thing that must be dealt with.
45:21 Jessamyn West: And so, from a management perspective, if you’re way up at the running the place level, you kind of look down and you’re like, “Well, you know, one or two high-profile users. We’d like them to be happy here, but if they’re not happy here, maybe it’s time for them to … ” Or maybe you just need to take a break, you know. Maybe they can come back. But for individual users, especially because, in many cases, you only have access to those people when they’re part of your community, the fact that they choose to leave over feelings about the community … Like, not like, “Oh, I just need a break,” but like, “I’m really not happy with how you handled that particular issue.” There’s a pressure applied that’s not just, “Hey, maybe you should look at how you handle this issue,” but like, “We want that person to come back because it’s the only way we have access to that person, and you, as managers who are making this one decision about this, are keeping that from us.”
46:13 Jessamyn West: Like, for some reason, the people who leave create a kind of negative feeling that must be assuaged by having that person come back. You know what I mean? Like, I’ve always felt like, hey, everybody’s a grown-up. If you make a decision to leave, that’s your choice, and maybe you’ll come back. And you’re welcome, even as a non-member, to kind of talk to us about what the issue is when I was there. But for people within the community, they’re like, you know, “The goal is that nobody leaves.” [Laughs] And to me, that’s like saying the goal is that nobody dies. Like, sure that sounds like a good idea at some level, but realistically, if nobody died, there would be huge problems, and realistically, if nobody left the community, you would wind up with kind of a stagnation that would be difficult in its own way, that the community is not supposed to be everything to everyone; it’s supposed to be mostly determined by its members, but with the outlines of what’s going on in that community actually determined kind of by management.
47:09 Jessamyn West: And there’s always opportunities for people to learn more about how to deal with things more respectfully. I think there were definitely times at MetaFilter historically when we could have dealt with gender issues significantly better then we did. We could have dealt with LGBT issues specifically better than we did. We could have dealt with transgender issues better than we did. And part of that is because there’s a learning curve; part of it is maybe we weren’t getting inputs from the people we should have been seeking out inputs from; and part of it is just the world changes around you, and things that may have seemed like they were an okay way to talk about issues became not okay. And so, part of the thing that’s really tricky from a management perspective is determining sort of how many people leaving is too many people?
47:53 Jessamyn West: Because obviously, people die when they die, and so there’s nothing you can really do about that one way or the other, although it is tough for communities, and you hope everything doesn’t sort of stack up. But then part of it is also figuring out, okay, what does need to be a wake-up call? And having that assessment be separate from sometimes the community’s determination, because you know, one high-profile user leaves over an issue and people want kind of a complete reevaluation of that issue because the person left, and maybe that’s not appropriate. Maybe that user is just sort of somebody who’s unhappy. It may not be the job of sort of management team to address that specific user at the expense of all the other users.
48:33 Jessamyn West: And the only thing I wanted to mention about that it’s really interesting to see people’s response when a community member dies, high-profile community member dies, compared to a regular old obituary thread when a famous person dies. Because in a lot of cases, unless maybe you’re … no, even if you’re David Bowie, actually, now that I think about this … Because, as people know, last year, there seemed to be a massive number of celebrities dying off. And there’d be an obituary thread. “Hey, so-and-so passed away.” And the thread would be various people being like, “Oh, no,” or, like, a reminiscence of that thing, or “This is how this perfect affects me”. But there’s almost some kind of internet-person proclivity where, when everybody else is saying something good, you have to show up and be contrary and say something bad.
49:19 Jessamyn West: And in obituary threads, for whatever reason, because death has a special place in our life, showing up to say something negative when everybody else is kind of feeling bad that they lost that person from our life, whether real or sort of imagined, sets people off in a way that nothing else does. You know, so David Bowie may or may not had dalliances with underage groupies decades ago. Sort of a “don’t care” for me, right. But for certain people, maybe that’s their issue, and that’s what they want to talk about. And so, finding ways to manage, “Hey, this is what I want to do,” and all we’re trying to do is facilitate conversation, versus maybe an obituary thread isn’t the proper time to start talking about this. But how do you explain that? How do you say death is special without people … what they hear is, “You can only say nice things about dead people,” which is not what we’re trying to say, but sometimes does become the impression people walk away with.
50:16 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s not easy. [Laughs] It’s not an easy thing, and rarely is anything black and white in this space.
50:24 Jessamyn West: Well, and I had never just thought about death as much as I did before I started doing community work. Because, you know, you’ve only got so many people in your life, right. But once you’re online, suddenly, you’ve got sort of thousands of people plus their families plus every famous person they ever knew about, becomes a sort of a death issue. In fact, one of the people you should talk to, because I think we’re really lucky at MetaFilter, is we have a third-generation undertaker funeral home manager, ColdChef, who’s one of our community members. And when my father passed away five or six years ago, and I know when other members have had deaths in the family, he’s a really good person to talk to about, like, “Now what happens? How does this work? How do I talk to …?” Because if it hasn’t touched your life, and especially as a grown-up, you may not know how to deal with it.
51:12 Jessamyn West: And a lot of the discussion around it online, if you Google it, is kind of like what to buy and people trying to sell you things. And so, having people who can sensibly talk … I mean, he is to funerals as I am to internet community discussions, you know. He’s been to a thousand of them. He can tell you how they tend to go. He can tell you what tends to work and what tends not to work. And having each of those people who has deep knowledge about that particular aspect of life can be really interesting. And, you know, he doesn’t do online community, but he does offline community like a boss, and it’s interesting because I never would have thought of that before I met him in my online community, that there’s such a community management aspect to death and funerals.
51:54 Patrick O’Keefe: Jessamyn, it has been a pleasure to have you on the show. Thanks for coming on.
51:57 Jessamyn West: So great talking to you.
51:59 Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking with Jessamyn West, librarian and community technologist who consults at jessamyn.info. Follow her on Twitter @jessamyn. She blogs at jessamyn.com/journal and librarian.net. Finally, she has a library newsletter than you can subscribe to at tinyletter.com/jessamyn. Jessamyn is J-E-S-S-A-M-Y-N. For the transcript for this episode plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad. See you next week.
Thank you for listening to Community Signal.