The Great Patreon Debacle, and What it Means for Independent Creators

By | Business, Creativity

I’ve raptly followed the recent Patreon controversy, eager to understand why one of the lifeblood services of so many independent creators inadvertently alienated and infuriated the very creators and patrons they serve.

How did this happen? What does it mean for creators?

What Went Wrong in Patreonland

A few weeks ago Patreon suddenly announced an impending change to the financial relationship between creators and patrons. It sounded reasonable on the face of it — simplifying some complexity in how and when payments occur — but it actually upended some core values of their community, and destroyed an enormous amount of trust in the process. After a swift and strong negative response, Patreon ended up reversing the change, but it’s surfaced a lot of issues around creative funding and the infrastructure that powers it.

I saw Patreon’s initial email announcement and my first reaction was curiosity, not anger. But then, I’m not a creator relying on this platform for my livelihood — and as I realized how big a mess this was becoming I became very interested in the deeper reasons why this announcement sparked such a backlash.

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Canonize: Creating a Personal Canon Template

By | Education, Life, Media | No Comments

I love the idea of the “personal canon”: an encapsulation, in list form, of those things that have most shaped you. A sort of annotated bibliography of influences.

Over the past few years I’ve come across several excellent examples of people using a corner of their personal websites to provide such a snapshot. These range in complexity and number of items included, but all give an intimate sense at the forces that shape a particular mind.

My favorites of these include: Buster Benson’s canon, part of his public Codex Vitae / “Book of Beliefs”. Mandy Brown’s “A Working Library”, a refreshing inhale-exhale of her reading and writing. David Cole’s Personal Canon, the closest model to what I ended up with. And Bret Victor’s “Links 2007” page, an excellent list of books as well as other media items.

Last year I set out to create my own personal canon. I started with a perusal of the disparate lists I’ve kept haphazardly — books I’ve read via Goodreads, favorite articles and websites via Pinboard — and augmented this with some thought and self-research in combing through things in other areas, like music and movies, that have also greatly influenced me. I came up with five categories of material to include: books, media, websites, articles, and ideas. These are somewhat arbitrary, and there’s of course some overlap, but I found most things fell pretty neatly into one of these categories.

I started with a “longlist” of as many items as I could come up with for potential inclusion, which was nearly 250! That’s way too many for one webpage, so I took a pass at whittling it down to a “mediumlist” of more curated favorites, arriving at roughly half the initial number. Finally I played around with organizing / grouping these items, and in the process narrowed my selections down further to a “shortlist” of 80-some items. Ultimately I came up with 10 categories of my interests, each containing 7–9 canon items.

This project was also an excuse for me to actually try using GitHub for a project for the first time. My girlfriend helped with design ideas and creating the icons I used for each of the five item types, and we practiced making commits to a GitHub repo I made. I created an HTML structure for the canon, played around with design until I had a look I was happy with, and then uploaded it to a standalone page on my site. In the back of my mind I thought it could be cool to eventually make this a public template of some sort, but when I launched initially it was really just a project for me.

This year my friend Tom Critchlow asked about the project, mentioning that he was thinking about creating a “/canon” page on his own site. This got me thinking again that it would be fun to write a bit more about the project and flesh out the GitHub repo to make it more useful for someone thinking about making their own canon. I love finding this kind of thing on others’ sites, enjoyed making my own, and think it would be great if more people did something similar — it’s always a great way to both learn about someone on a personal level, and discover a bunch of awesome material for your antilibrary!

Two projects I really like, with similar aims, have helped guide my thinking on this. First is Diana Kimball’s “/mentoring” project, a “distributed mentoring movement” which encouraged people open to being a mentor to post information on their site making explicit how such a relationship might be initiated. The core of it is a simple mission statement articulating its goal, and a template providing structure for how someone could easily fork and adopt it. While Diana is no longer actively working on the project, I’m heartened to see its influence lives on. Second is the “/now” project by Derek Sivers. This started with a blog post encouraging people to post a “now” page on their sites, intended as a more active supplement to the standard website “about” page, to give visitors a concise glimpse into its author’s current focus. This caught on, and Sivers created a directory page that now lists over 1,000 examples of such pages people have made.

I’d love to see something similar with the “/canon” page. The GitHub repository I’ve created for the project, which I’m calling “Canonize”, contains more detail on the process I followed and how to use the files provided. I encourage you to check it out and consider creating your own personal canon and associated webpage. I’m also open to any suggestions for how to make this more useful — feel free to send me an email, or create an issue or pull request on GitHub. And if you create a “/canon” page of your own, please let me know — I’d love to take a look, and perhaps begin to pull together a simple directory list of these, too.

Again, you can check out my personal canon page here!

Antilibraries Kickstarter “Work in Progress” Update, July 2017

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

Here’s the second in a series of “work in progress” updates for the Antilibraries “Codex Libri” project I launched via Kickstarter earlier this year. (Note: I’m publishing this as both blog post and backer update.)

TL;DR: majority of book notes complete; organizational experiments underway; overall taking a bit longer than I initially planned but making good progress. Read More

Book Walks, or, The Life Changing Magic of Ambulatory Reading

By | Uncategorized | One Comment

I’d like to offer some meditations on a simple practice that I think not enough people do, probably for fear of being hit by a car.

The book walk is in some ways self-explanatory: walking, from somewhere to somewhere else. while reading a books. But, since it’s in other ways a subtle art, I’ll say a bit more!

Many have written about ambulation as aid for thinking, even for “being” fully in one’s body and in the world. Writers, philosophers, wannabe writers and philosophers — legion are those who have enjoyed walking, and chosen to share that experiential wisdom. Walking, simply walking with one’s full concentration and focused efforts, is enjoyable and worthwhile. But throw reading into the mix? Let’s see how the pleasures multiply. Read More

Antilibraries Kickstarter “Work in Progress” Update, May 2017

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

I always enjoy when Kickstarter creators post detailed updates that shine a spotlight on the inner workings of their projects and creative processes. In that tradition, here’s the first of a series of “work in progress” updates for the Antilibraries “Codex Libri” project I recently funded on Kickstarter (note: I’m publishing this as both blog post and backer update.) Read More

My Gift to You: A Bounty of Billion-Dollar Business Ideas

By | Business, Creativity | No Comments

One night not so very long ago, my self-imposed daily writing word count goal loomed. But I was feeling like a sleepy dumb rhinoceros, and didn’t know what to write about.

So, I decided to play a game. It worked like this: J would prompt me with problems — potential gold mines of of disruption potential, as we’d say in the vernacular of innovation — and I would come up with solutions.

What resulted? Why, nothing less than a surprisingly fertile bounty of billion-dollar business ideas!

But alas, I’ve no time to build every business. So, I’m sharing these results with you. Read More

My Many Libraries

By | Life, Reading | No Comments

One of the best books I’ve read in the past few years is Alberto Manguel’s “The Library at Night”. Manguel writes about the idea of a library from many different angles, arcing from historical to personal and back again: the library as myth, order, space, power, shadow, shape, chance, workshop, mind, island, survival, oblivion, imagination, identity, and home.

I’d like to explore my personal conceptions of a library, starting with the many branches of my own fragmented shelves, digital collections, antilibrary, and beyond.

For me, a library is not a single, central repository, but an array of resources, like overlapping mathematical sets.

I have many libraries:

My personal collection of books, that I keep on several shelves in my apartment. A modest collection, though one I’m proud of, and continually growing as space and budget affords — a few hundred books at present. Read More

Intersection of Fiction and History

By | Creativity, Storytelling, Writing | 2 Comments

Fiction and reality often intersect in interesting, surprising ways. Actual events merge with the imagined; invented stories draw on and feed back into history. In many ways they’re obviously distinct and identifiable; in other cases differentiation becomes impossible.

Such relationships and dichotomies — experience versus invention, reality versus invented stories — came vividly to mind after seeing a deftly-acted and well-written play, Red Velvet, at St. Anne’s Warehouse a while back.

The play was based on the life of a nineteenth century black actor; but half the characters were fictional and much of the story was invented and interpolated, the known biography providing a framework within which the playwright could project her own beliefs and experiences and emotions, upon which the director and actors could layer their own interpretations as well.

I’ve thought before that it might be worth trying my hand at some combination of creative writing and journalism — writing something at once spawned from the imagination and rooted in historic reality seems like a fun and interesting challenge. Read More

10 Favorite Things

By | Life | One Comment

I recently made a list of ten of my favorite things, to share with the awesome Uncommon in Common community. This was fun, so I figured, why not share with the rest of the world while I’m at it?

General somewhat-arbitrary self-imposed constraints: these ten things don’t include specific versions of anything (places, people, items, whatever). They’re more like platonic containers of the types of things I most love. And it should go without saying this is a non-exhaustive list! For example, I did not include pizza, or smoothies, or listening to music, or […] but that’s okay. It’s my list and it’s nice and simple and it only has ten things.

Without further ado…10 Favorite Things: Read More

Surfing the Contrails of the CODEX Hackathon

By | Education, Media, Technology, Writing | No Comments

I recently attended my first ever hackathon — and the effects have lingered in surprising ways.

CODEX, hosted this winter at the MIT Media Lab, has a unique literary bent: it’s billed as a community of folks who want to imagine the future of books and reading.” As someone excited about technology and storytelling, libraries and information, design and education, I found the premise to be right up my alley — a perfect first hackathon if there ever was one.

On my bus ride from NYC to Boston that cold January morning, I thought a bit about what to work on, how to spend my time wisely and make the most of the experience. I didn’t entirely know what to expect.

Looking back on the experience, it wasn’t an unmitigated success according to how I thought hackathons were supposed to work — I didn’t leave with a mind-blowing product built, or an instantly-formed new network. But reflecting further, I did get a lot out of it, in ways I didn’t necessarily expect. Read More

My 52 Books of 2015

By | Reading | No Comments

Here are all the books I read in 2015. At the end, I’ve included some comments, reflection, and analysis.

NB: the first # after each book is my initial rating on Goodreads; the second is my more recent revised rating. Years from now these will surely change further!


The ones you shouldn’t miss. I promise these are superb.

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Kickstarter’s Great Nonprofit Innovation

By | Business, Technology | No Comments

Yesterday I was excited to see the announcement of a joint initiative between Kickstarter and The White House: a special Kickstarter campaign intended to raise funds to aid refugees. One day in and they’ve raised over $1.1 million, and still going strong.

This is the first time Kickstarter has done something like this. Right now it’s a one-off campaign, prominently highlighted and heavily promoted, but not currently integrated into the core of the platform.

First, I want to applaud everyone who made this happen, from Josh Miller and the White House to Yancey Strickler and the Kickstarter team! Thanks also to other companies like Twitter, Instacart, and Airbnb for working with the White House to leverage their platforms for good. I’m focusing on Kickstarter because I know it best, but many are helping in these efforts.

Second, I want to urge Kickstarter to run with this idea, and make it something bigger. Because as laudable as this is as a one-off campaign, it’s also a seed with tremendous potential to change the future of philanthropy. Read More