2011 Candidate Profile: Naomi Novik

This page collects all of this candidate’s responses to questions asked as part of the 2011 Board Candidate chats. Questions not addressed during the chat session due to time constraints were sent to all candidates in batches for response within 24 hours of receipt; answers not received within that time were posted with timestamps. Addenda or edits were allowed within 12 hours of that deadline, and are marked inline with timestamps as well.

Read Naomi Novik’s candidate statement here.

why do you want to be on the board?

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

So my main reason for running is, I started this whole crazy enterprise off with a call to build an archive of our own, and I feel a commitment to see that project through to a 1.0 release. And I think it’s really important for the archive project to have a senior technical voice on the Board.

I also agree that the org is moving into an important new phase where we’re past the first surge of excitement and growth, and now we need to keep people in the org having fun, and bringing new people in. Our forward-facing projects, particularly the archive, have gotten big enough that we want to start thinking about creating obvious pathways for people to come into the org through those projects, and how we can facilitate that — the upcoming Support Board is an example, but we want to creatively think about how to create openings from that and other routes that lead naturally into the org.

and (sorry I just realized I need to articulate this a tiny bit more so typing quickly)

I do think that internally we’ve over the last few years built up an org-wide toolbox that is at this point full of a lot of things — Basecamp, Campfire (the chat system we’re in right now), our secure vault, our own srevers, our internal wiki, our rented servers, etc you get the idea

and that like any toolbox over time the toolbox gets cluttered and then you’ve got the ten things at the bottom you never use mixed up with the one thing you forgot about that is actually really useful and so on

and so I think an upcoming challenge for the new Board will be to sort through our toolbox of not just software but procedures and try and identify where we could improve and done!

what specific, concrete things does each candidate intend to work on while on the Board, and which of those will be their main focus?

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

going quick while baby lets me since I think it is open: From a pragmatic perspective, my number one aim is to have a productive and effective Board, where we facilitate the work of the org without getting in the way — there are a lot of different projects and priorities and for the health of the org we need Board to be a place where those priorities can get worked out in a collaborative way, where we can be a team that comes together and works through the conflicts created by the limits on our resources, both human and otherwise.

and personally I’m obvs deeply involved in the archive project but I figure you all know that ๐Ÿ˜€

In a follow-up to the question What specific, concrete things does each candidate intend to work on while on the Board, and which of those will be their main focus?, Naomi and Betsy were asked, in relation to their answers, Any concrete steps within that, or how do you plan to achieve it? (This question was re-c2-opened optionally to all candidates.)

This question was overflow from the initial candidate chat.
Candidates were asked to submit answers by 19 October 2011 01:00 UTC.

No response by deadline. Response received 19 October 2011 14:50 UTC.

In the chat I said:

From a pragmatic perspective, my number one aim is to have a productive and effective Board, where we facilitate the work of the org without getting in the way — there are a lot of different projects and priorities and for the health of the org we need Board to be a place where those priorities can get worked out in a collaborative way, where we can be a team that comes together and works through the conflicts created by the limits on our resources, both human and otherwise.

And a couple of the other candidates asked how we do that, specifically, so here’s my wildly long list of my bullet points for an effective virtual team. There are some basic practical ones and some that are more about ideal team composition:

Don’t argue in email. If an email exchange starts to turn into an argument, stop and take it to a live chat, or even skyping. Whenever a discussion begins to get tense, you want more immediacy, more back-and-forth, and more information in your communication medium.

Don’t leave a discussion angry. Even if the way you wrap up is to say, OK, it’s late, let’s put this aside to mull on until next meeting and let’s talk about something else or our latest fanfic/cats/babies for five minutes before we leave, try and don’t end on a sour note.

Having people who are good at recognizing when a discussion is getting tense, and stopping and stepping back from it in the heat of the moment, and getting the team as a whole to reconsider it in a bigger context. This may seem obvious, but anyone who has been in a heated discussion online can probably recognize that it is not as easy as it sounds. (Lucy P was great at doing this on ADT.)

Having people with varying points of passion, so that there are always a couple of people on any particular issue who don’t really care that much.

If there aren’t people who are naturally inclined to step back, then whoever chairs the discussion should explicitly take on the responsibility of forcing themselves to do the stepping back.

Having imaginative people. It is really rare in my experience for an argument to truly be a zero-sum situation. Almost always there is a different solution that will give people on both sides of the argument much of what they want. The hard part is imagining up that different solution. It does to some extent depend on knowing the options so experience/education (technical, legal, etc) is also helpful.

Don’t get bogged down in principle. The end goal is that some concrete thing is going to happen or not-happen — a tool gets built, a server gets bought, a fundraising drive runs, a post gets made. Principles guide those decisions, but when an argument starts to be *about* principles, stop and bring it back to the concrete.

Associated with that, recognize fundamental differences and don’t have the same fight over and over. Instead, try and have people with different principles work out their respective concrete goals or spheres of influence, what their priorities are, and do some horse trading.

Don’t let discussion go too long. If you get stuck in a hole, can’t come up with a better solution, can’t seem to step back, and everyone keeps getting angry, then just end the misery. Set an end point for the discussion, frame the core options, and just vote. Even if you don’t “win”, you all get out alive. (As a bonus, I have often found that venting the pressure by doing this often unlocks the creativity to suddenly come up with a new better solution.)

Remember things are rarely set in stone. If something really doesn’t work well and continues to make people unhappy, it can be changed. If people are really unhappy, pick two options, set a timeframe to try the first one and come back and review, at which point possibly switch to try the other.

How do you see Fanlore growing, and what do you see as your role in furthering that growth both in terms of scope but also in terms of increased fannish participation?

This question was overflow from the initial candidate chat.
Candidates were asked to submit answers by 19 October 2011 01:00 UTC.

No response by deadline. Response received 19 October 2011 02:58 UTC.

My main contribution to Fanlore over the next few years would mostly be to serve as a resource on the practical technical front: when do we need more server power, how is MediaWiki serving the team and the users, what could we do to improve the user interface and automate routine tasks, etc.

What do you say when asked ‘What does the OTW do?’

This question was overflow from the initial candidate chat.
Candidates were asked to submit answers by 19 October 2011 01:00 UTC.

No response by deadline. Response received 19 October 2011 02:58 UTC.

I’m still keen on the mission statement: providing access to and preserving the history of fanworks and fan culture in its myriad forms. I also like the description I’ve heard others say, that the OTW does this by putting together a big toolbox for fans to help them help themselves to do it in a variety of ways, as opposed to trying to force everyone to do it in one particular way.

What would you do to increase the OTW’s transparency to fandom at large, particularly people who aren’t currently staff? Concrete policies, please. What, if anything, have you done while serving as a staffer to promote transparency?

This question was overflow from the initial candidate chat.
Candidates were asked to submit answers by 19 October 2011 01:00 UTC.

No response by deadline. Response received 19 October 2011 02:58 UTC.

I would really like to do a push to make a review and get our internal wiki publicly visible!

On the whole though, I think the org does a pretty good job putting out information about what we’re doing, and mostly the reality is people who aren’t volunteers are more interested in reading the latest fanfic and don’t really care until something happens that makes them sit up and go hey! And the really important thing is at that point to listen and respond productively.

Part 1: Off the top of your head: How many staffers does the Org have? How many non-staff volunteers?

Part 2: Considering the many comments I’m reading about understaffing and volunteer burnout, how many additional staffing positions on existing committees would you anticipate adding in your term? Additionally, what concrete steps will you work to implement to prevent burnout, to increase staff/volunteer satisfaction, and to increase internal transparency?

This question was asked during the second candidate chat. Absent candidates were given 24 hours from the chat period to submit answers and all other candidates were given the same time to submit addenda to in-chat responses. Responses were due 27 October 2011 20:00 UTC.

No response by deadline. Response received 29 October 2011 03:44 UTC.

Unless I’m misremembering from last year’s annual report, I’m pretty sure we had about 100 staffers and a few hundred volunteers at the time, and I expect things haven’t radically changed.

I don’t actually agree that we are suffering an unusual wave of burnout beyond the endemic, and we really have a pretty big staff and volunteer base.

That said, some committees really do need more help: my impression from the sidelines this year is that volcom is still in a bind, and I know AO3 support and the systems committee have been hurting at times this year for lack of help. But adding people is a lot harder than it sounds if you have a committee like this that requires a lot of technical knowledge or absorbing a lot of procedures. First of all it’s harder to find a volunteer who is interested, and then when you bring a new volunteer aboard you have to invest significantly more time to train them (which is then time that can’t be spent on a different volunteer), which means the cost in the not unusual case when the volunteer then drifts away is a lot higher for those committees.

For Support, the upcoming Support Board which will open up archive support will I hope solve their staffing issues and also make the job more fun and engaging. This is a project that is underway and I hope we’ll see it come to fruition in the next year.

For Volcom, honestly, what I think has been really needed from the beginning is a giant heaping dose of automation for the rote work of getting volunteers set up, so the staff can plug in a name and email and push a button and the person gets set up automatically. Unfortunately, building this automation is a tough problem because it basically requires code that can talk to all of our other tools, several of which don’t have good APIs, and if you think it’s hard to get coders for a shiny public-facing archive they themselves often use, imagine how much harder to get coders for an in-house automation tool involving a lot of grinding trudging through incomplete third-party documentation for a dozen tools. ๐Ÿ˜› But as ADT grows bigger and we have fewer things on fire in terms of the archive software , I would really love to see the team try and take this on for Volcom: if a few coders can be spared to work on it together, that could make up for some of the toughness of the problem.

I do think that in a smaller and more immediate step, we could make Volcom’s lives easier by doing a broad org-wide assessment of all our tools and pruning the ones we don’t really need or consolidating ones that could be done that way.

Systems is tough. Experienced sysadmins willing and able to give us significant amounts of time are hard to recruit, no two ways about it, and we are really lucky to have the few awesome sysadmins we do have. We’ve tried to train people in-house, but in Systems (unlike in Ruby on Rails coding for the archive) it’s just too big a jump between being a newbie to where you can actually do productive work for the team, and as a result the time cost to the current sysadmins of training a sysadmin from scratch becomes too high to be practical. Sadly I don’t see an easy solution beyond keep on banging the steady recruiting drumbeat, although we could make a push to bang it louder and more prominently, and also to just keep in mind in-house that the Systems team are under a tough load that can’t easily be relieved, and bend over backwards to accommodate their needs.

Anyway, those are three specific examples, but I hope that gives some insight into how I generally approach staffing problems.

As for improvements in satisfaction and internal transparency, I had some comments beforehand that I think are actually relevant to this question which didn’t make it into the chat and are now posted on my journal: my current best ideas include adding 1:1 meetings where possible, a monthly report down from the board emailed to all members including liberal giving of kudos, and reducing gatekeeping within the organization to decrease frustration and empower individual volunteers.

How do you see the OTW as being accountable to its assorted constituents–fandom at large; users of the OTW’s projects (AO3 and fanlore users; readers and writers of the journal; recipients of legal aid; volunteers; staff; etc.) What would you do on the board to make sure that all those groups have the information they need when they need it?

This question was asked during the second candidate chat. Absent candidates were given 24 hours from the chat period to submit answers and all other candidates were given the same time to submit addenda to in-chat responses. Responses were due 27 October 2011 20:00 UTC.

No response by deadline. Response received 29 October 2011 03:44 UTC.

It’s a tough balancing act among all those interested parties, for sure. I think in a practical aspect on the new project level where the Board often operates with the biggest impact (whether that new project is something being done internally or something being added to our slate of projects intended for the public), we need to make sure it fits into our overall mission in a coherent way, we have to decide how it weighs against other projects we could also do, we have to articulate the goals clearly and in the right forums to enable the affected people to read and make informed opinions about it, we have to listen with an open mind to critical response without letting ourselves be wrongly daunted, and we have to make sure the work involved won’t exceed what our people are up for and what our other resources can bear.

[Question One] I was happy to hear some of the candidates specifically mention outreach as one of their concerns in the chat transcript. However, I’d like to ask /all/ of the candidates if they could detail any ideas they have for specific plans of action that can be taken in the upcoming year to help the OTW reach out to fannish communities outside Western media journaling fandom.

[Question Two] The OTW still seems to have trouble connecting with large numbers of people outside of Western media fandoms, particularly anime/manga fandoms. Do you have any concrete ideas about how the OTW should improve outreach towards anime/manga fans?

[Question Three] for all candidates: what are their concrete plans for outreach to underrepresented sections of fandom?

These questions were the first batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 23:40/11:40pm UTC 26 October 2011; answers due before 23:40/11:40pm UTC 27 October 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 28 October 2011 05:53 UTC.

I think the idea I mentioned recently on my journal of a “distributed” OTW Con (a bunch of smaller cons at disparate locations networked together) would be a great outreach opportunity. I’ve only just started thinking about this, but here are some ideas: take as the theme the diversity of fandom, have showpiece opportunities for different fannish communities and have each con actively invite presenters from different communities/traditions; spotlight each geographically separated con in turn.

I also think the archive is going to be our best gateway drug for the org for people who might not have been sold up to now, and a great way to recruit is with the gentle touch of identifying killer archive features for different communities and providing those killer features.

As an example, one of the big things that I’ve seen repeatedly in comments from anime & manga fans in particular is that the look of the archive turns them off. So as lim and I have been reworking the archive front end (which had to be done for accessibility and maintainability reasons also), we have also worked to radically improve skinning flexibility and long-term support, as well as making skins available for not-logged-in users, and this is rolling out any minute now. (In fact I’ll have a sample manga skin screenshot up on my journal shortly. :D)

Another concept I’ve drafted for ADT (still early) is for a private-messaging system in the archive that could also be used by the roleplaying community, where chats could easily be polished-up and edited into actual works. (Would also hopefully be useful for beta-while-you-write, round robins, similar things.)

(Also although I stress this isn’t my own work, I want to mention for those who have been waiting for this one, that coder rebecca2525 is FINALLY making our translation feature happen. For those who don’t know, we have tried I think — four? times now to build translation systems. They have all collapsed in smouldering ruins for tldr technical reasons, but we finally hope to see this one early in the new year. Once we have that, that creates a lot of new opportunities for International & Outreach and for opening the archive to broader participation.)

I don’t know how appropriate a question this is, but sanders was suggesting having monthly chair meetings and discussion posts manned by volunteers, and already in Systems we are finding it burdensome with our load to attend to some of the administrativa demanded of us, such as the two-hour org-wide. There were, at some point, chair meetings that were occurring that we found burdensome and, truthfully, irrelevant to us, and we were grateful when these dropped off. I don’t doubt the above would be helpful for transparency, but how would sanders propose to ameliorate the increased overhead to the various committees, some of which aren’t perhaps prepared for it?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 29 October 2011 06:53 UTC.

Actually, I think I talked about this a bit in the previous round of questions, but to add, I think we need to be open and flexible to the needs and working styles of different committees just generally, and in particular committees that are either perennially or temporarily time-strapped.

Earlier this year the servers were named in a problem-filled poll, and the way it was handled and the outcome upset many people. This situation brings up questions about the OTW’s priorities, fandom diversity, and transparency. (Take a pause to appreciate my Oxford comma.) If you were involved in this discussion, what was your input and how did you encourage the board to vote? If you were not, what would have been your input and vote as a board member? What will you do to prevent something like this from happening again? (Please be specific in regards to fandom diversity and transparency.) Are you in favor of voting transparency, and therefore accountability, for the board?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 29 October 2011 06:53 UTC.

I only heard about it pretty much after the fact because I was busy with new baby, so I start with the caveat that any situation is much easier to kibitz from the sidelines when you’re not involved in the decision and also don’t have all the pieces, so you have to take my after-the-fact thoughts with that very large helping of salt, and I offer them with apologies to the folks I know who struggled through it at the time.

My ideal public solution would have been to have the Board swiftly post an apology to let people know hey, we didn’t think this all the way through, it’s not worth anyone being sad or feeling unwelcome, so we’re calling the whole thing off (in some way, whether by changing the names or just canceling the whole thing). I would have wanted this post to explicitly center the blame for both the original mistake and for the subsequent disruption on the Board rather than the organizers, and also to try and shift focus to the much happier aspect of the situation: awesome new servers for everyone to benefit from no matter whether their fandom was gigantic or tiny.

Internally, I would have had the Board apologize hugely to the organizers, ask them to understand that the Board has to make the final call and sometimes override, and if there were lingering bad feelings would have done a change of liaison to give the committee a fresh start to their relationship with the Board.

I know that some of those involved were concerned about overruling the results being unfair to the participants, who had known the rules in advance, and that it would also cross a line in terms of violating our own procedures and creating a sense of uncertainty among users about whether we would stick to our own announced rules in future. And I get that, absolutely, and find it a compelling argument.

But the thing is, in this case the actual server names themselves were not user-facing and would never be seen outside of a sysadmin browsing our files if then. The poll was intended only to pass the time while the machines were installed — to produce good feelings. If it wasn’t producing good feelings, the whole thing was a bust anyway. So given that, my overall feeling is as long as we were fully open and honest about cancelling and why, it would be okay.

That said, I also feel strongly that the server names were too minor an object to allow the debate to drag on. Any decision is better than no decision when either way the end has no significant consequences and the arguing is both eating time and burning bridges throughout the org. So fundamentally in this case I would have been working for a quick resolution, and prepared to “lose” on my ideal solution.

Which leads into the second part of the question for me, where if by voting transparency you mean tallies of Board votes, my answer is no. At least in my experience there weren’t a ton of votes — we mostly did a round of “ayes” when we had to officially approve a new slate of chairs or a financial expenditure or something else that for legal reasons we needed to approve formally. I believe a lot in working by consensus and resorting to votes only when an intractable situation is developing. And so that is exactly the case where I wouldn’t want the process to be exposed, because that’s when it’s really hard and you need people to be able to communicate honestly within the team, and when you need people to be more and not less willing to lose.

And I also feel pretty strongly that this idea sets up the wrong model for the Board. For the health of the org, the Board needs to be a team and not a legislature, and IMO decisions should come out as united Board decisions. Of course it’s good for Board members to disagree and debate, to have different priorities and different groups that they intuitively think of more than others or want to make sure are getting served, because that keeps the org balanced and avoids our overlooking things and increases our font of creativity, but that’s not the same thing as coming onto the Board with an adversarial mindset towards other Board members, which can only take a giant axe to any kind of productivity.

The copyright (fair use) advocacy issues that the OTW works on and the TWC journal are two of the aspects of OTW’s mission that are near and dear to my heart and a significant part of the reason why I have volunteered for and donated to the OTW. How do you think the OTW board as a whole can continue to support and further encourage these and similar projects? What about these projects do you personally value and what relevant skills/interests/experiences will you bring to your term on the Board that can help in this area?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 29 October 2011 06:53 UTC.

I love these projects but I haven’t personally had a lot to do with them other than feeling that they were clearly part of our initial core mission and then standing on the sidelines cheering madly and holding out cups of Gatorade to the other Board members (Rebecca Tushnet and Francesca Coppa) who respectively took point on these and liaised for those teams.

I do think one important thing about the Board is to have at least some people who are natural liaisons for core projects, who have at least some experience participating in that general area and are also deeply interested in that particular area, because it just saves so much time and pain communicating with teams doing specialized work. I think it would serve the legal advocacy projects well to have Betsy on the Board, for instance, and I hope that when Francesca finishes her term one of our awesome TWC staffers will be up for running for the Board to keep providing the academic perspective.

A current known challenge of the organization seems to be volunteer retention and burnout. For example, the majority of the Archive of Our Own’s coding is done by a small number of developers. For all candidates–what practices would you change in the committees you work with to bring in more volunteers and empower them to become long-term, regular contributors? How would you use a board position to do the same org-wide?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 30 October 2011 02:16 UTC.

Actually, on the archive, 47 coders have committed code to the archive over the life of the project, 22 have committed in the last year, we have 15 committers with more than 100 commits and 3 with more than 1000 commits. Ohloh ranks the archive team in the top 10% of open source projects. We do have a limited amount of highly active senior coders, who are the ones best able to take on a major project that integrates with a lot of other things, but this too has been creeping up at last where now we have 3-5 active senior coders as compared to 1-3 at the beginning.

So honestly, I wouldn’t change a ton there; I think ADT is doing great at the slow-and-steady building of a resilient project team, for which btw I give enormous credit to Maia, Lucy P, and Elz and Amelia for creating the kind of atmosphere where people want to come and work.

That said, more broadly I feel that the way that the org retains volunteers long term is, you accept that people are going to come and go — you have generous policies to support it, and a culture of respect for people’s free time and wanting to do other things, so people feel like they are not chaining themselves to a wall if they do sign on.

You keep in mind when recruiting that this is effectively an unpaid second job. It’s easy to feel disheartened from a recruiting perspective when people show up, poke around a bit, and drift away — but we are in fact asking people to work for free! So it is not that surprising when someone who is all for the org and our projects and likes us and thinks they might want to do some work, turns out to not really be up for sinking in large amounts of their free time. You don’t take that drifting-away personally, and you don’t let it make you give up on recruiting and welcoming, and you welcome BACK with open arms and visibly so people know that any time they might come back, even if they’ve vanished previously, they’ll be welcome.

You make the work as much fun as possible, you keep procedures lightweight and unobtrusive, you eliminate as many sources of frustration as possible, and you try and create hospitable environments for people to come into.

And for a more detailed specific thing — the Coders chatroom is a great example, people are always hanging out there so it’s easy for people to drop in. Our off-topic Water Cooler chatroom hasn’t really worked the same way for our other staffers/volunteers, probably because it’s not actually geared for stuff to happen in — it occurs to me one thing we might do to enable a similar experience for people in other parts of the org would be to sort of cluster committees that have some related projects and work going on, and give them shared chatrooms for anyone from those cmtes to hang out in and get work done. It would also be a great way to let people mingle with other volunteers across committees and build more org-wide relationships.

I’ve also mentioned previously that I’d like to see us lower the gatekeeping in general to empower basically any volunteer who wants to get something done, and that I’d like us to expose our internal documentation so (among other good effects) prospective volunteers could see what they would be getting into even before they have shown up.

Iย’ve been hearing a lot of interesting ideas from the candidates, but at the same time, some of these ideas make me worry. For example, the suggestion to open up the wiki to the public: something like that is not at all simple and is absolutely extra work and a matter of extreme effort; it would require, as an absolutely key part of the whole proposal, volunteers across multiple committees to review the entire wiki. When I hear this and other suggestions tossed out right next to statements about volunteer sustainability and burnout, saying we donย’t have enough people for various tasks, this is really troubling to me and I fear that a lot of these great ideas create more work that results in losing more people. As a candidate, how do you plan to balance these needs? Iย’m hearing a lot of ideas, but how do you plan to incorporate these into an approach that helps our sustainability?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 30 October 2011 02:16 UTC.

I find it’s generally more problematic and stressful (and less stable) to add things that require sustained long-term effort, even if relatively small, than things that need an initial burst of work but then are over. So for instance, if we’re looking for a solution that increases transparency, I would lean towards spending the initial time and effort to open up the wiki as opposed to put an ongoing burden on committees to create an initially smaller but ongoing increase in their outward communication to achieve similar levels of transparency.

Of course, the answer for this or any such idea that when the Board sits down with it and looks in detail at what would be involved, you realize that it’s either just not feasible, or not enough payoff for the work involved. Then you consider how possibly the idea might be scaled back or trialled in a less painful way. For instance, the opening of the wiki could be trialled by say opening up just the ADT section of the wiki (nearly all technical stuff, basically nothing confidential or needing review) and seeing how much it’s used, what if any issues arise. If it really proves effective, then you could gradually move one after another committee in that direction.

(BTW, although I get you are using this just as an example, in this case, the internal wiki is already open to all our volunteers — that’s hundreds of people many of whom have just volunteered in passing. If there is anything in there that is actively confidential, it shouldn’t be there anyway, and we can still keep the wiki non-googleable for the very real distinction between “readable by someone who comes and dives in actively” and “findable for typing your name in google”.)

Addendum received 30 October 2011 03:31 UTC.

and copracat@DW has just told me that actually that’s not the case anymore, on volunteers able to see the whole wiki, and there are different access levels set up, which I had remembered being something we wanted but didn’t have. So I am all wrong on the absence of confidential information, but on the bright side it should be pretty easy to do the opening up by sections. ๐Ÿ˜€

There’s been some discussion since the first chat about the time commitment required for serving on the Board, and what that means for Board Members who also have other roles within the OTW. How will you balance your role as a Board Member and committee liaison with your other commitments within the organization?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 30 October 2011 02:16 UTC.

The way I have from the beginning. ๐Ÿ™‚ I do have less free time than I did before baby, but I also wouldn’t be chairing again and the full scope of the challenges code will finally be in after this year, so I think it will be manageable. (The first year when I was chairing both Board and ADT and having something like 2-4 weekly meetings was tough, I will say!)

The thing is, you need productive people on Board. Productive people are usually already doing stuff in their RL, and already doing stuff for the org. And often the work they’re doing is work they enjoy. I love coding; if I wasn’t doing it for the archive, I’d be doing it on something else. So for myself, I will still be coding if I’m on Board, I’ll probably just focus more on smaller and more discrete chunks of code and more bugfixing instead of new features, which would also not be a bad thing for the project as a whole to have a senior coder on.

[Question One] Hi, I was reading the answers to the question Betsy and Naomi were asked about concrete plans that were posted in the follow-up to the first chat, and I still didn’t see specific, concrete plans that they expect to initiate, carry out, or guide from the Board. Maybe I misunderstood the question? I would like to hear their concrete plans and priorities, though. Naomi’s answer seemed to be meditations on how to work in a group, which I thought was a very small-scope perspective on the question. Betsy’s seemed to answer the question, for me, but it was still vague and nebulous. Could they both expand on this, please?

[Question Two] With regards to Naomi Novik’s answer in the last chat and in the follow up: As one of the two who asked for follow up, I want to clarify that the question was what, specifically will you be working on as a board member and how. The original question was also aimed at what, individually, we are seeing as priorities, not at our philosophical approach. I think the list you’ve presented is absolutely great as a set of guidelines for how we all go about the general work of the board. However, it still doesn’t address what you, as an individual, intend to bring to the table. Will you focus on building communication in the organization, helping to put in place a long term strategic plan, work on increasing the transparency of the organization by finding means of actively using member feedback? Are you offering yourself up as someone who will work with the board and staff to set ground rules for how we conduct business? In short, what will you actually be doing as a board member?

I am continuing to push at this question because I haven’t had the chance to work closely with you before, and I really do want to understand where you’re coming from and what your priorities are in terms of concrete work we would be doing as board members. The philosophical standpoint is, of course, immensely important, but so is the ability to articulate the steps needed to fulfill that philosophy.

This question was in the fourth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:30/4:30pm UTC 31 October 2011; answers due before 16:30/4:30pm UTC 1 November 2011.

The initial question came as a follow up to my saying that my first priority was to have a functional and effective Board; maybe it helps if I clarify that though my answer was framed as “this is what a team needs,” that I think that each item on that list demands good faith effort from each and every member of the Board to achieve each item? So for instance when I say that you need people who will step back from an argument, or that you need creative people to invent solutions, what I mean is that as a Board member, I make the effort myself to do each of those things. Also, I know these questions had to come in by the end of the second chat; since then I’ve also described a bunch of concrete ideas in my various other follow-up answers that hopefully will have given some idea of some other specific things that I would like to do: opening the internal wiki, adding 1:1 meetings where feasible, adding a monthly report from the Board down, reducing our gatekeeping and streamlining our internal procedures in general, and maybe putting on a con. ๐Ÿ˜€

I’m thinking how to answer further, and here is my best shot.

If you read the earlier questions about the server name poll, you probably gather that it was really a tough and unpleasant situation to live through at the time. And I can say that my experience from this year is there is still tension from that lingering throughout the org, which has still not been resolved, which I feel is slowing the org’s progress and also just making a bunch of our staffers and volunteers unhappy, including several of the Board/candidates.

And the highest priority thing that I want to do if I am elected is find a way to resolve this. How exactly, I can’t tell you, because it is going to depend on who else gets elected, what kind of relationships we can form when we’re in a room talking with one another, how open we are to one another.

But I have built and run teams many times and in many ways, and I am good at coming up with creative solutions, and I can also give you one specific thing that I would really push for: at our first meeting, I would suggest that everyone on the new Board come up with one concrete thing that they want to do which we can all agree, unanimously and without arguing, would at least not be hurtful for the org, and which we can reasonably accomplish in say the first month or two of the term. Whether that’s something like, successfully recruiting X volunteers for project Y, a new tool for Fanlore, a new org procedure, a new archive feature, OTW t-shirts — anything, just something doable that we can agree on without pain. And then, that we work as a team on getting each one of those concrete things to happen.

I think there is not a lot better for making people happy and feeling like a team than succeeding at once together and individually — for everyone to be able to say, OK, I wanted that, and I made that happen, and you helped! And it can really help to break down existing tension and unhappiness.

That wouldn’t be a panacea — I mean, no one was really arguing about server names by the end, I don’t think; there were some real differences underlying that were exposed, and we’d still have to work to resolve those. But I would really argue for first doing some repair work just to clear the air, and I would personally work on each and every one of those concrete things that I could contribute on as much as I could.

Hi again, I wanted to pose a question that is similar to one that was asked previously: can the candidates talk about the specific things they have done while working in the OTW over the past year that have promoted organizational sustainability? I’m interested particularly in something I’ve seen in OTW materials before: “We’re building the builders.” How have the candidates carried that out recently as applied to volunteers and future leaders of the organization? I’d be especially interested if they could talk about both technical and non-technical roles, and about how they expect to “build” future board members once they join the board.

This question was in the fourth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:30/4:30pm UTC 31 October 2011; answers due before 16:30/4:30pm UTC 1 November 2011.

Actually, over the last year I have been taking a leisurely break as just an ADT member and only coding autocomplete replacement, tag sets, nominations, new skins system, and helping on an overhaul of the front end. *g*

What I’ve done in the past: building the builders specifically referred to training newbie coders within our organization. There was debate about this in the early days of the org; some Board members felt (reasonably) that it would be better for us to just recruit a team of senior coders and get the archive up quickly, because that’s the project people were urgently expecting. I was the one who argued for a model of actively trying to recruit newbies and train them up internally, even though that meant a longer initial ramp-up.

How to do that — you tell people they don’t need to know code, have good docs, try and make getting started easy, welcome and cheerlead and help. It follows pretty obviously once you decide that yes, you’re going to be a newbie-friendly, actively training team. (What’s depressing is how few open source projects in general do this.) The biggest thing is to have a culture of hanging out in the chatroom so there are people to be welcoming.

Oh, and I have just remembered I did do something towards this that I’m pretty psyched about this year! Unfortunately it is a little technical to explain: I came up with the idea of hooking up dropbox to our webdev environment to mirror code between the two, so we can edit code on our local machines and see the results running on our webdevs live without having to manually upload, and Sidra ? made it happen. The result is, people can now potentially do archive coding without even a webdev — all they need is dropbox and a text editor, and we can share them a folder that is on say a senior coder’s webdev, and they can do some archive coding right there. Lim and I have been working this way experimentally the last few months and it’s been going really well, and hopefully ADT can now generalize the process.

As I type, in fact, I’m envisioning we could use this to do something like a “make your archive!” day where we basically invite people to sign up for a bunch of slots throughout the day, have them install dropbox beforehand, and then walk them through doing an actual piece of code for the archive right then and there (something small obviously). Because how cool and addictive would that be, to actually get your hands right in there and then see the results even if you’ve never written a line of code before!

For growing Board members, it’s key to touch base every so often with other current Board members doing liaison work and try and identify people in committees who are doing great work, particularly as chairs. (One of the things I’m thinking a Board monthly report would help with is making the Board do this more regularly.) And then honestly the single most important thing to do to build candidates is to reach out and tell those people, hey, maybe think about Board. Because frankly a lot of people in our community undersell themselves and don’t think about it.

What do you see as the role of the Board in soliciting user, member, staff and volunteer feedback? How will you prioritize this during your term as a Board Member?

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received at 11:59pm UTC 3 November 2011.

I’m increasingly trying to think of specific practical answers to these questions, so here is an idea: put together an OTW Board suggestion/feedback box and set aside ten minutes of every Board meeting right at the beginning to go through however many of the messages we can. For any message that invites action, decide quickly: no at least for now, need to consider more at length (add it to agenda for next Board meeting), or yes absolutely to be sent along to relevant committee.

If we respond to each such message and share this suggestion form on each blog post, I think it would really encourage a lot of creative feedback.

Julia and Jenny both mention sustainability as one of their priorities for the Board in their candidate statements, and I’ve seen the term also mentioned in other discussions of the election by both members and staff. My question for all the candidates is what do you see as the biggest challenge to sustainability within the OTW, and how will you work towards ensuring a sustainable future for the org during your time on the Board.

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received at 11:59pm UTC 3 November 2011.

I think the biggest challenge to our sustainability (though one I am confident we can meet) right now is that the archive is growing really fast. Our colocation bill is already $800 a month and our awesome new servers that we bought last year are already getting lonely and looking around for company, which is also going to drive up the monthly fee. Our coders, support, testers, and wranglers team is facing more and more demand. And the danger is, we outgrow our resources and we don’t raise enough money and recruit enough help to keep things running smoothly, and get into a crisis mode where we don’t have enough time or money or help to do the broader coding work that’s needed to address problems fundamentally, and instead are constantly playing catch-up and jumping from one disaster to the next.

What we really need to do is marshal the Archive user base. If you’re reading this, you know about the OTW and get that the OTW funds the Archive, and so if you care about the archive you care about the org. But most AO3 users don’t even know the name OTW for the most part. We’ve been more focused on making the archive awesome than tooting our own horn ๐Ÿ™‚ and I think that’s been the right priority and what we needed to do for people to get — because a lot of people initially didn’t — that THIS is what we’re doing. We’re not trying to take over fandom, we’re building really awesome stuff! For you! and you! and you! And the success of the archive means we’ve done a good job.

But now we need to:

– get up clear and obvious fundraising and volunteering links and get the banner that is in the works up for our next fundraising drive;

– let people know from the moment they are invited that this is funded by fans like them and we really need support for the archive to continue to thrive;

– get the Support board up to distribute the work of our beleaguered support team, and to be a pipeline into support, wrangling, testing, and coding.

And from there we have to get creative. AO3-themed swag may be a good thing for us to get into as a complement to the OTW membership drive swag? But those are the really obvious and clear ones.

Many candidates are talking about transparency and the need for better communication. I am a casual user of the AO3 and have no idea what these buzzwords mean in a ‘real world’ context, why they’re important to someone like me, and what the candidates are actually planning to change.

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received at 11:59pm UTC 3 November 2011.

Yes, there’s been a lot of that, sorry: jargon is contagious, and when someone says it in the question I tend to repeat it in the answer, even though I recognize it’s problematic and can mean different things to different people.

Here’s what I mean:

Transparency: that we provide enough information about us publicly that someone who is interested (and a lot of people have a legit interest either because they use our services or might volunteer or give us money) and willing to do some poking about and reading can figure out roughly how the org works, what we’re working on, get a sense if things are moving ahead smoothly, and on a fairly up to date basis — say monthly.

Sustainability: that we’re doing well enough at raising money and at recruiting and keeping volunteers to keep chugging along.

And these things are important to you, archive user, because that tells you you don’t need to worry that the org is going to keel over and die taking the archive you like with it. ๐Ÿ™‚

I’ve been hearing a lot about volunteer retention and burnout, but I have a question about the flip side of the sustainability issue. It seems to me that one of the biggest challenges facing the OTW right now is lowering the barriers to casual participation, to the small, bite-sized things people can do to help sustain the org. Right now, submitting a bit of code or wrangling a tag requires a whole process for anyone who just wants to help a tiny bit, as they can (by contrast, contributing to Fanlore is significantly easier, and I know that committee has done a lot of work to lower barriers). Some OTW projects don’t seem like they would lend themselves as well to casual participation, but it seems like a lot of our work could benefit from this, and I feel like I’m not seeing enough focus on this from the org as a whole. I feel like we’d have less burnout if we had more people to spread the burden, in bits and pieces. What do you, as a Board candidate, think of barriers to participation in the org right now? Do you think they need to be lowered? If so, what concrete, specific plans do you plan to pursue to do this? How do you plan to acknowledge and reward casual participation without devaluing the work of the more “official” volunteers? How do you plan to balance the needs of casual contributors, volunteers, and staff?

This question was in the sixth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 3 November 2011.

I mentioned in one of my previous answers how I recently came up with a way to let newbie coders work and get some code committed to the archive with virtually no setup at all, and an idea I’d love to see for a “Change Your Archive” day where people signed up for slots to make edits to the archive that would go live almost right away.

The Support Board I’ve mentioned a few times is also one of the really key things we need for letting people get in the front door of volunteering in an easy, no-signup-required way.

On recognition, we’ve talked from time to time in ADT about a “merit badge” system on the archive (ie little icons to show on profiles) to reward people who help out within the archive (eg wrangle tags, eventually answer support requests, do translations), which I have to say I love, and it occurs to me this could also be used for other committee members (who wanted obvs) within the archive. Aside from the happy glow of outward-facing recognition for your work, I think it would be just plain fun to “collect” badges, and also those badges would themselves serve as advertisements to the giant body of AO3 users of the fact that you CAN get involved (and each one could link to a ‘how-to-help-with-X’ page).

I would like to ask both Betsy and Naomi why they seem to think their respective committees are so particularly special that they require representation on the Board – why shouldn’t that also be true just as much for, say, DevMem or Wiki or Support? Or rather, untrue for all: I assume that healthy board-chairs relationships would solve the issue of representation.

This question was in the sixth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 3 November 2011.

OK, so to start, in my experience representation on the board does make a difference for a committee that is having a tough time — to have a liaison who, even if not a past member, still actively goes to all their meetings and pitches in with the committee’s work, not in a way as to usurp the chair’s role but to be there as a conduit of the Board’s support. If all is going well, a solid chair-liaison relationship alone is fine; but if things are difficult then it really helps.

And I have to say I think most people would agree that the Archive is particularly special and important to this organization. It’s our flagship project, it’s what started the whole shebang. Major parts of this organization are only necessary because of the Archive, or depend in turn on the Archive. That is, we only really need a Development team because we need a steady cash flow to buy the expensive servers that the Archive runs on and to pay our $800/month colocation bills. We only need a Support team because there are tens of thousands of people actively using the Archive every day. Our Open Doors project can’t really get started systematically saving online archives until we get finished with the Archive’s importing features. And so on. Our other standalone projects independent of the Archive are incredibly valuable resources to fandom that I am wildly proud of, but you don’t need an organization on this scale to build or host them.

If nothing else, just imagine for a second the doomsday scenario where the Archive fails — it goes down fast or slow and takes all these hundreds of thousands of stories that people have trusted us with. Who would ever trust this organization with their work or their time or energy or money again? We could never accomplish anything else.

So I do think that it is in the best interests of not just the Archive and anyone who wants it to last, but also of the entire organization and membership, even those who don’t particularly care about the Archive itself, for the team that is building this crucial and wildly complicated project to have all the support and encouragement that the Board can give them.

Does that require representation on the Board? Not necessarily; what does matter a lot though is having someone with solid technical skills and familiar in particular with what we’re using in the archive. Otherwise, if you don’t yourself understand the technical issues facing the archive team, it’s hard to communicate them to the Board: someone on ADT has to explain them to you, your understanding is very likely going to be imperfect if it’s a complex issue, and then questions any other Board member has at that point have to do a round trip out to the committee and back. Then the Board as a whole gets even worse understanding of those technical issues since it’s a game of telephone, and the decisions it makes are likely to be imperfect.

(That isn’t just fear talking: in practice, this last year the committee did have a rough time communicating with the Board and as a result ran into a bunch of roadblocks that actively slowed us down, both in and of themselves, and in the work and stress involved in having to clear them.)

And I think having a technical voice on the Board is also important not just for ADT but for other committees — someone with tech experience can recognize problems throughout the org that have easy or good technical solutions, and make assessments on technologies and tools that we might want to use.

Related, not that Betsy can’t speak for herself, but entirely apart from liaising with Legal, it is similarly really valuable to the Board to have a lawyer in the house! If you don’t have a lawyer on the board, then the other members of the board have to be able to think about and recognize potential issues that you have to then run by Legal, and again, you’ve got a roundtrip going that delays things. If you have a lawyer on the Board who can just say RED ALERT or go ahead, it can both save a lot of time and potentially real risks for the board and the org.

(I do actually think it would be a good idea to set up a system on the Board where if there isn’t a lawyer as a Board member, one of the lawyers from the Legal team is given access to Board for this purpose under confidentiality, but we don’t have that right now; until last year Rebecca Tushnet was on the Board and kept us from blithely walking into quicksand.)