Apprenticeship Community

Ask-Me-Anything with Lynn Cyrin

May 12, 2015 6:00PM PDT to 7:00PM PDT

Lynn Cyrin answered questions about the social network she’s building, and how she stays motivated in social justice work.

Lynn Cyrin is a web developer and writer / advocate. She founded the queer trans collective, CollectQT, and is working on Quirell, a social network. She has done activist writing for Model View Culture.

Lynn’s specialities include sniffing out subtle bigotry, writing database queries, and creating fancy navigation bars. She is always looking for more ways to help trans women of color, homeless women and trauma survivors. When she’s not doing any of those things, she’s probably playing League of Legends.

The full AMA follows, edited for clarity, grammar, and style.

kmanion: What are you excited about right now?

Lots. Quirell is like a month away from (version) 0.2, at which point it’ll be the first time I’m managing users on a production webapp.

Also I’m moving to actual Portland soon, instead of the very outskirts of Portland suburbs. Which probably means being able to entice more people into working with me.

And last thing I’m excited for is Alterconf / Open Source Bridge. Both of which I should have talks at – neither of which are written yet (oop).

Zee: What is Quirrell and why are you excited about it?

Quirell is a social network I’m working on, and it’s radically different from most other social networks currently out there.

The research I’ve done sorts the all recently created or WIP (work-in-progress) social networks into two categories.

Those being either (often distributed and open source) Twitter clones. See: anything from IndieWebCamp, MediaGoblin.

Or social networks following the exact same advertising based “product-ized” model that Twitter / Facebook follows. ie. They’ve got VC (venture capital funding) and the majority of their long term income is advertising space stuff. See: Ello

By contrast, the model for Quirell is based on something halfway between being donation based and a pay for extras thing.

Also the design of the network as a whole is something like … early Facebook. That being focused around the types of relationships you have with people.

With a heavily tag-based (think Tumblr with Xkit) timeline formatting model.

sarahmei: Is Quirrell a centralized deal? Have you decided on a data ownership policy yet?

There are a lot of people who would like for me to make Quirell decentralized, as Kevin Marks specifically has been helping with that.

But by and large the biggest issue I see in my social circles is with respect to the way the platforms they inhabit (Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook) mold the relationships they form.

(Which obviously doesn’t answer you question, so) I expect I’ll be making Quirell decentralized at some point. Probably after 1.0, which is planned for early 2017, if I recall correctly.

sarahmei: Well, clearly you are motivated by an actual product need, and not by a philosophy, which IMO means you’re more likely to be successful.

Also, on that same point, the majority of my motivation comes from wanting to solve the problems I see people having (basically every day) in my communities.

Like for example, a massive gamergate invasion couldn’t happen on Quirell (post 1.0, so like when the main features are in).

Like, the design of the network wouldn’t allow that sort of thing

In-community callouts escalated to huge rifts that leave dozens of people burnt out on engaging a community at all – also a problem I would want to fix.

sarahmei: I’d love to hear more about how that will work…if it’s not all under NDA (non-disclosure agreement).

Nothing’s under NDA! The development process is extremely transparent, if a bit … disorganized

All over here. The earlier issues are mostly big discussion topics, like … this one about pronouns … or this one about user relationships.

kmanion: It’s challenging for me to imagine a harassment-free/harassment-limited social network. How are you planning to achieve that goal?

Mostly by being clever about when / how to show people notifications for things.

So this (changing the way notifications work to lessen harassment) is something Twitter already does to an extent, and Facebook handles by the way its comments are designed.

And I’m willing to bet that whatever specific systems I implement to lessen harassment won’t be too dramatically different from FB / Twitter … assuming their focus was the same group of people as mine. Which is isn’t. Twitter probably focuses anti-harassment work on big names / celebrities / etc., whereas my focus is moreso on diverse people who deal with a constant flow of everyday issues.

Consider if all the effort put into things for verified users were instead used for (example) a trans woman who’s under attack by TERFs constantly (note: this doesn’t describe me).

lanettecreamer: I have a question. Have you found anything helpful for the people out there who believe we have a meritocracy and who react poorly to any mention of inequality? Is there any constructive response at all for those people?

indirect: I made a website for this!

RE: meritocracy, I have been doing social justice stuff for so long at this point that I can’t even engage with people who think it’s a driving force in … anything

lanettecreamer: How about politely disengaging? I find it so tiresome that it is making my day unhappy to even see it.

When I wanna disengage I just drop an example and then exit the conversation, like, my grandparents knew people assaulted by police during the civil rights era. My great grandparents probably knew some slaves. Most organizations still haven’t figured out how to not be cissexist. Any one of those things is enough proof for me.

indirect: Is there a secret to being so consistently awesome and productive over a long period of time?

I don’t know if this translates well to other people, but like, the main way I stay motivated is via getting upset at things.

Annoyed at trans healthcare issues » Upset and energetic » Go off to work on either (a) building things like Quirell which will help trans people organize or (b) building up my personal skills so I can leverage more economic power towards fixing these issues.

Whenever I’m lacking motivation to work on stuff, I remember that most of the problems I want solved definitely require some personal contribution from me, and I put that in by doing work.

kmanion: Any final thoughts?

I think that … one of the most powerful things I’ve ever been able to experience was being able to connect my personal experiences with greater social forces. So my being unemployed at a particular time being connected to trans people at large being unemployed.

Or, on the side of fixing problems, my organization (CollectQT) exclusively employing trans people and making a small but definitely positive dent in those numbers.

nathanael: Did you have to overcome any major hurdles to get into programming/development, and if so, how did you move past them? I’m writing a 15-page version of that story right now, but for now that’s the best answer.

Support Quirell and CollectQT on Patreon.

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