"Influenced by people": Tumblr & Mozilla at The FutureBook Conference

"Influenced by people": Tumblr & Mozilla at The FutureBook Conference

The Bookseller's The FutureBook 2014 conference programme on 14th November promises to have the widest scope and most inquisitive bent yet, in terms of signalling digital directions ahead. Keynote commentary will come from author George Berkowski, WGSN's Carla Buzasi, and -- in conversation with Philip Jones -- Penguin Random House's Tom Weldon. Hurry to secure your seat, as sales will be closed soon. 

"It's about how people collaborate, how people meet each other..." When Jennie Rose Halperin joins the FutureBook Conference's Changing Technology panel, she'll be carrying a message from Mozilla that echoes that of Tumblr's Rachel Fershleiser on #futurebook14's Long-Term Role of Social Media panel: Think community.

"For us, the emphasis is on community and creativity," Tumblr's Fershleiser says. "We're the place people come to celebrate their passions, and they create more fan content and keep the discussion going longer than on any other platform."

"One of the things that we're trying to do," says Mozilla's Halperin, pictured, "is think about how people think of not only advertising but of content from the Internet. The Open Standard is one way we're trying to do that."

The Open Standard (http://openstandard.mozilla.org) is Mozilla's new online magazine, launched on 21st October with the kind of supplemental clarity that only a good wiki can provide -- and exemplify. On the Mozilla Wiki for the OS, you read:

It's time to help more people understand who we are, what we care about, and how our work impacts our online and offline lives for the better. One of the most visible ways we create positive impact in the world is with our beloved Firefox products, but we also need people to know about the value of open systems and challenge the thinking of the status quo. Our work, achieved in partnership with our global volunteer community, is what distinguishes Mozilla from other technology companies, and enables us to pursue our mission on multiple fronts.

Originally named Mozilla Voices, the initiative -- renamed in a community-sourced effort, of course -- is specifically not about Mozilla but about "our mission and support of open systems and a free and healthy Internet," as a community post announces it.

And there may be one of the most important elements of community for a digital publishing industry to get: community is not necessarily about publishing or about a publisher's output. The Mozilla ethos says the more open, the better.

"The Open Web is important to us," Boston-based Halperin says. She's a project manager and researcher on the Community Building team at Mozilla.

In its description from Wikipedia, an icon of Open Web practice, the Open Web movement "asserts a special role for public, cooperative, and standard World Wide Web communications; it opposes private, exclusive, proprietary Web solutions."

And it's at the very core of the mission of more than 10,500 "active Mozillans'" efforts and those of more than 40,000 active community members, in cooperation with the non-profit Mozilla corporation.

"It's really our communities that make us different, that make us special, that drive our products forward," Halperin says.

Created in 1998 as a "Mosaic"-meets-"Godzilla" open-source project of Netscape, Mozilla is the creator of the Firefox browser and Thunderbird email client, among other applications. Its Mozilla Foundation was established in 2003.

"One of the things I like to think about is that we are a community of practice," Halperin says, citing Etienne Wenger and Richard McDermott's book, Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge (2002, Harvard Business Review). "Communities of practice have been around for a long time. Groups around different domains, different interests, can arise within projects."

For publishing, Halperin says, the communities-of-practice concept looks like this: "How can we make really great products that are informed by and influenced by people who are interested in them? -- people who are not only users but also makers of" them.

"This is really new and it's really exciting. And this is what distinguishes open source and its ideas of how people create."

One place to look for a vast cluster of self-defining communities of practice (and otherwise) is Tumblr.

"Rule of Tumb"

Do you know Tumblr's slogan? -- "Follow the World's Creators."

"The same kinds of fan communities that make Sherlock, Doctor Who, and Supernatural so powerful exist on ​T​umblr for all kinds of books," says Fershleiser, pictured, the company's director of public outreach. "Dystopian YA series, absolutely, but also cookbooks and literary novels and feminist essay collections."

Tumblr was founded by David Karp in 2007 -- it's the same age as the Kindle and the iPhone -- and today comprises close to 209 million blogs, 94.6 billion posts, and 285 employees.

Now all things to many people, the New York City-based Tumblr, like Mozilla, counts its success, in part, in events and activities formed in and around its global city of content. One of the metrics cited by the company is its meetups: 41,394 as of this writing.

"There are hundreds of subcultures you can reach out to" on Tumblr, Fershleiser says, "that are either already discussing your books or will be thrilled to learn about them.

"And according to a recent study, 48% of ​Tumblr users respond to an entertainment experience by creating and posting something of their own."

Sound familiar? These Tumblr community members who "create and post something of their own" are makers of a kind, not unlike the concept of the participatory, creative community that Halperin describes.

Based in the publishing industry with publicity stints in her background at HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster, Fershleiser, in fact, describes as a "specialty" her skills at "fusing marketing, PR, social media, events, and community management into one field loosely called Making People Really Excited About Books."

When it comes to the incessant strum of Tumblr's mighty worldwide blogging choir, clues for the publishing world aren't hard to spot.

"It's easy to empower an existing fan community to be the earliest evangelists for a book or author." Fershleiser says.

"You no longer need to get a giant press hit or advertisement and reach absolutely everyone. In seconds, you can target the exact audience for any kind of book and put them in an ongoing dialogue with the author and each other.

"Rainbow Rowell's novels have even been republished in collectors editions with fan art sourced on Tumblr. And over 100 books have been published that began as Tumblr blogs, so it's also a great place to discover new voices with existing audiences and proof of concept -- a rich sourcing ground for your next bestseller."

And accessing "that sourcing ground" may well mean building broader communities than publishing has been accustomed to sustaining.

Halperin -- a librarian by trade -- is ready with her message for  FutureBook 2014: "Don't be afraid of innovation from the edges."

A version of this story appears in the 31st October special FutureBook 2014 Conference programme edition of The Bookseller, Pages 8 and 10.