Information choreographer. User experience strategist. Co-founder of Known.

TGIF everyone! We launched Known in open beta this week!


Announcing our first beta release - Known 0.6 - named for Katherine Dunham

3 min read

When Ben and I started working on Known, we wanted to recognize great artists and creative of all types through small touches within the platform. As part of that, we'll be naming each release of the software after a noteworthy individual who has existed as a maker in some field. Visual artists, authors, musicians, and many more all have a place here.

This week, we launched our open beta and put out our first package release.

When I was thinking about naming the release, the first person who came to mind was Katherine Dunham. Ms. Dunham was a dancer, choreographer, social anthropologist, and activist. She was a pioneer of African-American dance and a foundational figure in the evolution of modern dance around the world. Her modern dance company, Katherine Dunham Company, ran for nearly 30 years and produced modern stars like Alvin Ailey and Eartha Kitt. Her signature dance techniques and training - Dunham Technique - integrates more formal barre work often seen in ballet with contractions, isolations, and movements inspired by West African and Caribbean dance.

Choreographer, dancer, cultural anthropologist

Katherine Dunham While in college at the University of Chicago in the 1930s, Katherine studied anthropology. She then received grants and fellowships to travel to the Caribbean to study dance ethnography. She spent her time in Jamaica, Martinique, Trinidad and Tobago, and Haiti. She continued to return to Haiti in the future and eventually bought property in the country. Upon returning to the United States and completing her degree, Katherine began to focus on dance and performance fulltime.

Through her company and dance school, Katherine Dunham shared not only dance, but also theater, music, social research, and Caribbean culture. She was a noted performer in the 1930s and 1940s, and she went on to become a social activist focusing on black rights in the United States and elsewhere.

Through both her choreography and performances, Katherine Dunham brought West African and Caribbean music and movements to the American dance scene, influencing the developments of jazz, modern, and contemporary dance in the United States. With her writing and social work, she also educated many and spread a message of cultural understanding, heritage, and equality.

I studied Afro-Haitian dance and performed with a Haitian folkloric troupe during my time in Los Angeles for college. I also had the pleasure of studying Dunham Technique under Anindo Marshall, a musician, Kenyan pop star, and choreographer in her own right. Dunham dance has a style that is lyrical and fluid while being extremely grounded and rigorous.

In 2006, a group of students from my college was making initial plans to visit Ms. Dunham in person during the upcoming year. Unfortunately, she passed away before the trip happened.

In honor of her contributions and innovations within the field of modern dance, as well as her work in cultural anthropology and social activism, I excited to name the very first beta release of the Known platform after Katherine Dunham.

Download Known Dunham release

You can download Known Beta 0.6 Dunham release .zip here and .tgz here.

#beta #dunham

Today's the Day! #matterdemoday #changemediaforgood

Everything's a go! We're getting ready for demo day with Matter.

Open Source User Research Tools

9 min read

We’re trying an experiment at Known. We believe that user research is a valuable part of the design and development process, but it is often under-utilized or neglected, especially in open source projects. We also understand that it can be tricky figuring out where to start with user research if it’s not something that you’ve done before.

But we want to make it easier. While Ben and I plan to continue to make user research a key aspect of the work we do, as our community grows, we’d love for others to contribute research as well. We’d also love to help other projects and communities get started with user research.

To that end, we’ve set up a new section in our Github account, and we’re releasing some of the templates that we use for user research. Our goal is to make it easy to get started, even if you’ve never done research with people before.

I presented this at Open Source Bridge in Portland on June 25th. We’d love to grow our collection of resources and continue to provide useful information. Check out the templates we’ve posted on Github. An outline of my talk at Open Source Bridge is below.

DIY User Research for Open Source Projects

Why User Research?

In open source, there are a lot of software projects developed to scratch your own itch. That’s fine if you’re building for yourself or a small group of people like you. But if you want to build software that solves a greater need and is accessible outside a small circle of developers, you need to do user testing.

Even if your product isn’t directly similar to another major product or tool out there, your users are used to the experiences and interactions of companies like Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox, and others. So in a way, you’re competing with the experiences at these companies. Organizations like this have the resources for a lot of user research.

My goal with this presentation is to provide you with tools and information to run your own quick, cheap, and easy user research, even if you have a small team. It can be hard to get started with user research if you don’t know what to put together or where to begin.

We recently put our user research materials on Github for others to modify and use. I’d love feedback on what templates to add and what information people are looking for.

We’re a team of two, and Known began as a side project over a year ago. We became a company about 8 weeks ago.

The thing that made the jump to fulltime with Known possible was our acceptance into Matter. Matter is a startup accelerator in San Francisco with support from the Knight Foundation, KQED, and PRX. They focus on companies that aim to change media for good.

One of the ideas at Matter is that companies should focus on a combination of desirability, feasibility, and viability. Desirability covers things like usability, accessibility, and empathy for users. Feasibility is how able you are to build the product based on technology available and your knowledge. Viability has to do with the sustainability of the product as a business or (in the case of many open source projects) an active community.

I think a lot of open source projects are strong in the technical feasibility area but are necessarily as focused in the areas of viability and desirability. User research helps with desirability.

Getting Started

When should you test?

  • When the thing you’re making goes from “project” to “product”
  • When you want someone else to use the thing you’re making
  • When you’re building based on assumptions
  • When you don’t know the answer to something that you’re building for
  • And if nothing else, test early and test often

What should you test?

  • Start with the questions that you want answered
  • Decide what kind of answers you’re looking for
  • Choose the research methods that will get you closer to the answers you’re looking for

There are lots of types of research out there, but I can’t cover them all. Today I want to talk about three: surveys, interviews, and usability studies.

Let’s start with surveys.

When should you use surveys?

  • When you want to measure changes over time (such as satisfaction or uptake)
  • When you want to quantify characteristics of users
  • When you want to measure attitudes or intents
  • When you want to measure product usage or activity

We’ve put a section on Github for surveys. There’s some information on getting a significant number of responses, deciding what questions to use, and preparing the survey. I’ve also added a few tips.

If you’re just getting started, these are some tools you might consider for the survey: Survey Monkey, Wufoo, Typeform, Google Forms, and LimeSurvey. For quick and cheap surveys, lately I’ve been turning to Survey Monkey and Google Forms as my top options.

We’ve also included some starter questions on Github to customize and use for your own surveys.

If you’re looking for participants to respond to your survey, these are some options to explore:

  • Company email list / customer list
  • Listservs, mailing lists, interest groups lists
  • Craigslist
  • Intercept surveys or pop-ups on your site
  • Social sharing – post on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc

With Known, we’ve conducted one survey so far. We got responses from about 50 people who were amateur bloggers and photographers. We wanted to find out more about the tools they used for blogging and for social media.

Moving on to interviews.

When should you use interviews?

  • When you are conducting needs finding
  • When you want to see how someone works in their environment (for in-person interviews)
  • When you want to assess needs, tools, workflows
  • When you’re gathering detailed info on attitudes, desires, experiences

We’ve put a section on Github for interviews. There’s some information on getting participants, as well as a general game plan and timing. If you’re just getting started, these are some tools you might consider for recording interviews:, Skype, Google Hangouts,, GotoMeeting, Adobe Connect Pro.

We’ve added some templates for getting started with interviews in Github. Right now we have a template for screening participants, an email confirmation template, a sample script for the person conducting the interview, and some sample questions to get started.

If you’re looking for participants to respond to your survey, these are some options to explore:

  • Company email list
  • Craigslist
  • Social sharing – post on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc
  • Word of mouth
  • Meetups, clubs, groups

At Known we started doing interviews before we were even an official company. So far, we had a session where we talked to people on our mailing list who were already interested in indie web and the platform. Then we talked to a set of amateur bloggers, writers, and photographers who post their work using blogging platforms. Finally, we’ve been speaking with PR and social media people who focus on creating content for organizations.

Finishing up with usability studies.

When should you use usability studies?

  • When you have a prototype or product
  • When you’re testing user flows
  • When you’re looking for frustrations or problems users might experience
  • When you’re testing navigation in your product or website
  • When you’re testing interactions in your product or website
  • When you want to see how a real person performs tasks

We’ve put a section in Github on usability studies. There’s some information on getting participants, figuring out your game plan, and timing or scheduling for the studies.

If you’re just getting started, these are some tools you might consider for recording usability studies (both remote via screen-share and in-person where you’ll want to record the session).

For a desktop device try: Silverback, Camtasia, Skype,, GotoMeeting, Adobe Connect Pro, or Morae. For a mobile device try: Magitest, UX Recorder, a camera sleigh, or try mirroring your device to a desktop computer that you can record on.

If you’re the person conducting the usability session, you might want some tools for recording and notetaking, such as: a Livescribe pen and journal, Etherpad for online notes, a camera, an audio recorder of some sort, or a notebook and pen.

We’ve added some templates to Github for usability testing. They include a participant confirmation email, a consent form, and a moderator script.

If you’re looking for participants for your usability sessions, these are some options to explore:

  • Company email list
  • Craigslist
  • Social sharing – post on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc
  • TaskRabbit
  • Hackathons, Conferences
  • Hostel common rooms
  • Co-working spaces
  • Coffee shops (buy them a drink)
  • Where people gather in public spaces: university quads (students), airports/train stations (bored travelers), farmers’ markets/craft markets/flea markets (shoppers)

We haven’t gotten a chance to do any formal usability sessions at Known yet, although we’re trying to get the platform in the hands of as many people as possible. We’re hoping to test user onboarding and account creation, posting with the different content types our platform has, getting the platform set up on our hosted space or on someone else’s server, the comments and social interactions that our platform has, and our browser plugin bookmarklet.

Analyzing the Data

One of the advantages to doing user research with a small open source team is that you don’t have to write up big reports at the end. Once a session ends, we debrief and quickly pull out trends and notable moments. We also go through the information from all participants and cluster with sticky notes to highlight trends and themes that emerged across the responses. We’re looking for things that we can quickly act on, as well areas that we need to explore further.

Wrap Up

My goal with this presentation is to give you tools for quick, easy, and cheap user testing. I want people to feel empowered to carry out user testing even if they have a small team, like the two of us. The resources on Github are evolving, so please let me know what you’d like to see. We want to continue to add useful information and resources over time.

Working to bridge the #indieweb knowledge gap

5 min read

More than any stated principle of the indie web, I hold onto this core idea: Have your own website and really OWN it. Make it your content, make it your style, make it the greatest representation of you online. For some of us, that might mean that our websites are the singular hubs of all the content that we publish online, but if you’re not a content creator, it could mean something else for you. Your website is your own space to express yourself however you’d like.

The indie web is a movement; it’s not based on any one single platform. It’s based on a set of technologies that support interoperability between platforms. Known is one of those platforms, and we hope it becomes an easy and accessible option for people who wish to participate in the indie web.

For me personally, I rarely use Facebook anymore but I do use Twitter regularly. I’ve experimented in past years with pulling my stream of tweets in as a timeline on my personal website. For almost a year now, I’ve been doing something of the opposite – publishing my timeline of tweets and status updates directly on my own site ( and then syndicating that to Twitter, Facebook,, etc. This is listed as Level 2 “Publishing on the IndieWeb” on

My personal stream runs on Known, and it supports all of the stages outlined on IndieWebify.Me. This is what enables me to publish on my site, syndicate my content to various social networks, reply to tweets, and pull social interactions back to my site. However, the steps to achieve all of this are beyond what I could have set up on my own.

One of the reasons Ben and I wanted to turn Known into a company and a full-time endeavor was to bring these indie web technologies to a wider net of content creators and publishers. As Lynne Baer rightly points out there is a big knowledge and skills gap between merely having a personal website and having a personal website that’s set up with the various technologies needed to make things like web mentions and federated conversations happen.

Together, Ben and I are trying to build a platform that lets anyone easily create a site, choose a theme or customize a style, and share their stories with audiences on any platform. We’re not just focused on authors or bloggers. We are a publishing platform, but in addition to shorter status updates and longer posts or essays, we’re working to create a great experience for photographers sharing images, podcasters sharing audio, and filmmakers sharing videos. If you have a story to tell, we want to support you.

We’re working to build a platform that supports the open web and is intuitive and easy to use. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting closer. Some features are currently concept-only, and the platform is in active development. Ben set up a really great foundation, and I’m looking forward to iterating on the existing interfaces and user flows over the summer. As we collaborate on new developments during the next few months, we have the luxury of carrying out small user tests and working with some early alpha users to make sure we get things right.

For Known, some of these indie web foundations are what make the platform unique. However, the indie web – as a concept and a movement – is not widely known or understood. It’s gaining recognition, but it’s still a niche concept. As a company, we have to figure out a way to explain the indie web and its backing concepts to the masses. We have to address questions about ownership and identity online. We have to address feedback such as, “Is the indie web just a gathering of geeks doing geeky web stuff together, or is it actually turning into something greater?”

If you’re just learning about the indie web, you may find that there’s a lot of technology and terminology that’s new or hard to understand. There’s more that I want to do – and more that I can do – to provide clarity and understanding around some of the language and concepts that are part of the indie web ecosystem.

And in terms of Known? We still have a lot to do, but over the course of the summer here are some of the things we’re working toward:

  • an easy installer that works with a variety of hosts
  • human-friendly documentation
  • intuitive posting interfaces
  • a platform that isn’t just English-centric (we have plans for translation once the platform development has progressed a bit)

Known is an open source tool, so your contributions are always welcome. But we’d also love your feedback and questions. We’re building this with people in mind, so please reach out if you have something to share.

Knowledge Friday: Links we loved this week

3 min read

It’s the last Friday of May, and the end of our third week at Matter. Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana, and whatnot.

Here are some links we loved this week. #knowledgefriday


New Curbs Sought on the Personal Data Industry (NY Times)

The FTC has called on Congress to protect consumers against the collection and sharing of their digital data by data brokers.

Political consequences of the Google debate (Feuilleton)

From German politician and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel:

“Every time we ‘search’ for something on Google, Google searches us and captures information about ourselves which can not only be sold for targeted personalised advertising, but is, essentially, also available to our bank, our health insurance company, our car or life insurance company, or – if the need arises – to the secret service. There’s no such thing as a free lunch – we pay for these services with our personal data – and, unless we are careful, at the end of the day with our personal and social freedom as well.”

Venture Capital Firm Appoints Machine Intelligence As Board Member (io9)

A Hong Kong-based VC firm has appointed a machine learning program to its board. They say that it’s “an ‘equal member’ that will uncover trends ‘not immediately obvious to humans’ in order to make investment recommendations.”

Silicon Valley’s PRISM Problem (Medium)

“Along this road are over half a dozen companies named in the broadest civilian surveillance initiative in public memory.”

You’re probably using the wrong dictionary (

“He says, for instance, that in three years of research for a book about Alaska he’d forgotten to look up the word Artic. He said that his dictionary gave him this: ‘Pertaining to, or situated under, the northern constellation called the Bear.’”


Dance Camera West, Dance Media Film Festival

If you happen to be in Los Angeles June 6 – 8th and 13th and like contemporary dance and/or film, consider checking out Dance Camera West. I’ve been wishing to go for almost 10 years now. Of course I never made it when I actually lived in Los Angeles. Dance Camera West is an organization that supports contemporary dance and dance media. This year’s shows include Globe Trot, a crowd-sourced dance film made up of one second of choreographed dance from 54 filmmakers around the world.

Beyond distributed and decentralized: what is a federated network? (Institute for Network Cultures)

Wait, so is it distributed, decentralized, or federated? I’m still confused.

Try Out Fira Sans: a Free, Open Source Typeface Commissioned by Mozilla (Do Not Lick)

Mozilla recently released an open source typeface, Fira Sans. Check it out.

Slightly More Than 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism (The Atlantic)

I’m already a little behind on my #longreads, but here’s a curated list that should keep me reading things written in 2013 until 2015 rolls around.

Behind the scenes of Star Trek TNG

This week LeVar Burton launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring Reading Rainbow to the web. In the spirit of great shows I watched growing up, here’s a clip from one of my favorite episodes of Reading Rainbow.

Check out Known on the latest episode of TwiG

2 min read

Thanks to Kevin Marks for bringing up Known on the This Week in Google show yesterday. TwiG is co-hosted by Leo Laporte, and this week’s show featured Leo, Mathew Ingram, Jeff Jarvis, and Kevin Marks.

You can see the discussion around Known starting at 1:58:20 in the show. Leo pointed out that, “This is what we used to call lifestreaming.” I'm glad that Leo mentioned lifestreaming because it's something I've thought of a lot with Known. For myself at least, I'd like to set up a Known install with some privacy settings where I could capture and record various aspects of my day, like a daily log or daily journal. I might choose to share out or make public certain things, but I might choose to keep some details private. For instance, I like to use location checkins as a record of places I've been and visited, but the whole world doesn't need to know about the mundane places that are part of my daily routines.

Mathew Ingram, senior writer at Gigaom, jumped in to add more details around the IndieWeb.

“The principal is one that Dan Gillmor wrote about and he and I talked about. You know the idea that so many people have kind of moved away from a blog that you have that’s your own, and are posting content on Google+ or Facebook or Twitter or lots of places that are effectively owned by large corporations and are siloed to some extent. And that we’re losing a lot of the principals that IndieWeb supports, where you kind of control your own content and you share it with whoever but your site is the central place it exists.”

As Leo states, “I like this. I think maybe when lifestreaming started, it was a little – maybe - early, but now we that we are all using these silos aggressively, and Instagram, and Twitter, and everything…it would be nice to have somewhere that they all go, that you own.”

Also mentioned on TwiG were the IndieWebCamp and IndieWeb in general, (which powers social interactions on Known), and Fragmentions.

The Guardian's Janine Gibson on trends in storytelling and journalism

2 min read

The MediaShift blog has an interesting post up interviewing Janine Gibson, who was recently editor of The Guardian US and is soon to be editor-in-chief of The Guardian’s website.

In the interview with Julie Posetti, Ms. Gibson states that some emerging trends in journalism and storytelling include “extremely live and real time” and “long-term, long-form investigative.”

Both of these ideas are interesting to me, as we build out Known to be a platform for digital storytelling. As a responsive, mobile-first platform that supports status updates, images, and soon videos, Known can be used for real time, on-the-scene reporting. Known also allows for longer essays and content that contributes to a more in-depth story.

Some other quotes that jumped out at me:

“…the mistake is to think that one person can cover a live story. And of course if you have six people covering it, you get six times richer coverage…And if you’ve got people worrying about analysis, and video, and social, and people worrying bringing in wires and so on, then you can do much better with live coverage.”

Hearing this, I’d like to know more about how we could design the multi-author capabilities in Known to support teams contributing different aspects to a single on-going story.

On the NSA Files: Decoded experiment:

“…it wasn’t here’s a 5,000 word piece we’re going to put on the Internet and add some video. The words were the last thing we created. The videos and interviews and the style therein, the way the commenting and sharing worked --- all those things were purpose-built for that project, and the words were just the bit that joined it up.”

On interactive journalism:

“…doing things differently is incredibly liberating, saying it’s not about a newspaper or even a homepage or a website particularly…It’s incredibly liberating and exciting and makes more powerful storytelling, so from that comes NSA Decoded. So we absolutely think that data and interactives and graphics and multimedia and social and community are now at the heart of how we tell stories, not an adjunct.”

I’m excited to see how interactive journalism and storytelling continues to evolve. We want to build Known to be a beneficial platform for telling stories through a variety of forms and media types.

Woot woot! It's the Known gnome doodle on TWiGoogle with @leolaporte

Thanks for bringing us up on This Week in Google, Kevin Marks! And thanks for the interest, Leo Laporte!

The next whiteboard doodle will need to be a podcasting, lifestreaming, crowd surfing gnome.