A week ago today I was sipping tea at the Auld Shebeen in Fairfax with Free Liberal publisher Kevin Rollins, talking jive about stewarding the Free Liberal brand. And as often happens, the conversation was supplemented with notebook squiggles and hasty illustrations.
Let me give you a little background: Kevin is currently a graduate student in economics at the George Mason University. And he also fills out a nexus of relationships as the Managing Editor of Econ Journal Watch. To break up the long hours of scholarship and academic drama, Kevin gets nostalgic with reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Can you blame him?
In case you don’t remember, Star Trek: TNG is about these people who explore space and routinely make the stupidest possible decisions when facing the unknown— but you don’t have to take my word for it! Take this episode:
“Someone hacked our ‘droid— or ‘rhoid, whatever —through the galaxy Internet. Then it took command of the ship by mimicking the captain’s voice. Should we blast the ‘rhoid to smithereens with our ray-gun majiggies?”
“No way! He is one of the main awesome characters. If we survive to the end of this episode, the ‘rhoid shall continue as a trusted senior crew member. It would be inhuman to destroy an inhuman mandroid just because he can be hacked a little.”
…or this one:
“We barely survived that encounter with the mysterious cyber-borg ship. What should we do now?”
“The only character who has experience with these cyber-borgs is urging us to get the heck out of here, but I say we send a handful of headstrong, ill-prepared people into their cyber-hive to investigate. It’s our only choice.”
“Make it… so.”
Anyway, they fly around on a ship called the Enterprise, which is the main connection to what Free Liberal is all about: personal, social, and cultural entrepreneurship guided by the liberal values of liberty and community. Even if the characters of Star Trek sometimes suffer from radically reckless disdain for consequences (and the lives of their crew), they get one thing right: every episode they ride their stereotypes raw into new conflict, defying any rational boundaries one might infer, putting their whole enterprise to the test.
So let it not be a surprise that a graphic of the Enterprise made it into our conversation and scribbles about the Free Liberal.
Right now, the Free Liberal site is clogged up with hard-coded content and links that are no longer relevant to the needs of the futuristic free liberal of today. It’s like that episode of Star Trek in which the captain got so busy with grad school that he didn’t write in the star-blog for a very long time. The homepage is like the ship’s bridge, with several well-meaning captains of other vessels at the helm, but they’re not savvy to the specific vocation of the Enterprise: Free Liberal isn’t just a vehicle to publish libertarian luminaries like Paul Jacob, Fred Foldvary, or Ron Paul— the free liberal enterprise has a unique history and mission.
Part of expressing that mission is pushing more of the unique Free Liberal content to the fore, instead of keeping it in the wings or burying it deep in the site’s innards. The captain needs to write in his star-blog again, and when guest columnists challenge core values of the enterprise, the captain should respond.
Another part of expressing the free liberal vision is highlighting the best content from history. This site has been online since 2003, and now has well over 6,000 articles including many features from the now-retired paper version of the publication. Kevin and I talked about flagging those high-quality articles and features that best articulate what the Free Liberal is about, and make them clearly accessible in a new section (which we jokingly called the Q Continuum; the Q is for “quality”). What are your favorite pieces from the Free Liberal of yester-year?
The third part is the site design itself. Over time, we’d like to make the site more like an online magazine, and there’s a whole lot we could do to make the site ready for the next generation of the web. There’s actually so much that we talked about breaking development into small chunks with achievable goals. I asked Kevin if he would be like to redesign the site in the open, with feedback from the community.
He just said “Make it so.”
John Stephens is a Quaker web developer in Harrisonburg, Virginia.