Contributor Interviews – Tobias Eigen

Meet the fascinating individuals behind the most recognised avatars here on Meta with our series of #user-interviews. This week, we speak to:

Tobias Eigen @tobiaseigen

pronounced (toe :honeybee: us)

Location: Bainbridge Island, Washington, United States

I live on Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle in the pacific northwest of the United States. I followed my wife here, who grew up on Bainbridge and is now a public school teacher at the same school where her father taught.

This is a beautiful green place with spectacular views of water and mountains, and nice for raising a family. I have a 16 year old daughter and 13 year old son. I work remotely for an organization headquartered in Washington DC and tend to work east coast hours, and visit DC on occasion. I also often am in Berlin visiting my family and have also been getting to east Africa with my job.

Tell us a bit about yourself! When you’re not hanging out on Meta, what do you do?

Shh, don’t tell anybody. I watch every Bundesliga football match on demand, often in the background while doing mindless busywork. I love the soothing voices of the commentators, the predictable progression of the game, and the occasional thrilling show of skill. It’s also fun to stay connected with German society and culture through football on a daily basis.

I spend quite a bit of time in my garden. Today I spent a few hours deadheading rhododendrons.

I’m the community manager for the Global Legal Empowerment Network, stewarded by an international organization called Namati. A great way to learn about Namati, our approach to helping people know, use and shape the law, and the role of the network is the Vivek Maru TED Talk on Legal Empowerment: How to put the power of law in people's hands - Community Discussions - Global Legal Empowerment Network Community Discussions.

How did you first find out about Discourse?

I first came across Discourse while searching for forum software I might use for Kabissa, a nonprofit organization I created in 1999 to help African civil society organizations, especially human rights groups, to put information and communication technology to work for their communities.

What are you using Discourse for?

I use Discourse for the Global Legal Empowerment Network, where I am in charge of managing membership, administrating and moderating the forum, and maintaining and improving the platform. I recall talking about Discourse and the tremendous power of discussion-based community building during my job interview, and when I got the job I immediately set up an instance on digital ocean on 5 November, 2014. This is the same instance we use today.

So far none of the other Discourse sites I’ve set up have stood the test of time. I eventually shut down the Kabissa forum as interest waned. I piloted a Discourse instance for my son’s school, to replace the google groups we’d used previously, but was unable to steward the experiment well and it failed. This year they are starting again with slack, much to my chagrin. I am contemplating setting up a Discourse forum to replace a yahoo group I set up for my neighborhood in 2005 (which has gone quiet - I suspect neighbors are shifting to nextdoor, also to my chagrin) and for collecting stories and photos with my extended family.

Besides meta, Other discourse communities have not captured my ongoing attention, except perhaps nextcloud, mozilla, and feverbee where I look in from time to time.

How did you get so involved in the Meta community?

I checked, and see that I first joined meta on 12 February, 2014. I have been an almost daily visitor ever since. My response to Jeff’s friendly welcome note below. It’s a reminder of where I was when I came across Discourse, and how obviously special it was to me right from the start.

Thanks! Discourse is really, really great. I stumbled upon it today and am just starting to poke around. I am interested in forums for use by African nonprofits, and have experimented with various tools over the years and have never been satisfied. Currently on the online community site for African organizations I am in charge of I use Drupal with a module called og_mailinglist to make it behave like a mailing list, but it is so lacking in features that I only use it for collaboration with small teams who understand its quirks. It’s not scalable or useful.

I will keep exploring! If you know others who are doing this sort of thing in Africa, let me know.

What compels you to contribute to Discourse?

When you run a forum-based community, it matters a great deal how well the forum software performs, and how welcoming and easy it is to use. Maybe I’m overstating it, but to me it is a very personal and intimate thing, like the furniture you choose for your living room. You yourself spend all day in it while at the same time you’re working hard to get people in your community to come over regularly to spend time with you.

Not only is Discourse great software, but the team is very responsive to feedback, bug reports and requests for help. I know my contributions help to make the software better because I can see it happening right before my very eyes. :sparkles:

Meanwhile, it’s making my own community better which contributes to the mission of my organization.

Tell us about a non-Discourse community that you’re involved in!

I can’t think of one I want to talk about. Maybe I’ll think of it later. :wink:

What kind of significance does the open source movement have to you?

I am a tremendous believer in open source. I want to stand on the shoulders of giants. I love the idea that the time, money and ideas I put into something will be useful to many and will help to make the world a better place. I love the spirit of camaraderie and shared purpose when collaborating with others on open source. It makes me feel good. Over the years I’ve used and contributed to a wide range of open source software, and to “shareware” in pre open source days. Ask me about fidonet sometime.

In the current historical moment, I am concerned and extremely skeptical about the cloud, apps and online services which I think are causing a great deal of damage without bringing much benefit to our lives. I don’t use them except occasionally when I have to. I have not logged into Facebook since March, and I haven’t missed it. It makes me extremely sad, to be very honest, to see people around me are falling for Facebook and such, giving up so much with so little benefit.

I see self-hosted open source software as a viable, safer alternative, especially if it’s as good as Discourse and we can use it to wean folks off the cloud.

What has been the greatest challenge in learning about Discourse and its community?

Convincing @codinghorror that there’s a difference between messages and topics. :wink:

Any ideas on how to improve the Meta community?

A knowledge base would be nice. Also some place for community managers like me to exchange notes and ideas. And an offtopic/jff category for lighthearted chitchat, maybe for frequent flyers alongside the lounge?

Any advice to future contributors?

Just the usual. RTFM. Use the :mag: search. If you have a question, it’s likely already been asked in one form or another. But don’t hesitate to ask questions. We’re a friendly and helpful bunch.