The online home of Jess Barron

Web content and community expert, writer, editor, blogger, and internet video producer.
Bio | Resume/CV

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In 2004, a guy who I don't know named Jeremy Abbate saw my website and wrote a song called "I Wanna Be As Cool As Jessica Barron." It still amuses me. Here's the mp3 and here are the lyrics.

Archives (slowly being reconstructed):
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See how this site looked in 1998
Poprocks.com screenshot from early 1998
and how the place looked in 2000.
Poprocks.com from June 2000
Yahoo counted me as a "cool person" from 1997-2001. How far have I fallen?!
Yahoo counted me among the "Cool People" in 1997-1998.
The internets have come a long way, baby...

November 4, 2009 Should a CEO Take His Burning Man Pics off Facebook?
Today I was drawn in by a headline on BNET "A CEO's Dilemma: Should I Take My Burning Man Pics off Facebook?" As someone who has been to Burning Man eight times over the past eleven years and has posted the photos on my own website, as well as on Flickr, and on Facebook (there was even a photo of me at Burning Man 2005 published in "The Economist"!) I have often grappled with the same question as I entered managerial and then executive roles at tech companies.

Is it appropriate/distracting for someone in a leadership position to be seen in photos online frolicking in the desert in a tutu?

When I noticed that the BNET article's question was the dilemma of Chip Conley, I read it top to bottom to see what he had decided.

I have always admired Chip Conley's style of doing business. For those who aren't acquainted with Conley, at the age of 26 (fresh out of Stanford's MBA program) he purchased a seedy pay-by-the-hour hotel on Eddy Street in San Francisco's Tenderloin and against all odds turned it into a cool mecca for musicians and artists which you may know as the aptly-named Phoenix Hotel.

When I started hanging out in San Francisco in 1998-2001, the electronic music scene (particularly jazzy SF house) was huge, and I spent countless days/nights watching DJs spin at pretty much every SF venue imaginable -- from DNA Lounge to Kelly's Mission Rock. By far, some of the most legendary parties were the Phoenix Hotel's Sunday afternoon pool parties. The line of people waiting to get in would stretch down the block to Polk Street. The aggressive SF panhandlers had a captive audience who would wait for hours to get up inside the Phoenix Hotel.

Conley grew his success with the Phoenix hotel into California's largest boutique hotel chain called Joie de Vivre. All of the hotels have their own unique personalities. In SoCal's Huntington Beach (Surf City USA), they have the surfer-themed Shorebreak Hotel.

When I worked at Yahoo and commuted frequently between NorCal and SoCal, I stayed at many Joie de Vivre hotels including Wild Palms in Sunnyvale, Hotel Avante in Mountain View, and Hotel Rex in San Francisco. In fact, Chris and I got engaged this past July while staying at Joie de Vivre's Ventana Inn in Big Sur. One of the best things about staying at the Joie de Vivre hotels is the fun unique spirit and that the hotel employees are willing to go the distance. For example, while staying at the Ventana Inn, Chris and I accidentally slept through the buffet breakfast one morning, and we called the kitchen frantic and hungry they packed up some of the treats and brought them to our room.

Conley is a brilliant businessman who also seems to actually be a cool and authentic person. When Conley published a management/leadership book "Peak: How great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow"a few years back, I snatched it up and read it in 2 sittings.

In the book, Conley presented theories of running his business that he gleaned from his reading of psychologist Abraham Maslow's self-actualization pyramid. Conley presented his idea of the customer satisfaction pyramid and the employee satisfaction pyramid, and how they fed into each other to create a business ecosystem that brought both customers and employees toward greater (peak) happiness and satisfaction. I highly recommend "Peak." Conley peppers the chapters with anecdotes from other peak-performing companies with unique corporate cultures, including Google and Southwest Airlines.

In the BNET article, Conley concludes that he will keep his Burning Man photos up on Facebook as they are not sexually suggestive and he doesn't deem them to be a violation of his company's social media policy. His company's mission statement is "To celebrate the joy of life" and he says that was exactly what he was doing at Burning Man.

So far in my online life, I have come to the same conclusion that Conley did. I am leaving my Burning Man photos up. They are not sexually suggestive and I don't believe they violate corporate social media policies in any way. Not to mention, I am well-acquainted with the idea that once something is on the internet, it doesn't ever really "go away" even if taken down.

But I wonder if I will ever change my mind on the Burning Man photos? Conley built his company on being true to himself and his own instincts and personality. He defines himself as a rebel. And I see him as perhaps similar to other successful "rebel" businessmen such as Steve Jobs or Richard Branson.

As a female leader in business would I feel as comfortable about people seeing me dressed in a tutu at Burning Man? Are there highly successful "rebel" woman leaders in business? Who are they? Tweet to me @p0pvulture (the 0 is a zero) and let me know. I'm almost certain we would never see photos of Carol Bartz, Carly Fiorina, or Meg Whitman in tutus at Burning Man. For female CEOs, dropping F-bombs may be deemed OK (thankfully, we've come that far at least), but having fun and enjoying life may still be off-limits. What do you think?

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posted by Jess Barron @ 8:14 AM
August 25, 2009 California Dreaming, Don Draper-Style
"I was in California. Everything's new, and it's clean. The people are filled with hope. New York City is in decay."
--Don Draper, "Med Men" Season 3 episode "Love Among the Ruins"

Earlier this Summer, Flavorpill honed in on "Mad Men" creator Matt Weiner's
June Rolling Stone interview. Weiner says:
I can't tell you if we're going to go to California in Season Three, but as a show, we’re following how the Sixties were about the rise of Los Angeles and the decline of New York. People talk about San Francisco but it was really Los Angeles, and I wanted to show that. In 1960, New York is the center of everything, and by 1975 New York is bankrupt and by 1977 it’s the most dangerous place in the United States. In Los Angeles, there were the Watts riots and obviously a lot of economic turmoil there, but at the same time, every cultural aspect that dominated the United States in the Sixties was coming from there, whether it was hot rods or roller disco.

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posted by Jess Barron @ 1:23 PM
August 3, 2005 I'm very worried about dragons...
"Sleeping is giving in, no matter what the time is.
Sleeping is giving in, so lift those heavy eyelids.
People say that you'll die, faster than without water,
but we know it's just a lie, scare your son, scare your daughter.

People say that your dreams are the only things that save ya.
Come on baby in our dreams, we can live on misbehavior."

-The Arcade Fire, "Rebellion (Lies)"

esther, april, and me August, Bocce and I road-tripped with Andy in his Element that was filled to the top with camping gear, food and supplies from San Francisco up to Klickitat, Washington. We left my house in SF at 7a.m. and after an entire day of driving, arrived at Esther and Jason's camp around 10p.m. that night.

We promptly unpacked the Nutria Republic flag I had brought and hung it up. Then we opened some beers. Or maybe we opened the beers first. I can't remember now.

"Oh my god, Jessica! There's giant bugs everywhere!" Esther said. "And we keep seeing them in the tents!"

"Aggh! What kind of bugs?" I squealed. "I've never really camped where there are bugs before!" (Plus, I'm scared of bugs.)

"Giant beetles and these things that look like giant roaches!" Esther said. "Also, ants! Part of the shade structure is on an enormous ant hill. We didn't realize that until after we had picked this spot. Also, when we were building it, we realized that we are on a lava flow and it was impossible to pound in the rebar."

The terrain was definitely more apocalyptic than the sites of the 2 past Phoenix festivals I had been to. Though we couldn't see it too well in the dark, the land had been burned in a forest fire about 10 years earlier. There were dead trees with knarled branches like the fingers of the world's oldest woman all around. I decided immediately that the Black Rock Desert in Nevada (where Burning Man is held each year) was a much more hospitable place to camp.

Our friends Phil and Lori who helped organize the festival stopped by to say hi.

"We were talking to the fire crew," Phil said. "And if one person drops a cigarette on the ground -- all this dry straw grass will go up in flames and we're all gonna die. Seriously. There is only one road in and out of this place. And they said the fire moves like 10 feet per second. There's no way we could outrun it. And we'd never get these cars out in time on that road."

It seemed true. The road in to the campsite wasn't paved and was too bumpy and rocky to drive more than 5 miles per hour, even in the sporty Element. I was glad we hadn't driven my lowriding Volkswagen Beetle.

It was too late to pitch tents, and too rocky anyway, and also we were too tired, so we all drank until we fell asleep on the floor of the shade structure. I didn't sleep well, because I was too worried about the giant bugs we had seen crawling through the shade structure while we were drinking, and then in the middle of the night it started pouring rain and thundering. The shade structure kept most of us dry, except Wink who was sleeping underneath the connection between the two tarps.

The next day Esther set up the Nutria Interpretive Center (which I called the "Nutria Re-Education Camp"), and I distracted myself by reading about nutria and then asking everyone to contemplate the many mysteries of their species, for example, "Just how frenzied *is* their copulation, I ask you?"

For the next two days we played music, played more music, played more music, and played even more music, danced to music, ran around in the rocky hills and field, and got very, very worried when we encountered a pair of sneaky blacklight dragons lurking near what we thought was a cool-looking stage.

"This stage looks really cool!" said Andy, as we approached a place with flowy colorful lights. When we got closer -- they popped up outta nowhere: a pair of day-glow painted dragons, making the moment at once completely dorky and completely hysterical. Thankfully, we didn't encounter many fabric batiks or blacklight posters of bare breasted alien women. As anyone that's ever been to an all-night trance party knows, this is a serious concern. But in this case, we were able to focus our worry on the dragons. We became Dragon Worriers (inspired by an Amber chatlog). And we laughed so hard that we cried.

"Do you worry a lot?"
"Dragons are a very real worry in this day and age!"
"Too many people are concerned about dragons."
"California is very dangerous."
etc. etc.

We realized that everyone knows that dragons *love* rainbows, and that nutria do not. Also, we vowed to avoid typing in the dark. We didn't sleep much at all, except sometimes on the floor of the shade structure in the afternoon.

The other main psytrance stage didn't have any dragons (nor fabric batiks or blacklight alien posters, thankfully), but at 2a.m. it looked and felt exactly like a setting from the Sony Playstation game Karaoke Revolution. The purple and pink colors felt like they were straight from a video game. The crowd around the stage and the lights felt like they were straight from a video game. But, perhaps most of all, the speaker dancers (or "speaker bitches," as we called them) were 100% straight from a video game. They were not real; they were made out of pixels. That could be the *only* explanation for how they looked. How else could her nipples have been quite so perky? How else could his jaw -- and scowl -- have been quite so chisled? There really was no other explanation.

In addition to our ongoing -- and increasingly frenzied -- worries about dragons, we learned about the Free Cascadia movement, where Oregon and Washington want to succeed from the United States and bring Northern California with them. Man, the people of the Pacific Northwest have some crazy stuff going on... Like dragons and nutria. It's like the freakin' "land before time" up there or somethin' with all these mythical creatures roaming around. You don't need to be worried about nutria; just worry about dragons and everything else will be OK, I promise.

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posted by Jess Barron @ 10:42 PM
July 11, 2005 Da Governator Vs. Da Protestors
arnold closerDa California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger came to speak at Yahoo! campus in Sunnyvale as the latest of our Yahoo! Influentials speakers (New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and Tom Brokaw were previous speakers).

On the corner of Mathilda Ave there were about 35-50 people loudly protesting the Governator's policies and presence. They were in the same spot where anti-war groups loudly protested against our corporate neighbor Lockheed-Martin a year or so ago during the beginning of the Iraq War. (Lockheed-Martin builds some serious weapons.)

This is what the protest against Arnold looked like. People held signs with statements like "Public Health, NOT Corporate Wealth," "Kids, Not Cuts," and "No on Prop 76." Two motorcycle cops stood watch from the Yahoo parking lot.  And here's some video I shot so you can hear it too.

The number of people waiting to see Arnold (all Yahoo! employees) was much much longer. People lined up outside the cafeteria an hour before he was scheduled to speak. It was quickly standing room only and some latecomers were locked outside.

Arnold spoke for a little less than an hour, and he didn't say anything too fascinating. He didn't talk about the Internet or technology. He didn't directly address the fact that there were protesters outside, though he did sort of try to refute some of their points about his education cuts. Here is some video of his speech, so you too can feel like you were there (or re-experience it, if you were there).

One of the most memorable things he said was "California is the best state in the best country in the world." At least he didn't boast, "California is the only state that touches both Canada and Mexico," as my geographically-challenged Vassar-educated (but usually quite intelligent) friend Mindy once said. ;)

Arnold also told us how rich he is, and how we should feel good about having a rich governor, because he can't be bought by special interest groups. Yeah right.

No one protested our previous Influentials speakers Thomas Friedman or Tom Brokaw. Then again, neither Friedman nor Brokaw attracted as large an audience of Yahoos either. Still, I don't know whether it's just because Friedman and Brokaw are in the field of writing and journalism that I felt like their speeches meant more to me. I felt interested and inspired by what they had to say. The same was not true of Arnold. It felt like he was at Yahoo just to make another campaign speech and plug his many movies. (He managed to slip the titles of almost all of them into his speech.)

Check out my flickr photoset of this strange event.

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posted by Jess Barron @ 8:36 PM
November 9, 2001 California -- It's the Cheese
"Happy cows make great cheese, and happy cows live in California."
--a cheesy quote from California dairy farmers’ ubiquitous "It's the Cheese" tv ad campaign.

"California is the only state that touches both Mexico and Canada."
--Mindy, my (actually quite) intelligent friend who received her B.A. from Vassar.

Three things:

1. It's November 9, and it's 75 degrees, and I'm wearing sandals.
2. As of next week, I will have lived in my loft for one calendar year. I'm actually planning to stay here one more year. This fact may not sound exciting to you, but this will be the first time since I was 17-years-old (ten years ago) that I've lived in the same dwelling for longer than 12 months.
3. I really do love California. Well, mostly I love Los Angeles and San Francisco (I can say with some certainty that I do not love Bakersfield, Fresno, Sacramento, San Diego, or Davis. But I will admit that there is still something interesting about places like Pasadena, pre-fab Palo Alto, and Sausalito.)

Though I do not unconditionally love all the other California cities, there is something I do love about driving the 5 from bottom to top, my eyes lingering along the vast bountiful fields filled with fruit year-round, intersected by elaborate aqueducts, and lined with neat rows of plants and trees. As I reach northern California, I can't help but ogle the gorgeous soft rolling grassy green hills. Unlike the jutting mountain-like hills of New Hampshire or Vermont, northern California's hills seem take special care not to block out the sun.

Sometimes I think I'm one of the only people who loves both San Francisco and Los Angeles. I am, quite possibly, the only person foolish enough to admit in writing that I love Los Angeles a bit more. A few days after moving to SF last fall, I was invited to a loft party in SOMA. While being introduced to a woman around my age, I accidentally mentioned that I had just moved to the city from Los Angeles. Her immediate self-satisfied response was, "Well, at least you're in a better city now!" I tried to explain to her that not everyone is completely brainwashed that the Bay Area is the best place to live, but it wasn't worth getting in a bitch fight and/or shattering her idea of reality.

When I lived on the East Coast in Boston in 1996, I always assumed I would move to San Francisco. SF was so cool -- it was the dot.com epicenter -- (and I was already working at Monster.com and completely bought in on "The Revolution," as stupid as that now sounds.) Los Angeles seemed sort of tacky in comparison. When I was trying to get my employers at Wildweb to pay for my transfer to Los Angeles in 1999 (from Boston) my friend and manager, Eliot, a former Angeleno, had warned me, "People in the Bay-Area treat Los Angeles as if it's this big, dumb dog. And Los Angeles maybe kind of just accepts that stereotype, because I don't think LA really cares about the image as much as people might think. But anyone who lives there knows that LA actually has a lot of things, particularly in Los Feliz and Silverlake, that are just as cool, if not cooler than anything they have up there. Plus there are more artists."

With Eliot's assistance and a bit of luck, I did end up being transferred from Boston to Los Angeles, and when I arrived there, I found a place that was so strange and filled with people who all had huge dreams and bizarre quirks. I was convinced, and still am, that it had to have been created by someone's imagination like some kind of trippy cartoon. The way the sunlight hits the buildings at 3 in the afternoon, the shadows and colors are so dramatic, you constantly feel like those scenes in a movie where they close-up on the lover beaming down over the beloved's face. (I swear I wasn't much of a romantic until I moved to Los California.)

I know, no one's supposed to love Hell-ay, but I did. I fell in love with the city no one was supposed to love, just as easily as I fell in love with the goofy messed-up boy in my life who was daring me to love him.

When my friend Jeff and I decided to go west just over two years ago, he was living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which he loved, except for the sweltering summer heat waves that kept everyone inside hovering around an air conditioner. Jeff and I had been friends since we were fifteen. We grew up in a Massachusetts suburb and met in a public school Latin class. Three years after my graduation from Vassar, I was living in Cambridge, MA and hating everything about the uptight Bostonian East Coast attitude. I had already been bitten by the Burning Man bug, and realized that the majority of Black Rock City's inhabitants hailed from the West Coast.

"When a lot of people get together in the best places things go glimmering. The thing is to have a lot of people in the center of the world, wherever that happens to be. Then things go glimmering." I beckoned Jeff to move west with me, peppering my speech with lines from "Absolution," one of my favorite F. Scott Fitzgerald short stories.

Two of our other friends Paul and Hillary already lived in the City of Quartz. Paul lived in Santa Monica studying architecture at Sci Arc and Hillary lived in Hollywood and worked in acquisitions at Fox. Jeff became convinced. The only decision was whether to find an apartment in cool-kid Los Feliz or out by the sparkly ocean in Santa Monica. Our jobs on the Westside dictated our choice, and I found that I could be happy living anywhere in Los Angeles, even in West LA where we were surrounded by UCLA kids and families with Spanish-style bungalows with immaculate lawns.

Maybe I loved Los Angeles most because I hit it at an interesting time in my life. I was really ready to begin everything. I wanted to dance all night to glam rock in Hollywood clubs with strippers and guys in bands. I wanted to dress even more flamboyantly. I wanted to learn to rollerblade while watching the sun set over the ocean and licking the salt from my lips.

Maybe I loved Los Angeles because I hit it at an interesting time in its life. I saw the entertainment dot.com bubble from the inside. My P-2-P MP3 start-up company was headquartered in Beverly Hills and majority-owned by mogul Michael Ovitz. The people I met were writers, photographers, painters, musicians, and actors (some whose names you’d recognize, and some who you would not), and they didn’t all hail from New England or go to college in the Northeast. They had their own unique dreams and they weren't doing these things just because their families expected them to.

A few weekends ago while walking barefoot on San Francisco's Ocean Beach, Mindy and I were speculating about which, if any, states could successfully succeed from the Union. "California is probably the only one that could do it, right?" I ventured.

"Well, California is the only state that touches both Mexico and Canada," Mindy said.

"California doesn't touch Canada!" I exclaimed, and both of us immediately started laughing.

"I can’t believe I said that," Mindy said, while still giggling. "It's stuff like that that makes people in Washington and Oregon hate Californians."

I admitted that I sometimes pictured the map that way too. I suppose that confirms it -- we're officially Californians now.

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posted by Jess Barron @ 8:39 PM
October 15, 1999 What I'm Listening To
I work at MP3 search engine Scour, so I listen to a lot of music. Here are some MP3s in heavy rotation right now on my Mac:

Supreme Beings of Leisure's "Last Girl on Earth."
Supreme Beings of Leisure are a trip-hop act from L.A. Their singer (who's absolutely gorgeous and has a beautiful, haunting voice) is Lawrence's friend Miles' wife. If you like Portishead and Lamb, you will probably also like SBL. I need to buy their CD.

Eminem's "Stan" (featuring Dido).
I heard this song on the radio yesterday while JP and I were driving in his car on the way home from In-n-Out Burger. "You have to listen to this," he said, turning the radio up. It begins with this beautiful part where Dido sings, and then Eminem comes in rapping but he's reading these letters from an obsessed, troubled fan. You need to listen to it. This song gives me goosebumps.

Billy Bragg's "Help Save the Youth of America" and "California Stars" (with Wilco).
Jeff got me into Billy Bragg when we were in high school. I used to be obsessed with "Help Save the Youth of America," but I lost my 'Talking With the Taxman' CD before I even got to college. I just downloaded it on Macster, and I'm loving it. Billy Bragg really *gets* it. Check it out: "Help save the youth of America/Help save the youth of the world/Help save the suntanned surfer boys and the California girls/ When the lights go out in the rest of the world/What do our cousins say?/They're playing in the sun and havin' fun, fun, fun until daddy takes the gun away. I hadn't heard "California Stars" before, but I found it when doing an artist search for Billy Bragg on Macster. It's another gorgeous. simple romanticization of the promise rapped up in California: "I'd like to dream my troubles all away on a bed of California stars...They hang like grace...I'd give my life just to dream with you on a bed of California stars."

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posted by Jess Barron @ 10:40 AM