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Maria Popova in 2014
28 July 1984 |
|Residence||Brooklyn, New York, United States|
|Alma mater||University of Pennsylvania|
|Occupation||Writer, blogger, and critic|
Maria Popova (Bulgarian: Мария Попова; born 28 July 1984) is a Bulgarian-born writer, blogger, literary and cultural critic living in Brooklyn, New York. She is known for her speeches and her blog BrainPickings.org, which features her writing on culture, books, philosophy and eclectic subjects on and off the Internet.
Popova's parents are ethnic Bulgarians who met in Russia when they were both foreign exchange students in the early 1980s. Popova was born in Bulgaria in 1984. Her mother studied library science, while her father studied engineering and eventually became an Apple salesman. During Popova's childhood, one of her grandmothers often read to her from a collection of encyclopedias. Because of her influence, Popova was exposed to a vast amount of knowledge at a young age, which fueled her curiosity about the world. Popova first worked when she was 8 years old, making martenitsas having set up a lemonade stand-esque shop on the street to sell them.
Education and work
Popova graduated from the American College of Sofia in Bulgaria in 2003. She attended the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a degree in Communications, though her grandmother wanted her to get an MBA. Popova paid for her tuition by working four part-time jobs on top of a full college course load: as an advertising representative for The Daily Pennsylvanian, as an intern for a local writer, as an employee for a work-study job at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, and as a staff member for a small start-up advertising agency in Philadelphia.
In 2005, while Popova worked at an advertising agency, she noticed that her co-workers were circulating information within the advertising industry around the office for inspiration. However, Popova thought creativity was better sparked with exposure to information outside of the industry one was familiar with. In an effort to stir creativity, she regularly sent emails to the entire office containing five things that had nothing to do with advertising, but were meaningful, interesting, or important. Because of the popularity of the emails, Popova felt that there was an "intellectual hunger for that sort of cross-disciplinary curiosity and self-directed learning."
Popova told her boss that she would start her own mailing for inspiration, and called this mailing Brain Pickings. She then enrolled in a night class to learn web design, took Brain Pickings online, and let the project grow organically.
Relocation to the U.S.
After Popova graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, she got a job and applied for a visa to stay in the United States. However, 2007 was the year the "Visagate" scandal occurred. As a result, though Popova filed for a visa on the first day, she was in the two-thirds of the applicants who were unsuccessful. Instead, she received an OPT, which allows a year's worth of work with a company. At the end of 2008, she returned for a while to Bulgaria, where she and some friends organized TEDxBG, modeled after TED Talks. When the visa application process opened up again, she successfully secured a visa and moved to Los Angeles in January 2010, but disliked it immensely. Popova then moved to New York later that year, where she still resides today.
|“||If something interests me and is both timeless and timely, I write about it. Much of what is published online is content designed to be dead within hours, so I find most of my material offline. I gravitate more and more towards historical things that are somewhat obscure and yet timely in their sensibility and message.||”|
|— Popova in December 2012|
Popova is most notable for Brain Pickings, a popular blog that began as a weekly email to seven of her friends around 2006. Now a website, Twitter feed, and weekly digest, Brain Pickings covers a wide variety of cultural topics: history, current events, and images and texts from the past. It includes several sections and has graphics, photographs, and illustrations in addition to written content.
As of December 2012, the blog was receiving 1.2 million visitors a month. Among its followers are William Gibson, Josh Groban, Drew Carey, Guy Spier, David Eagleman, Mia Farrow, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams. Anne-Marie Slaughter describes Popova's blog as "like walking into the Museum of Modern Art and having somebody give you a customized, guided tour."
Side projects and partnerships
In addition to running Brain Pickings, Popova has a number of side projects. She maintains a newsletter, a Twitter account, and has numerous Google Plus subscribers. In 2012, she created the "Literary Jukebox", a sub-site where she matches quotes from books with songs. "Music, for me, is an enormous trigger of mnemonic associations – of time, place, mood, emotion, the smell of fresh-cut grass behind your best friend’s house when you were 18 and first heard that song."
Popova also has various partnerships with prominent organizations. She is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow. Additionally, Popova serves as the editorial director at the higher education social network Lore, run by Noodle. She edits Explore, a partnership site with the Noodle educational search company. Popova has also written for The Atlantic, Wired UK, Good Magazine, The Huffington Post, and Nieman Journalism Lab.
Popova has claimed in interviews that Brain Pickings takes over 450 hours of work each month to run. This includes reading hundreds of pieces of content a day and anywhere between 12-15 books per week. From this, she posts the best to her blog and Twitter feed. She spends three to eight hours writing a day, publishes three articles a day from Monday to Friday, and tweets about four times per hour. All these articles and tweets are written and scheduled in advance. She goes to one of her two offices in New York City where she writes for her blog, tweets, goes through feeds, and more.
Content selection and output
Popova filters through the large amounts of content she reads each day through a detailed selection process. When choosing content for Brain Pickings, she asks herself three things:
Is it interesting enough to leave the reader with something – a thought, an idea, a question – after the immediate fulfillment of the self-contained reading or viewing experience? Is it evergreen in a way that makes it just as interesting in a month or a year? Am I able to provide enough additional context – historical background, related past articles, complementary reading or viewing material – or build a pattern around it to make it worth for the reader?
When choosing material to publish on Brain Pickings, she aims to "share content that is meaningful. Often, it’s timeless." Popova also seeks out content that has narrative. As she states, "Curation is a form of pattern recognition – pieces of information or insight which over time amount to an implicit point of view." Popova publishes this information in tweet form when she does not have much to add. On the other hand, she publishes this as blog posts when she feels she can deepen the subject with historical background or additional materials.
Awards and recognitions
Maria Popova has received numerous instances of media recognition for her work. In 2012, she was named number 51 of the 100 most creative people in business by Fast Company magazine. Popova was featured in 30 under 30 by Forbes as one of the most influential individuals in Media and was listed on “The 140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2012 List” by Time magazine. Popova’s work has also been spotlighted and profiled in publications such as The New York Times.
Popova has been very vocal about her dislike for traditional advertising, and has repeatedly expressed her pride on being advertising-free:
It doesn’t put the reader’s best interests first – it turns them into a sellable eyeball, and sells that to advertisers. As soon as you begin to treat your stakeholder as a bargaining chip, you’re not interested in broadening their intellectual horizons or bettering their life. I don’t believe in this model of making people into currency. You become accountable to advertisers, rather than your reader.
In 2013, Popova received criticism on how she championed her site to be "ad-free" and a "labor of love" that requires reader donations to sustain itself, while she covertly received revenue from affiliate advertising from Amazon. Tom Bleymaier, founder of a startup in Palo Alto, California, wrote a post on an anonymous Tumblr blog calling Popova out for her actions. Using his own calculations, Bleymaier extrapolated that Popova could make anywhere between $240,000 and $432,000 a year with these affiliate advertisements.
This received much media attention from sources such as Reuters and PandoDaily. Popova herself responded to the Reuters article written by Felix Salmon in an email where she addressed factual errors concerning the amount of income from the affiliate advertisements mentioned in the Reuters article.
This incident has sparked a more general debate on the Internet about whether or not affiliate advertisements are "sneaky" or "deceptive". Popova has since updated her donation page on Brain Pickings to acknowledge the fact that she receives income from affiliate advertisements.
In 2012, Popova created The Curator's Code, a project by Popova with input from designer Kelli Anderson. The Curator’s Code is a code of conduct for curators on the web to use. This proposed method is an attempt to codify source attribution on the internet to ensure that the intellectual labor of information discovery is honored. Under the code, the "via" symbol indicates direct discovery, where the "hat tip" symbol indicates an indirect link of discovery.
The Curator's Code was controversial, and received mixed responses. The announcement of this project elicited feedback from people who "worry about the meaning of curation". In a blog post, Marco Arment stated that "codifying 'via' links with confusing symbols is solving the wrong problem". Most criticism of The Curator’s Code voiced uncertainty about its ability to solve the problems of online attribution. A few critics argued that the problems of online attribution are not due to a lack of codified syntax, but rather due to the "economics and realities of online publishing".
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