This post marks the fourth in a series featuring interviews with some of the fascinating individuals who joined our community for the 2014-2015 year. Conducted by our 2014 summer interns (affectionately known as "Berkterns"), these snapshots aim to showcase the diverse backgrounds, interests, and accomplishments of our dynamic 2014-2015 community.
Interested in joining the Berkman Center community? We're currently accepting fellowship applications for the 2015-2016 academic year. Read more on ourfellowships page.
Berkman affiliate @leppert interviewed in summer 2014 by Berktern Calum Bowden
What do you do?
Mostly I’m interested in fun ideas and working with talented folks. My
roles and experiences have largely been the result of trying to get out
of the way of those talented folks and fill in the gaps to glue it all
together. I’m the rice in sushi. I’m the egg in a cake. I’m a food
ingredient that holds a food product together.
Svpply.com was a social shopping site acquired by eBay. Reading.am is a place to share links.
How did you come to create these two sites?
Svpply was born in 2009
when my partner, Ben, realized there wasn’t a great place to window shop for products online. I started working on it after moving to Cambridge
to join the Media Lab, at which point I got hooked and decided to forego grad school in order to help move the company to NYC. Reading.am
started out as an internal tool at Svpply. We were constantly sharing
links but it wasn’t exactly what I’d call “bookmarking” which, for me,
has connotations of archiving and retention. Links in the context of
Reading are simply a quick, easy and ephemeral way to share knowledge or news.
How would you describe these different approaches to online curation?
Svpply and Reading, as they relate to curation, are really antitheses of each
other. Svpply guided users to build a profile of products—mostly apparel and lifestyle goods—that represented their tastes and painted a picture of each user. Reading, on the other hand, is largely anti-curation.
It’s about the ephemeral. It’s about providing a platform for users to
share content on the web without endorsing it. It’s actually pretty hard to find spaces on the web to share content without the expectation that you’re endorsing it or that you’ll issue an opinion about that content. Sometimes media is just something we pass by on our way to new ideas.
Not everything is a landmark. But I find it useful to see the routes
other people are taking.
What led you to focus on tools for collecting socially?
They’re easy to build and fun if you can get the right crowd to show up. The
Internet is, in many ways, still a mass of buried information and
content. Tools for social collection are like tools for an
archaeological dig. But, like, an archaeological dig combined with a
Do you have an overarching vision of the kinds of things
you work on, when you collect domain names like listening.am,
watching.am and elephantsho.es? Or is your vision constantly changing
Always evolving! Buying domain names is like bookmarking for ideas.
Your personal site lists some links to more experimental projects, like
Eavesdropper, an app that adds context to real time conversations. How
do they fit in with Web tools you’ve created?
Most of my work
revolves around communication in one form or another. The cores of
Eavesdropper and Reading are essentially the same—using technology to
help people connect through ideas—but of course they go about it quite
differently. Ultimately most of my work is the result of a desire to
establish relationships with strangers, in the same way writing music
and touring in bands did earlier in my career.
Is blending technology and art important for your work?
Absolutely! Tech and art are massive disciplines and most of the delineations
within them, that I’ve found, are the result of gaps in my own
What do you plan to work on during your affiliation?
That's on the DL for the moment. Let’s just say it rhymes with the word zobots.
Five things from around the Web to share with the Berkman Community: