Wednesday Geek Woman: Denise Paolucci, founder of Dreamwidth

This is a guest post by Elizabeth. Elizabeth is a multivariate geek who blogs at elliemurasaki@dreamwidth and who also posts to Affairs Magazine and The Slacktiverse.

Submissions are currently open for Wednesday Geek Woman posts.

Dreamwidth "swirly d" logo

Denise, in collaboration with Mark Smith (at first) and a plethora of mostly-female coders, launched Dreamwidth in 2009. Dreamwidth is a social journaling platform and a code fork of LiveJournal; differences between the services are listed here. The service is committed to accessibility, to diversity, and to being open-source and ad-free.

Photo of Denise Paolucci, facing away from camera

Denise is also an author, published under ‘Denise McCune’ in the Finding the Way and Changing the World collections of Valdemar stories, and an artisan, whose jewelry and stitch markers can be found at the Faultless Pajama Foundry on Etsy.

Dreamwidth: Denise’s official blog

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10 thoughts on “Wednesday Geek Woman: Denise Paolucci, founder of Dreamwidth

  1. Lindsey Kuper

    We can do better than four sentences about Denise, can’t we? I’ll start.

    In 2003 and 2004, the heyday of LiveJournal, I did some amount of volunteering for LiveJournal technical support, which was entirely volunteer-run. It was remarkable. There were a lot of people working very hard to do support well — not only to answer users’ questions well, although they certainly did that, but also to create a staggering amount of infrastructure that helped other support volunteers do their jobs better. There was incredible camaraderie among the support volunteers. None of this would have been possible without Denise, who spearheaded the whole enterprise. There had to have been a million things on Denise’s plate at LiveJournal aside from answering users’ support questions, but still, now, years later, she remains at the top of the LJ support “high scores” list.

    The amount of effort and love that was poured into doing LJ support right was amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it since — except, of course, on Dreamwidth, where, of course, Denise is also topping the high-scores list in addition to the million other things she does. It’s amazing. She’s amazing.

    1. Mary

      We can do better than four sentences about Denise, can’t we?

      This reads like a rather strong criticism to me: the ontological argument for the existence of X does have its problems, but the four sentences that do get submitted to WGW are always better than sentences that don’t, at least for my purposes as WGW editor :)

      Thanks to both Elizabeth for the post and Lindsey (and others to come?) for additions in comments.

      1. Lindsey Kuper

        I’m glad for the original post, and didn’t mean to imply otherwise! I should have phrased my comment more tactfully — for instance, “I bet the GF commenters have a lot more to say about how badass Denise is. I’d be thrilled to read those comments.” And, indeed, they do, and I am!

  2. Mark Smith

    I’ve had the honor of knowing Denise for over a decade now. As friend, coworker, and business partner. One of the things that always stands out to me about Denise is that she is such an embodiment of the “can-do” philosophy of life. Whether it be in her work at LiveJournal, her hobbies, or her leadership on Dreamwidth — there is nothing that is out of her reach or beyond her ability. She proves that time and again.

    One of Dreamwidth’s committers just put together a list of contributors and number of contributions attributed to them. According to that list, Denise has over 350 code contributions to her name.

    It’s interesting to look back to when we started Dreamwidth. There was a pretty clear division of labor back then — she was the Suit and I was the Geek. That hasn’t been true for a long time now, and it’s been a thrilling transition to watch.

    Thank you, Denise, for being an inspiration to me and everybody else who has worked with you. I’m glad to call you friend and partner. You are one of the most competent people I know, across all spheres — technical and not.

  3. Skud

    I’ll add some more here, too…

    Denise’s vision is behind the Dreamwidth diversity statement, which is hands down the best I’ve ever seen. Since that statement was posted in 2009 it’s been the inspiration for several other open source projects to make diversity statements of their own.

    Denise also posts insightfully and with great thoughtfulness on a range of tech subjects. Some of her greatest hits include:

    Teaching people to fish
    Real name policies: they just don’t work
    Technical debt and the making of payments on it
    Why Monetizing Social Media Through Advertising Is Doomed To Failure
    IP logging, internet privacy, geolocation, and you: facts to consider
    Internet business numbers for the layperson
    Why I’m worried about IJ’s long-term sustainability (on running a large-scale website)

    There’s also a great post somewhere about how adding user-configurable options to software increases the maintenance load, but I can’t find it. Anyone got a link?

    (Note: Denise posts under “denise” when speaking as a Dreamwidth staff member, and under “synecdochic” when speaking for herself. She publicly acknowledges the link between the two accounts in her profile.)

  4. azurelunatic

    Hooray for Denise! She has been a mentor to me in many ways — technical, professional, creative, personal — since I first poked my head into LiveJournal’s volunteer IRC channel, and my regard for her only grows.

    As she guided discussions on Dreamwidth’s development future and taught me the business and technical considerations behind some of the decisions, she also taught me by example about project leadership, when to invite comment from the userbase, and when to make an executive decision and call a conclusion to the bikeshedding. Even before she began active work as a developer, she had a comprehensive grasp of the basic capabilities of the codebase and why a number of popularly-demanded features were not in fact feasible. She has demonstrated grace under fire and exemplary umbrella management in some of the most difficult situations imaginable.

    I hope to have many, many more years of working with her.

  5. Pau Amma

    I worked under her as a volunteer for LiveJournal (support, translation, and documentation – it always saddens or angers me when people only acknowledge support volunteers), and I’m glad I was reading her journal when she floated the idea of a LiveJournal forked service.

  6. Nonny

    Denise is made of awesome. I branched out onto Dreamwidth with the great Livejournal/Facebook Fail of 2010, and I’ve been nothing but impressed with the way they’ve run things, and her frequent update posts. I have a ton of respect for her.

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