by John Mennell
Conceived twenty and incorporated ten years ago – 2014 is a watershed for MagazineLiteracy.org – a time for renewal, reinvention and growth. With titles for every age and interest, and arriving in hands, homes, and hearts every month of the year, magazines are especially powerful for literacy. We’ve been able to make this vision a reality with a growing army of volunteers – coast to coast, and around the world – and with generous media and technology support from literacy champions like Automattic (WordPress VIP), the Salesforce Foundation, Google for Non-profits, Shoplocket, CrowdSpring, TruScribe, Bendyworks, ENTP (Lighthouse), Crowdtilt (Crowdhoster), Sharetribe, and Balsamiq.
Our mantra is “make literacy happen.” Now, thanks to generous backing from One Month Rails, we are one step closer to realizing our dream to deliver a global magazine literacy marketplace – an online application where consumers and businesses share favorite magazines by crowdfunding delivery of new and recycled bundles to meet literacy needs posted by programs serving at-risk children and families. One Month Rails is a gem of immeasurable value. The timing could not be better. In January, we launch our magazine literacy marketplace design with the rockstar web artisans at Bendyworks, where our global operations happen in a co-working space.
We have delivered tens of thousands of magazines to readers – even to Inuit families north of the Arctic Circle – but millions are needed for children, teens, and adults in homeless and domestic violence shelters, mentoring and job training programs, and foster care. More than 1.1 million students in the United States were homeless last year, a record high, according to new data released by the U.S. Department of Education. These are formative years when a magazine article can launch a child’s aspirations to dream big and reach for amazing possibilities. This is our moonshot.
Decades ago, I invented the “Amazing Pocket World Atlas” that could pinpoint your exact location anywhere in the world. It was the size of a credit card and as slim, always on, required no power supply, operated outdoors or indoors, and priced for the masses at just 99 cents. The instructions where simple enough for a child to operate. Hold the device at arms length and rotate it to view the message on the back side: YOU ARE HERE.
How did you get here and where are you going? Life is a journey. Any destination you can imagine – no matter how far or daunting – can be reached by taking one step, then another, followed by more. Like traveling by Street View, with every step forward, a new world of possibilities snaps into view. One time, I walked from Washington DC to Boston – one million steps, twenty miles a day for thirty days. I started up 16th Street toward Silver Spring, Maryland, then walked along Route 29 toward Baltimore. I remember utter exhaustion and soreness from head to toe shuffling up a hill after dark at the end of first day – never did the looming Golden Arches feel so welcoming than the ones I dead reckoned rising out of the darkness ahead at a Burtonsville intersection. Yet, the next day, and each day after was truly a new dawn, full of new vigor, bounding forward – refreshed and renewed and ready for more. Thus is or commitment to building our global magazine literacy marketplace.
I love to build things – and coding has long been accessible for building tools and applications that change the world. In high school, I learned Basic and banged out moon lander, satellite tracking, and tutoring software programs on a DEC PDP8/e minicomputer. Instead of a video monitor, program results clacked out on the paper roll of a teletype machine. Programs were stored on punched paper tape that had to be run through a reader in order to use them.
At Cornell University, for a public policy treatise, I engineered an algorithm, that, given legislatures of varying sizes, modeled and tabulated every possible voting outcome. The objective was to compare the practice among counties of “weighted voting” against the basic democratic premise of “one person, one vote.” I mail-merged job hunting resumes and cover letter to a printer connected to the university’s mainframe computer. At my first private sector job, I learned COBOL to deliver financial interfaces, producing stacks of punched cards for processing via our corporate IBM mainframe. At the dawn of the personal computer age, I bought a tiny 12-ounce Timex Sinclair 1000 with a full 16K of RAM! Then the first “portable” computer, the Osborne 1, which weighed in at a luggable 23 pounds. In the Global Markets division at Bankers Trust, I learned enough Pascal and C to program routines for credit utilization analysis across major clients. Later, I was recognized by the ComputerWorld/Smithsonian award program for devising a national toll-free hotline using advanced feature routing to connect any hungry person, or volunteer, or food donor directly to their nearest food pantry. Early in the life of MagazineLiteracy.org, I learned enough of the LAMP stack to code our first literacy platform. We’ve since migrated over to the WordPress VIP platform for content management, which gives us a very robust, reliable, and easy to maintain infrastructure capable of handling high traffic volumes, a godsend during promotional events and media campaigns.
During early discussions with our friends at Bendyworks, they helped me to understand that we are as much a technology idea as we are a literacy vision. In fact, even after twenty years, we are very much a tech start-up at the dawn of a new day looking forward to creating a powerful application to get the magazines we love from anywhere to anywhere in the world for literacy – and so happy to be kicking off 2014 and taking our first steps with One Month Rails to guide us.
Help us to change the world, one magazine, one reader, one line of code at a time.
by John Mennell