Posted on Nov 3, 2008 | 25 Comments

Picture 49

Lately, I’ve been dreadful at updating my blogs with what’s new in my life. What I said in July seems to still hold true a few months later:

“My frequency of blogging has gone down lately. Is it because of the pervasiveness of microblogging? For the most part, no. The answer is that I’m consuming a LOT more information than outputting, which leaves little time to share all the great things I’m learning about at the end of the day.”

The most recent update in my world is that I decided to resign my contract with my employer today (when you work with NASA as a contractor, you’re hired by a separate company that then contracts the work to NASA). Being the first “outside” blogger/social media consultant I know of being brought into NASA, I ran up against policies from my employer that made it impossible for me to do the job NASA hired me to do. My employer’s policies for digital interaction are outdated, exemplified by the apparent prohibition of instant messaging and social networks during work hours. The policies and mindsets are written in such a way that it makes the use of Twitter akin to playing Solitaire at work. As well as being effective communication protocols that actually increase productivity and open collaboration, they are already receiving widespread usage within NASA. Due to the non-negotiable factor of these policies, it is with regret and deep frustration that I leave this role at NASA, as everything I had understood about their desire to be involved in social media filled me with enthusiasm and excitement and I relished the opportunity to bring my expertise to a new field.

I am not the first social media person to run into these types of issues in government services that affect me doing my job. Tara Hunt has a blog post from 2007 on “The Brown Act of 1953: how this positive policy now negatively affects civic collaboration“.

Despite the unfortunate situation, I feel that the space community at large is truly wonderful and full of potential for social media, transparency and collaboration. The end goal of my program at NASA was to make NASA more open so people will begin to utilize NASA’s vast amount of data (98% of everything they do is available publicly, just not well-communicated).

This is also an interesting time to be involved with technology policies and the government. I intend to write a blog post in the coming weeks that goes into more detail on my personal experience over the last few months and analysis of why government maybe isn’t ready for 2.0 just yet (but they’re eager to be).

TechCrunch today posted Barack Obama On Tech Policy. A few quotes to pull out that I find especially relevant to my experience:

“Create a transparent and connected democracy”
• “We will put government data online in universally accessible formats”
• “To seize this moment, we have to connect all of America to 21st century infrastructure”
• “If we make technological literacy a fundamental part of education, then we can … ensure the next generation of scientists and engineers is being educated right here in America”
• “Together, we harness technology to confront the biggest challenges that America faces, just imagine what we could do!”

For now, I will continue imagining what NASA can do on an informal basis :)


  1. drew
    November 3, 2008

    a shame that you’ve been dealt these kinds of cards. I always thought it was cool that I followed somebody who was actively involved on twitter that worked at NASA (call me a geek et wot). I know that in the future that you’ll still do neat things and provide us all with updates via twitter.

    all the best.

  2. Joshua McKenty
    November 3, 2008


    You’ve brought a lot of firepower to the “transparency” fight at NASA, and I’m sorry to see you go. I’ll fight the good fight from the inside as long as I can – save me a seat ringside in case I have to tap out.


  3. Loki
    November 3, 2008

    As a long time fan of NASA (ever since watching Apollo on the news as a kid) I am sorry to hear this. It is yet another example of ossified perspectives hamstringing vital efforts to bring things into the present.

    I firmly believe that one of the biggest issues faced here is the same as effects many large organizations. To wit, by the time they manage to codify a policy for something that policy is out of date. Just like Capital Hill making laws about technology they do not understand. Sad but true.

    A lot of Space Shuttle parts and boosters are constructed right outside of New Orleans and I’ve known several NASA people over the years. Uniformly good folk.

  4. k_lau
    November 3, 2008

    Brava for the effort!

  5. Ernie Foss AKA @Yoshi_Matrix
    November 3, 2008

    That Sucks Ariel, close minded folks are whats wrong with things. I always enjoyed your updates from NASA and that you DID use twitter as a medium for it. Glad your doing ok, and tell my hometown I say hello and I miss her.

  6. Scott Oppliger
    November 3, 2008

    How can you be heading up blogging and social media for NASA but prohibited from using social media during working hours?? WTF is that about?

  7. J.J.
    November 3, 2008

    This sounds all too familiar. Its been a year since I left NASA and you’ve shined light on many of the issues (outdated policies mainly) that led to me looking elsewhere.

    It is sad. As the potential for online technology, collaboration, etc. there is indeed so great. I’ve been gone a year and can’t help but keep one eye looking over once and a while to see if NASA is starting to shift. Those outdated rules tie both your arms behind your back so you can’t really do anything. Then you spend all your energy pushing a boulder up a hill (still with your arms tied behind your back) to impart change.

  8. Justin Lake Whedon
    November 3, 2008

    Ariel ~

    Wish I could hug you, but it will have to wait until you come back to Kansas (for God knows what or why you would want to do that… so maybe next time I make it to SF).

    You’re taking this so fucking well. I can’t even begin to commend you on the way you handled yourself in this whole situation you’ve been dealing with. I’d have gotten fired for smacking a Troll!!

    All will be well and I do believe that what happens, happens for a reason. Something better suited for you at this point in your life and the world will come along and snatch you up for sure!

    Love Ya Always.

    ~ Justin Lake Whedon

  9. Matt
    November 3, 2008

    Sorry to see you go. The work you have done at NASA has been great at bridging the gap between the NASA world and the “real” world. Unfortunately, NASA doesn’t understand the outside world (or at least their policy doesn’t reflect that), which is why they needed you to begin with. It’s all sort of a big catch 22 that you (in my opinion) were getting close to breaking or at least exposing so that it can be broken. The “NASA Way” needs to be updated to include modern methods for communication.

  10. Gordon R. Vaughan
    November 3, 2008

    Sorry it didn’t work out, and thanks for trying. More than ever, NASA needs outside input to help it rethink its strategy and accelerate innovation.

    There’s always risk in opening an organization up to outside input and making it more transparent, but it’s certainly clear that the greater risk for NASA at this point is a continued growth in bureaucracy and risk-aversion that makes real progress in spaceflight impossible.

    Good luck with whatever you do next.

  11. MtB
    November 3, 2008

    as far as i know u were kinda fresh; my question is why to quit instead of stay a bit longer and try to create a population to work on some kind of act-ual revolution? :)

  12. Ramiro Berrelleza
    November 3, 2008

    Too bad you weren’t able to stay at NASA. Anyway, thanks a lot for all the info you shared with us via Twitter, it was really fun!

    Hopefully you will keep doing fun and interesting stuff. Don’t forget to twit about it!

  13. Doug Aitken
    November 3, 2008

    I just don’t get how they won’t let a social media person be socially medially….ok that sounded right in my head. You know what I mean. It bums when you can’t do the job you signed up for properly because “the man” is holding you back!
    I hope your next step lets you be a bit more productive in your job title

  14. Lisa B
    November 3, 2008

    I wouldn’t have even known about Colab if not for your Twitter presence. I love all the science tweets and all the scientists and engineers and space missions who are now tweeting and interacting with the public through social networks, and it seemed like you were cultivating and engaging that. It’s too bad you hit some pocket of humanity at Ames. Sounds like someone is being overly cautious and probably reactionary, and really not getting how to be a modern workplace and treat creative workers with freedom and respect, and now a talented woman who was a bridge is leaving and so many possibilities out the door. Too bad for NASA.

  15. Michael Laine
    November 3, 2008

    Thanks for trying… I know it wasn’t easy, working there, or making this choice. Keep the faith, if maybe not with NASA, the Alt.Space/Commercial Space sector is doing amazing things.

  16. Mark Bate
    November 3, 2008

    That kinda sucks.. I imagine NASA would have been an exciting place to work for (there’s not that many companies that have been to the moon ;p), but yeah if there’s weird restrictions on stuff you need, then it gets a bit frustrating.
    Science can be a frustrating space to work in, as so much of the industry is focused on making data available through archaic ways. There are those that want to change the industry and embrace new & exciting technologies, but there’s a lot more that are either frightened of change or not yet ready to embrace it, which means a lot of things can become uphill battles.

    Hopefully your informal work with NASA will lead to you being able to work with them in a more natural, less contrained manor ;p

  17. Mark Drapeau
    November 4, 2008

    Incredibly disappointed to hear this.

  18. Daniel Laughlin
    November 4, 2008

    It’s a shame to see you go. I know it’s incredibly frustrating to try and swim upstream against policies that make no sense and directly under value what you know to be significant. Good luck on the outside.

  19. Fred Schechter
    November 5, 2008

    Bummer,, You’re right, as the meatball advocate though, they really do need help getting their agenda/concepts/technolgies/successess out there. So frustrating that is so difficult to do, and the rest of it you’re facing clearly isn’t helping. My condolences. NASA (at least the policymakers that brought this about) have been so far behind for so long on publicity that it’s plainly embarrassing. Simple things like,, why isn’t their tech transfer mag competing with wired? Why isn’t the tech tranfer program more transparent, or at least imminently searchable. Why are their photo and video archives kept in a format that wouldn’t be up to date in 1993 with a few rare exceptions.
    Your blogging and tweets help so much.

    Just so frustrated and frustrated for you in this regard.

    All the best.

  20. larrykinghere
    November 5, 2008

    Cupcakes and space–much like the sea and tacos–unfortunately it appears, will forever remain mutually exclusive.

  21. Offbeatmammal
    November 5, 2008

    Looks like MarsRover will be the only Tweeter left at NASA (and it’s time is running out as the Winter approaches….)

  22. Steve Hall
    November 7, 2008

    Well, that just sucks. Classic example of big ass “corporations” paying lip service to things they say they want but will never allow/adopt. For those of us living in this space, it’s a no brainer. For those who don’t it seems to be a foreign language they are unwilling to learn.

  23. Paul Weaver (Anderson Urqhart)
    November 15, 2008

    Please don’t tell me this is final, we need you and can’t afford to lose you, NASA needs you but don’t seem to realise yet.

  24. Jussi
    November 18, 2008

    Working for Nasa! Absolutely cool! NASA is not the only organisation that offers knowledge that isn’t well communicated. At least Finlands municipals are completely outdated in the informing of people about almost everything. Hope you get work from our government next :)

  25. Mike Gale
    November 30, 2008

    On the Brown Act. It’s original purpose has been largely subverted by history. It now is an active barrier that will actually prevent participation by those who would otherwise join the debate. (It might be a good thing to limit comments which are too easily made!) Nit picking arguments that it can’t get to 30% (or whatever) of the population entirely ignore this.

    Read Paul Graham’s article on “Artists Ship” to see a related issue of human stupidity.