Truly inspiring…

She’s Got Some Big Ideas

By BRUCE FEILER

Published: November 30, 2012

“SHE is the mastermind of the one of the faster growing literary empires on the Internet, yet she is virtually unknown. She is the champion of old-fashioned ideas, yet she is only 28 years old. She is a fierce defender of books, yet she insists she will never write one herself.

Her exhaustively assembled grab bag of scientific curiosities, forgotten photographs, snippets of old love letters and mash notes to creativity — imagine the high-mindedness of a TED talk mixed with the pop sensibility of P. T. Barnum — spans a blog (500,000 visitors a month), anewsletter (150,000 subscribers) and a Twitter feed(263,000 followers). Her output, which she calls a “human-powered discovery engine for interestingness,” has attracted an eclectic group of devotees including the novelist William Gibson, the singer Josh Groban, the comedian Drew Carey, the neuroscientist David Eagleman, the actress Mia Farrow and the Twitter founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams.

“She’s a celebrator,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton professor and former State Department official. “You feel the tremendous amount of pleasure she takes in finding these things and sharing them. It’s like walking into the Museum of Modern Art and having somebody give you a customized, guided tour.”

So what exactly is it that she does? Ms. Popova says she views her job as “helping people become interested in things they didn’t know they were interested in, until they are.” One entry might discuss how to find your true passion, with links to a talk by Alain de Botton, a book by the cartoonist Hugh MacLeod and a commencement address by Steve Jobs; another, how she asked an artist friend to illustrate thoughts on love from Susan Sontag’s diaries. Recently she recounted an aging Helen Keller’s visit to Martha Graham’s studio.

She has faced criticism, of course. She has been dismissed as elitist and condescending. An initiative she helped start last spring, the Curator’s Code, which called for more respect and attribution in the Twittersphere, was harshly criticized. Ms. Popova responded in a blog post that began, “In times of turmoil, I often turn to one of my existential pillars of comfort: Albert Einstein’s ‘Ideas and Opinion.’ ” She ended with this thought: “There is a way to critique intelligently and respectfully, without eroding the validity of your disagreement. It boils down to manners.”

As for her future, Ms. Popova said she had little interest in expanding her brand. “I get asked all the time, ‘How’s it going to scale?’ ‘What’s next?’ ” she said. “What I do is what I do, and I don’t think I’m ever going to change that.” The woman who rails against her contemporaries for turning their backs on old books said she had no interest in writing one. “That’s such an antiquated model of thinking,” she said. “Why would I want to write something that’s going to have the shelf life of a banana?””

 

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by | December 3, 2012 · 7:31 pm

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