via Geir Kiste

Going Off Grid

Posted 06 Feb 2016 to deep thoughts, off grid, media and has Comments

Since I joined Vox Media back in April in the OpBandit acquisition, Vox has raised a little money, acquired Re/code, and turned into a unicorn 🦄. Over the last 10 months, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the best and most talented people in the publishing space. It has been an amazing experience, and I’m very grateful to Trei Brundrett and the rest of the Vox Media Product Team for creating such a great environment for product development. After integrating the OpBandit platform into Vox’s core CMS, building out solid data infrastructure and data science teams, and an incredible amount of self-reflection, I’ve decided to take some time away from online publishing.

While I think online publishing clearly fills a part of the necessary role of a free press in a democracy, at this point the immediate technological challenges of putting words and pictures on the internet are solved. Most of the tech and data science efforts are now focused on increasingly marginal gains in engagement (and more importantly, ad views). Audience growth is no longer a direct function only of the quality of the content produced; instead, it is completely captive to the whims of black box algorithms controlled by third party platforms. Online publishing is just about as far away from the simplicity of “We make X and people pay us for it” as you can get, and things are getting even more complicated. As much as I love the environment, the people, and the new challenges of the industry - I’d like to spend some time doing something positive with a more immediate and direct impact to people’s lives.

There are some amazing technological advances going on in the world today with the potential for that sort of impact - including efforts to make humanity interplanetary, eradicate diseases, and redefine human computer interaction. Another example comes via a former (LivingSocial) coworker of mine Dan Mayer who wrote a great blog post about his new job at a company providing solar power to households in Africa. The company, Off Grid Electric, provides clean, affordable energy via solar power as a service. They do this in a part of the world where 90% of people have no access to an electrical grid, and they’re on track to light a million homes in Africa over the next couple of years. They’re not only bringing power, but thousands of jobs in the process. What’s more, this access to energy goes beyond just convenience and modernization, as the Washington Post points out:

Across sub-Saharan Africa, fully 590 million people lack access to power. And it’s a life-or-death issue: Indoor air pollution from wood stoves now kills 3.5 million people per year, more than AIDS and malaria combined.

When Dan recently reached out about an open position working on these problems, I couldn’t help but apply, and I couldn’t say no to their subsequent offer. I’m excited to be joining Off Grid Electric this week and will be immediately heading to their headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania for three months. Not only will I be able to travel to one of the most beautiful parts of Africa, but the work I’ll be doing has the potential to directly impact the quality of people’s lives. I don’t know if my future will include an eventual return to the online publishing world; either way, I look forward to seeing my old colleagues at Vox Media continue to provide a stellar example of what a modern media company can accomplish.

Now I’m off to start packing…