Forem Creators and Builders

Cover image for 🏮Forem Creator Spotlight 💡and AMA: @lee

🏮Forem Creator Spotlight 💡and AMA: @lee

Image by @lee

Each month we'll be sharing a little bit more about a Forem community, the creator and/or team behind it, and give y'all the opportunity to ask some of your burning questions. is a place for you to find other Creators who are going through the experience of building a Forem community alongside you. We encourage you to reach out, make connection, find support, and nourish each other.

It might not surprise some of you to know that we asked Lee to kick us off. Lee (who is UK based) spends his free time managing the 4 communities he created on the Forem open source community platform: ThisMMALife (MMA), Meta Punk (web3), FlowState (health and wellness), and theElasticGuru (AWS). Around these parts he's known as the first person to tackle a self-hosted Forem - back before Forem was even a thing (he forked the DEV repo once it was OSS to create TMMAL)!

There's a community for everyone

We asked @lee to help us understand why anyone would take on the task of running 4 communities simultaneously, let alone across such a diverse range of subjects. What we ended up with was an hour of freewheelin' topic-switching about the nature of connection: what we look for when we join communities, quantum physics, ancient mysticism, Chinese philosophy, social inequality, educational marginalization. Here are some of our community-centric highlights:

Being outside doesn't mean people don't want to belong

  • We discussed what cloud computing has in common with MMA.
    • Something we dialed into is how they can both be reactions to prevalent forms of gatekeeping in both tech and martial arts (which led onto a tangent about how web3 is a reaction to gatekeeping in art sales and financial systems).
    • One of the themes that seemed to emerge was how the status quo can easily become undesirable to an outsider who can't see the rule book.

Moderation is a gift

  • We explored the idea of cultural pushback, as seen in some MMA and web3 communities, where conspiracy theories and anti-wokeness are popular positions.
    • There's a tension between the challenge of moderating communities with these cultures vs the opportunity of providing "safe spaces" for people who share these interests but are marginalized by those popular discussions.
    • One of Lee's motivations for creating ThisMMALife and Meta Punk is to contribute to safe spaces for people who don't always share the language or identities of the mainstream.

Scaling intentionally

  • One of the biggest challenges of scaling community is when to move fast and break things vs the opportunity to scale intentionally and collaboratively.
    • It's easy to be tempted by the promises of rapid growth, but slow and intentional growth leads to healthier communities.
    • Some ways of achieving this are by focusing recruiting engaged members, rewarding engagement, and fostering connection.

Our conversation was over way too fast, but what became increasingly clear as we talked was Lee's belief in a redemptive quality of connection amongst outsiders, and his long-term commitment to running these community spaces for "at least another decade".

Do you have any questions for Lee? He would love to answer them below!

Would you like to feature in a future month's Creator Spotlight + AMA? Email to raise your hand!

Discussion (14)

ildi profile image

First I'd like to thank @lee for being a very helpful member of the Forem community. I've learned a lot directly from him and by observing how he operates his communities.

Also I really like the idea of doing Forem creator spotlights 🥳

Here are a few questions from me:

  1. What role do you hope Forem can play in web3?

  2. On the topic of scaling intentionally, what are some suggestions or best-practices on how to go about recruiting engaged members.

  3. What are some of your favorite online communities?

  4. Name 3 podcasts that you really enjoy listening to.

lee profile image
Lee Author • Edited on

What role do you hope Forem can play in web3?

I think about this a lot... In terms of my own communities, I think of how tokenomics can play a part in giving back to the community, especially content creators. Again similar to the Rug Radio project, maybe a portion of any profits made by the community are given back through a blockchain type protocol, or community decisions are done through a DAO. I feel there are lots of scope from logging in via a wallet to drive further privacy and decentralisation to full adoption through DAO, NFTs, tokenomics etc.

On the topic of scaling intentionally, what are some suggestions or best-practices on how to go about recruiting engaged members.

I am painfully aware of the toxicity within current online MMA communities, it's really really bad, it makes Twitter look like club penguin. I remember when I started it and I was hoping for an influx of members, I am glad that didn't happen, I think i'd find the moderation too much. Same with Meta Punk, the scamming online around NFTs is jaw dropping, again I don't want an influx of generic NFT community members, I want to ensure that content is safe.

I have come to the conclusion that building a health community that takes care of itself takes time and persistence, there is no rushing that with expensive advertising campaigns in all the wrong places bringing in awful content. I am in this for the long term and that will show overtime with the quality of content and the partnerships I do end up creating.

What are some of your favourite online communities?

Obviously Dev is one of them, the first community I ever felt at home in. I am in about 20 NFT projects in Discord that I have some interest in, they are very interesting to watch and learn from, absolute chaos.

Mixed Martial Arts is such a fascinating community. From the outside it looks brutal. I see it and experience it as a sport that was forged from dire social conditions. Visit every city in the world and you'll find an MMA gym. Walk in and you will be welcomed into a family dynamic with open arms, all inclusive, irrelevant of your social conditions and status. Race, gender, colour, social status, professional status, religion are irrelevant and respected all at the same time, even language can be irrelevant. They are melting pots of culture, all blended together in one canvas, everyone trying to help improve everyone else's game, it is truly a humbling and emotional experience especially if you are low in confidence or feel the need to learn to protect yourself, or you are looking for a place to call home.

Athlete stories like Kayla Harrisons (more on that below) are very common, these people that have been through so much in their early life, so much early trauma, abandonment, abuse, and yet they finally find love, family and a common goal to become a better martial artist. Most of these athletes will tell you that the place they feel most secure, is in the Octagon.

Inevitably though, the very best athletes become so good at what they do, they end up wanting to compete at the highest levels (hence the existence of the UFC, Bellator, the PFL etc) which I understand from the outside looks brutal and the first UFC events were exactly that, horrific, however for the martial arts community they answered a simple yet fascinating question that existed for centuries within combat sports, which discipline actually works? Karate over Muay Thai? Judo over Wrestling? After all the hollywood movies, the emergence of Bruce Lee, if you put time and effort into learning any martial art, is actually practical in a real life situation?

That question was answered when BJJ (Brazilian Jiujitsu) emerged in all those early, poorly run, brutal tournaments as the base line. Royce Gracie submitted every other competitor wearing a Gi, there were no weight regulations, he brought down and safely submitted other humans over twice his size.

This added another fascinating element to modern day Mixed Martial Arts, size doesn't matter (at least in most real work scenarios outside of professional competition), this is where you'll hear the term 'The Mats of Truth' because the mats don't ever lie.

The mats of truth can be hugely encouraging for someone that feels physically insecure due to size, gender, or their general nature. Countless times I have seen your typical bodybuilder tough guy enter an MMA gym expecting to get some striking action going on the bags or through sparring, instead the coach will pair them with a 12-14 year old stringy teenager, who submits them time after time (in a lot of cases this is a teenager girl). It's a good test of their attitude towards future training, do they become curious and want to learn? Or never come back because a 12 year could effectively control them physically in every position. The ones that come back usually have a life changing experience.

Checkout BJJ star Danielle Kelly rolling competitively here with a US marine. She's only 5ft.4" at atom weight. Incredible yet frightening athlete who finishes professional UFC athletes in grappling competitions without throwing a single strike.

I'll always say, if you’re experiencing confidence issues, generally feel threatened physically, want to recruit your body to improve your mental health, not interested in punching or kicking, then get your first BJJ class booked in, it's a life changing experience, a complete reinvention of yourself, you'll be hooked intellectually as much as physically and one day it could save your own life or the life of another. We are all fighters one way or another, fighting for we believe in, fighting for who we love, fighting for ourselves, our hopes and our dreams.

GoRails is another, the founder Chris is a gem (pardon the pun). Great place to learn Rails.

I like some Reddit communities such as /wallpapers (not like traditional wallpaper 😂) /documentaries /dyslexia /lesmills /oldschoolcool /wholesomememes /upliftingnews - plus many others that I look forward to seeing as Forems one day.

Name 3 podcasts that you really enjoy listening to.

Ariel Helwani's The MMA Hour

Ariel (another fabulous Canadian) inspired me to create This MMA Life. He laid the foundations for a more mainstream and healthy approach to the sport (and mixed martial arts in general). His show is very family friendly (believed it or not) and focuses on the athletes stories (most of which are heartbreaking and hugely inspiring all at the same time). Most MMA athletes are the most spiritual, authentic, kind, soulful, sensitive creative and neurodiverse human beings you’ll ever meet. Unfortunately though, they can easily be taken advantage of.

Take Ariel's last episode as an example, his first guest is Kayla Harrison. Kayla spends the first 20 mins or so talking about her open market contract negotiations before then opening up about her life story. As a child, Kayla was sexually abused by her Judo coach which almost led her to ending her own life. Her father committed suicide in her 20’s with no explanation. She overcame all the odds, achieved 2 gold medals in the Olympics, before utlimately turning into a professional MMA athlete (whilst being a single mother through the adoption of her niece and nephew). And professional she is... a corporate brand sponsorship dream. She is well known as the highest paid female MMA athlete of all time and has won the PFL $1m tournament twice, back to back.. Kayla's segment is an incredible listen.

Kayla is also undefeated and is one of my favourite athletes in the sport. MMA has also turned out to be very progressive sport both in terms of exposure to female athletes (Amanda Nunes being a prime example as an openly gay fighter who headlines some of the biggest PPV events and is considered one of the greatest athletes of all time, regardless of gender). Still has a fair way to go though in terms of equality in renumeration, and athlete pay in general.

Maryna Moroz (Ukrainian) is interviewed about competing in the US whilst her family are currently fighting a war in Ukraine. Heartbreaking stuff, her family are making food for Ukrainian soldiers whilst they are unsure if they’ll even be alive tomorrow. Like a said, amazing heart warming athlete stories.

Authentic real people. I love authenticity.

The Infinite Money Cage

Personally, one of my favourite podcasts, the range of subjects supported by the common fabric of science in just mind boggling. It's soooo educational and really sparks my imagination (especially the episodes on black holes and quantum mechanics). It fascinates me how we all just live with the uncertainty around quantum vs traditional mechanics, and how the general population is unaware of it, but can't operate without it. It always makes me realise that actually, we don't know or understand anything.

The Gary Vee Audio Experience

I get most of my NFT / Blockchain fixes from Gary Vee. Incredible back story and formidable businessman. Most of the content is snippets from VeeCon, very inspirational and sometimes controversial. Challenges your thinking Gary does.

Lex Fridman

Lex has some amazing guests, asks great questions, again soooo much to learn. Lex is also a black belt in BJJ and has many high end MMA athletes on his show who talk in depth about the impact BJJ has had on every aspect of their lifes (I think even Elon Musk rolls BJJ).

Boxing Life stories

Again listening to the athlete stories, boxers have fascinating stories, most of them finding boxing through dire social conditions and then finally breaking through it all, finding that love and family in the boxing gym. Some of the stories and heart breaking, funny, inspiring and very very real.

DevNews & DevDiscuss

I love the up beat approach to both these podcasts. Very educational, as a hobbyist dev at best, I can listen along and not feel out of my depth, or excluded, I feel like it's a real extension of the Dev community.

Couple more.. are 'Spectacular Failures' and 'Land of the Giants' - The Netflix episode within the latter is essential listening. I have a few others but I think I'll stop waffling there 😎

ildi profile image

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions! Ariel Helwani's The MMA Hour podcast sounds very interesting, will def have to check that out. I have always believed that there is a lot we can learn from the journies of others. It's amazing how a sport can help people persevere through this thing we call life. I really like what you said there in the end:

We are all fighters one way or another, fighting for we believe in, fighting for who we love, fighting for ourselves, our hopes and our dreams.

With The Infinite Monkey Cage you had me at "black holes and quantam mechanics" 😂 im also fascinated about these topics so will be adding that to my list for sure. Lex Fridman podcast is also one of my favs, I recently enjoyed his episodes featuring Mark Zuck, Tim Urban, and Elon Musk. I appreciate you sharing a bunch of your fav podcasts, I find that asking for recommendations from others is the best way to grow my own list.

I also think a lot about the stuff you said regarding Web3 + Forem. We should discuss some of those topics in more detail sometime. And you got me inspired to go down the rabbit hole and learn some Ruby on Rails on Dev + GoRails.

Im also a big fan of Reddit communities, I like their new Discover Tab, the other day I joined some new ones like r/ImaginaryArchitecture, r/deepdream, r/stormchasing, r/240sx. I also get super excited thinking about the awesome communities that will be created using Forem and all the amazing people that will connect because of them.

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lee profile image
Lee Author • Edited on

No problem mate. I just tidied up all my spelling mistakes 😂. Yeah let's chat on the next Forem creator meet-up, Rails can be a steep learning curve in terms of understanding the stack but worth it if you can just allow your brain the space and time to pick it up, i'll be joining deepdream and stormchasing for sure!

There is something more special around a Forem community though, knowing the effort that goes into crafting the experience, the fact that you aren't feeding the Twitter/FB/Reddit machine (a key to house that could be confiscated at anytime, with no reason).

I like to think of a Forem as beautifully crafted independent vessel drifting effortless through the raging ocean of social media (rather that a pimple on the skin of an out of control, continuously growing organism, that can't take care of itself, never mind you and all your likeminded connections).

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ildi profile image

I like to think of a Forem as beautifully crafted independent vessel drifting effortless through the raging ocean of social media

Couldn’t agree more. A lot of this stuff rings true in the music industry as well. Creators often do not own/control the value they spend so much time creating. As much as I love Reddit + Twitter, it doesn’t sit well with me that such valuable platforms are super centralized.

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lee profile image
Lee Author

Totally, and yes - didn't Kanye do something innovate with his latest album release? That's another thing.. hip hop/rap and combat sports, very closely related, seeded from the streets into todays modern mainstream culture.

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ildi profile image

I can’t say I know everything Kanye is up to these days, since he pivots and changes his mind like every other day, but I do respect him for experimenting and trying new ideas. For his latest album he decided not to put it up on streaming platforms and only make it exclusively available to fans who buy his $200 Stem Player.

In Kanye’s own words:

“We make my own systems We set our own value aaaand yesterdays price is not todays price baaaaabeeeee!!!!!”

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lee profile image
Lee Author

If you’re gonna have listen to the infinite monkey cage, the quantum episode has Sean Carroll as a guest, I have read his book ‘Something deeply hidden’ which discusses the ‘many worlds’ theory. Essentially it means the universe is branching and forking every time a the wave function collapses as a particle is ‘observed’ (have a look at the double slit experiment online).

Massively thought provoking.

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ildi profile image

Music to my ears 😇 thanks for the recommendations!

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lee profile image
Lee Author

Was awesome meeting you first the first time yesterday 😎 lots of really interesting feedback and ideas man. Amazing energy.

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ildi profile image

It was very nice to meet you as well! We should exchange Discord ID’s so we can chat more often. I’ll DM you on Twitter with my profile info.

lee profile image
Lee Author

Hey @ildi !

Just want to say a big thank you for those kind words, right back at ya there mate, you’re also doing a great job at contributing here.

I’ll have a think about those ace questions and report back later ☀️

lee profile image
Lee Author

This is great @ellativity thank you 😎.

Discovering Forem has enabled me to build my favourite places on the Internet!
I love community more than anything else on the web, so come and ask me some questions and maybe also learn how to build your own independent modern community on Forem.

I'll also be attending the Forem workshop 🙌

ellativity profile image
Ella (she/her/elle) Author

It was so great chatting with you, @lee! For anyone curious, I had a bunch of questions prepared for a Q+A but the conversation we ended up having seemed way more interesting to share with y'all! Thanks so much for your time, mate.