All The Blogging At Automattic

One of my favourite aspects of working at Automattic is how central blogs are to how we communicate (another important tool is Slack). We have loads of internal blogs that we call “P2s” (because they generally use the P2 theme).

We use P2s to post support requests, share tips for doing better work, update each other on new additions to our families, submit internal support requests, and more.

It feels like we’re using blogs in ways that seemed like futuristic stuff back in the early 2000s, and that really appeals to me. There’s something about blogs that have appealed to me every since I first came across the medium in 2003/2004.

To actually work in an environment where they’re actively in use for so many purposes, and by so many people, is like being in Blog Nirvana.

I find more interesting ways to use our blogs each day at Automattic, and I love it.

When I see people dismissing blogs, I can’t help but think that they’re missing a huge opportunity by turning away from this incredible platform.

Mobile blogging shouldn’t be this hard in 2017

Is it just me or is mobile blogging still much harder than it should be in 2017? Why is it still such a convoluted process to quote something, easily add links and publish something appetising from a mobile device?

Or maybe I’m just using the wrong tools …

Blogging for 10 years and still going

This blog began its life under a different domain on 6 December 2004. It has survived in one form or another until now, thanks and no thanks to me. I started my blog after tinkering with blogging back in the primordial days of the social Web when blogging was the New Thing, after interactive fora. Keeping a blog alive for 10 years feels like an achievement. Having 3 527 blog posts under my metaphorical belt (not counting this one) feels like I have made a meaningful contribution towards documenting my life and the things that interest me. It is something worth commemorating.

I’ve created multiple blogs, merged them into this one, almost killed this blog on many occasions (my most recent attempt was particularly spectacular). After blogging here very sporadically, this blog started to become more meaningful and almost losing a decade’s work (some of it probably wasn’t worth saving but it all represents aspects of me at some point or another), I decided to make a point of using it more often.

Blogging seems to be having a sort of Renaissance. You may have noticed a number of prominent bloggers returned to blogging with a 30 Day Challenge they took on to blog every day. I was tempted to do that but didn’t see myself sticking to that and still posting something worthwhile every day. I’ve thought about podcasting through SoundCloud or even doing video posts but as much as I enjoy consuming audio and video content, creating it hasn’t stuck with me. Writing remains my favourite way of expressing myself, followed closely by my photography.

10 years is a convenient time period to commemorate blogging. It certainly feels like a substantial period of time. At the same time, the underlying writing habit pre-dated it and will probably stay with me for decades to come. I blog because of some compulsion to share stuff and as blogging tools become easier to use, I expect I’ll blog more often. It is still one of the best ways to express yourself in your space that won’t vanish when terms of service change (at least, less likely, I hope).

Blogging 2.0 – when your blog becomes your social hub

Blogging

You may have gathered that I think about how we use social services like Facebook, Twitter and others quite a bit. You also probably know that I am a pretty big Path fan although it’s not clear whether Path has much of a future when it comes to the people who mean the most to me (Update 2016-02-18: Path seems to have largely fallen by the wayside for me and my friends who were previously big fans. Slack has become a great option in its place, which is pretty interesting).

I started thinking about blogs in a social context. Blogs like this one have become personal hubs where we share our ideas, passions and more. For many people, their blogs are their digital news feeds and identities but they aren’t nearly as optimised for personal sharing as dedicated social services like Facebook, Google+ or even Path. This is one of the reasons why many people use Facebook or Google+ as their personal blogging platforms. These services have pretty granular sharing options even though their users don’t have meaningful control over their “blogs”.

At the moment this WordPress blog enables me to share posts publicly (my default), password protect posts or keep them to myself with a private publication option. What if WordPress enabled me to share posts with limited groups of people that I define instead? What if people could register using a variety of social profiles and I could allocate those people to groups and when I publish blog posts, share selectively?

It may look a bit like BuddyPress although what I have in mind doesn’t necessarily involve creating a social network on your site but rather establishing your site as a node in a decentralised social network of connected sites.

That sort of model would probably look a lot like Google+ Circles but it would be my site which I directly control and can host. Imagine that becomes a wider practice and now you have a distributed social network constituting a network of blogs that link to each other, can be followed and participated in. WordPress would be an ideal platform. It already has a substantial network of users. Theoretically possible. The question is whether anyone would take advantage of the functionality?

Techno frazzled

 

I’m hypothetically on leave at the moment (back at work on the 6th) and my plan was to pull my mind back from the ledge it has lived on for the past year or so and back to rolling green fields caressed by cool breezes and the sounds of my children’s laughter. As usual, it takes a little longer than I expect for my mind to calm enough to meet a semblance of my idea of being on holiday but I have high hopes for the few days remaining.

Anyway, one of the things I have noticed as I strive to spend more human time with our kids and my wife is how easily I am caught up by an array of digital inputs and streams on my iPad and iPhone. I disabled email notifications (sort of) so that isn’t bombarding me but what I realised today is that I am still frazzled because I am constantly flipping between my feeds, an ebook or two, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Path (a bit), Flipboard versions of most of the previous items and the desire to write more for this blog. That is before I get to the bit where I spend more than a few minutes focused on our kids and whatever they want to tell me or do with me.

I’ve accepted a totally fragmented and, quite possibly, upside down array of services, inputs and outputs because I have been so hectic, sorting out that mess hasn’t really been a big priority. Lately I’ve been thinking more and more about this blog and its value to me as a core expression platform which I control (well, more than most of the others I use) and which can function as a fairly decent reference point of who I am and what I think about, generally speaking. Unfortunately WordPress isn’t as good as Tumblr or Google+ when it comes to sharing mixed-content items so I have been thinking about using those services more and for the sorts of things I’d rather publish here and a number of variations.

I found myself in a ridiculous position of reading a post on Flipboard I wanted to share and spending about 5 minutes sharing to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ (or, as an alternative, to Tumblr instead of Twitter and Facebook because Tumblr then shares with Twitter and Facebook) even though I’d much rather share directly to my WordPress blog and keep it all on one site. Reading articles and sharing them has become an utter pain in the butt. It is just too much effort, depending on where I read the article. Sharing items I pick up on in Reeder is quite a bit easier because of Buffer integration but I still have this complexity beneath it all and two aspects of the insanity have been particularly vexing: what do I do with this blog to make it a more meaningful part of my digital life and identity and do I continue attempting to use Tumblr and Google+, alongside other profiles for the quick shares? Surely this is far too convoluted?

Realising my self-induced techno frazzled state was keeping me from both a relaxing week and a half off and being more productive; I decided to find ways to simplify my process. I really like my blog and using it as a central hub. I’ve been reading a number of posts about blogging and Om Malik’s post stands out for me as a nice explanation of what I’d like to do with this blog:

And while I embrace every new social platform with gusto, I find it frustrating that my point of view is spliced across various networks. I think the blog is the one that ties it all together — a central location where you fit together all the Lego pieces. In many ways it is no different than what blogs used to be in the beginning. Instead of them being a starting point of the journey, they are now the final stop, a digital home in our social media meanderings. Marc Canter,came up with a concept called “digital life aggregators.” And he was right — blogs are just that, digital life aggregators.

It occurred to me that I probably have a pretty backwards workflow and could also ditch a couple channels I have been forcing into my others. One that came to mind is Tumblr which I have always liked but couldn’t really find a comfortable space for as a way to share stuff as a sort of secondary blog. I tried using it as a standalone blog; importing it into my main blog and, lately, adding a widget from my Tumblr feed to my blog to bolt it on, so to speak.

When I started thinking about simplifying it all, the solution to my Tumblr challenge was pretty simple, in retrospect: stop using Tumblr to share miscellaneous stuff that is pretty lightweight but not substantive enough to bother with a relatively manual process of posting it to this blog. Instead (and it’s almost embarrassing it has taken me so long to have this epiphany) I’ll just use Twitter for that stuff. So between my blog and Twitter, I have my content creation covered. Tumblr then falls into line with Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter (wearing the other hat) as ways to share my posts and other stuff with people who may be interested and who are firmly entrenched into these services.

One thing that seems to have emerged from the social Web is how the engagement part of the interaction has been separated from, and only remains loosely associated with, the source posts on my blog. It’s a bit like using separate speakers connected through a receiver for your home entertainment system instead of the speakers built into your TV. The engagement end of that barrel is still a series of pipes but it starts to simplify what I share on this blog and which is lighter weight stuff which I’ll share through Twitter either on its own or with other, appropriate services.

One of the thoughts I had about dropping Tumblr for Twitter (well, the thought after how I have finally caught up with how most people must be using Twitter) is how its updates and changes have changed its look and functionality to do a lot of what Tumblr does (specifically with inline media). It makes more sense to me, at any rate.

I still feel like there is a lot more room to simplify everything. I could cut back on many of the services I use but I keep thinking that would be pretty short-sighted. So, here I am, thinking out loud about how my inability to cut through my techno frazzle has frustrated my strong desire to spend far more time doing more quality human stuff with my family.

Transfer more or less complete

20130216-103833.jpg

I just spent some time migrating and adjusting my blog at its now home on WordPress. This is mostly just to check its working and propagating.

Are blogs still relevant as personal sharing platforms?

This is a repost from my Tumblr blog and was originally published on 11 February 2013

I’ve been thinking about blogs’ relevance again. My Squarespace subscription for my main blog is about to come to an end and as awesome as Squarespace is as a platform, I don’t use that site nearly often enough to justify the $80-something cost to renew it for another year. Particularly when I could set up a WordPress site for almost nothing on a server I already have available to me for hosting. Update: As you can see, I completed the migration to this blog anyway. There are a number of broken links and images after the export from Squarespace and I’ll sort those out in time, probably.

I have my blog archive going back to 2004 when I started blogging and I want to locate that somewhere so I started migrating my blog content yesterday and redirecting my domain to my hosted space. It’s a bit of a process and there are definitely glitches in the migration process. The hassle of the move has brought me back to a few stray thoughts I had about current social services like Google+ and Facebook and about a blog’s relevance as a personal sharing platform.

One of the things I love about using Facebook (and, to a lesser extent primarily because so few friends and family members are using it, Google+) is that it is possible to share selectively with specific groups of friends/connections. That makes Facebook and Google+ really useful. There are times when I just want to share something with friends and family and other times when I am happy to share stuff publicly (even though many of my connections probably wish I wouldn’t). The lists and circles functionalities in Facebook and Google+, respectively, make that really easy.

Blogs don’t really support that sort of selective sharing. You are either sharing publicly (and possibly replying on obscurity for some privacy) or you resort to posting stuff that users with passwords or access to restricted posts can see. Lists and circles are far more dynamic and flexible but the disadvantage of relying on Facebook and Google+ is that we really don’t have all that much control over those platforms and years of contributions and shares could disappear for a number of reasons ranging from a big crash to an exploit to the service provider cutting you off for even more reasons.

At least with your own blog, you can have more control over your content, back it up, move it around in a meaningful format and set up shop elsewhere. Sort of. That said, unless you have your own server in your house in a secure space, the risk of your data disappearing one day exists in varying degrees anyway. My host could take my site down one day. Tumblr could remove this blog and if I haven’t backed my data up, well I would be a bit upset at losing all my stuff.

So, if control is truly an illusion, are blogs still relevant as personal sharing platforms in a digital world which lends itself more to selective and flexible sharing? Is it worth going to the effort of relocating my blog or should I just archive my digital tracks from the last 8 years or so and share in the distributed moment?

What blogging means to me

Blogging

I blog to make the world a better place, most of the time. I am pretty idealistic and, some might say, a bit naive and I am ok with that. My hero is Superman and I believe in the ideals he represents (I even have a Superman t-shirt for every day of the week). I remember when I applied for entrance into Wits’ LLB program I said something about the legal system being a tool to improve society and wanting to be part of that process. The point is I have this notion that I can do my small bit to make this world a little better and the public tools I use are my blogs and my podcasts.

Blogs used to be almost exclusively online diaries and were still described as online diaries in the South African press until some time in 2006 when the media embraced the idea that blogs could be more than a diary. To me, blogs are the children of the principles of The Cluetrain Manifesto. They facilitate the expression of an authentic voice that the authors of Cluetrain spoke about, as well as the direct feedback from readers of the blog.

Blogs make it really easy for anyone to publish their thoughts on the Web and to have those thoughts received and transmitted to a potential audience of millions, perhaps even billions. It is probably pretty rare that billions, or even millions, of people will actually read a blog post but that is ok too. If a thousand people read something I write and some of those people do something meaningful then I have done what I set out to do. Sometimes just talking about an issue is important. The main thing for me is to make a difference of some kind, however small. Sometimes I slip up and I write in a destructive way but I’d like to think those times are few and far between.

Bloggers have received some pretty negative publicity in the last few months in response to the way certain hot topics have been dealt with by local bloggers. Responses have varied from rational analyses of the issues to wild and outrageous personal attacks on the personalities involved and more. This hasn’t helped the nascent blogosphere’s credibility with mainstream media as the gateway to the general public. Ideally I would like to see blogs embraced as legitimate sources of commentary, entertainment, news and information about what is going on in our world.

Through blogs we can publish information far quicker than the press and to a potentially broader audience because we are not constrained by geography and production schedules. A blog post can be on the Web in a matter of minutes and there could be feedback within minutes after that. I have published posts in the past, stepped away from my laptop for half an hour and have returned to find a dozen comments already and I don’t have tremendously popular blogs.

Good feedback for me on my most popular blog, Wired Gecko, is half a dozen posts (Update (2016-03-30): Wired Gecko was rolled into this blog a few years ago). A dozen posts is great and more is a runaway success for me. Regardless of the small number of readers who frequent my blogs, I see those people as my partners in helping to make the world that little bit better because the people who frequent my blogs tend to share some of my ideas and passion.

The ability to share my thoughts and passion with the people in the cloud and to do that authentically are two powerful advantages of blogging and two of the big reasons why I blog in the first place. I am becoming less and less dependent on the quantity of readers of my blogs and more focussed on the quality of those readers and to attract those readers I aim to write better quality posts rather than posts aboout topics I know will attract a bigger audience and yet fail to contribute to my overall goal of making a real difference. That being said, I still post about the popular, pointless stuff from time to time so my blogs are by no means paragons of social awareness blogging.

Members of the press have commented on the fact that they are paid to write good quality content for their papers and bloggers are not paid. Furthermore, you pretty much get what you pay for and since bloggers are generally not paid, the implication is that the posts those bloggers publish are poorly written and of little value. I have to wonder whether not being paid for my blogging means that I am free to publish posts that are aligned with what I believe and not with what sells better. How can you expect to publish something truly meaningful when your primary motivation is to publish something that will make more money? Sometimes the important issues are not the popular ones and yet they still need to be talked about.

Joi Ito published a post a couple weeks ago titled “Mindful Writing” where he took a look at the Buddhist principle of Right Speech and applied it to his blog posts and in a way it was both ironic and a synchronicity that I first saw his post on a day when the blogosphere was going ballistic about the latest attack on it. He quoted a passage from a book titled “The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching” by Thich Nhat Hanh on the topic of Right Speech which I’ll quote a little from:

“I am determined to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain and will not criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break.”

This quote expresses ideals I aspire to. They are worthy ideals for bloggers to aspire to. There has been so much talk about codes of conduct for bloggers and the fatal flaw with all these codes is that they are external and intended to be imposed on the bloggers in some way. The only code that will have any real effect is the code we internalise, believe in and express through our actions. Perhaps when enough bloggers practice some variation of Right Speech and Right Action our blogs will have greater credibility in the eyes of our intended audience.

Blogs are vanilla these days. They can be used as personal diaries and corporate communication tools. They are really just web publishing platforms and are defined by what they are used for. They are used maliciously and they are used to promote positive ideals. I blog to make the world a better place and sometimes I have a very small impact on an issue I am passionate about and that makes all the time I spend on my blogs worthwhile.

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