Blogs and blogging

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.

Business and work

How best to contact someone new

I came across a question on, a great inbound marketing site, asking about the best way to contact someone new? Aleksandra asked for some feedback:

I was just wondering which channel you guys mostly use when it comes to contacting someone new? For business matters, of course 🙂

Is there any difference for you whether this person is an opinion leader/influencer or not. Maybe you have an unusual approach/tactics you want to share.

Just to make it more precise, let’s imagine you need to ask someone for advice/opinion, etc.

I’ve thought about this often, especially when I had a small business I was trying to grow. People commenting on the question outlined when they’d use Twitter, LinkedIn, email and phone calls to contact someone new but I have a different approach I thought I’d share here too.

How I prefer to contact someone new

I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all approach here. I think it very much depends on the person you want to reach. Some people are pretty active on particular platforms and you’d pick those platforms to reach out to them. Understanding which platforms those people are most active in is probably also a really good way to get to know them better and signal to them that you have made an effort to connect more meaningfully.

We’ve found that Twitter is a great way to reach out to some media people, for example, just @-mentioning them. Some people even accept direct messages on Twitter so that is an option too. Email is a standard way to connect to people but it can be a very bland medium. LinkedIn is great, in theory, but I only use it if I know the person is an active LinkedIn user. Otherwise, you may receive a message months later with an apology explaining that the person barely looks at LinkedIn.

I think phone calls can be one of the most effective ways of reaching out to people. I usually send a WhatsApp message to someone with a brief introduction and asking when I can call to discuss the issue with the person. We get so caught up with digital and social that we forget just how meaningful a phone call can be. Sure, there are people who find phone calls to be very invasive or disruptive but that is why I start with a message first.

What do you think? What works best for you?

Image credit: Pexels

Events and Life Mindsets

Meaningless digital notes

Are words meaningless when they are digital? Words without meaning & the reality of networked communication:

For instance, today is the birthday of one of my dear friends and I sent her an email and followed up with a text message exchange. Another friend in India, got a Skype call. To others I sit down and write a note, expressing my gratitude for their presence in my life, or even buying me a cup of coffee.

Earlier this week was my nephew’s birthday, and I woke up the kid while I was in Portugal to wish him. We didn’t exchange more than ten words, but through his grogginess I know he knows that I know how important he is to me. Facebook messages where you utter “happy birthday, xyz” is a pretty strong signal of one’s (lack of real) social bond. If someone is special we tend to write them a personalized note.

I suppose a hand-written note would be more meaningful because it is, well, hand-written and physically delivered. A quick message, email or post on Facebook could be seen as being too casual to have much meaning but I believe people who receive digital notes from me are secretly grateful that they aren’t handwritten because they’re at least intelligible.

(Via Om Malik)

Devices Mobile Tech Social Web

Simplifying the crowded messaging space

The messaging space seems to be the antithesis of email. Where email works using common protocols and a variety of email applications that all support them, messaging apps rarely talk to each other and basically function in silos. The messaging space is a surprisingly tricky one to dominate but a few of the services are in the lead and I can’t help but wonder if they are about to be unsettled in the near future.

Skype announced an update to its Mac app that brings it closer to recent mobile app updates that seem to emphasise messaging more and I thought it would be interesting to find out what people use as their dominant messaging app/service. I asked people on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and received some answers I wasn’t expecting.


The trend seems to be that messaging is a mobile thing and the preferred messaging apps are either WhatsApp or iMessage. At least based on the responses I received on Twitter and Facebook. The responses I received on LinkedIn all included Skype as an option with others including Redphone and IBM Sametime. This is hardly a scientific survey but the differences are revealing.

I thought that, perhaps, Skype is so prevalent that as Skype improves the mobile experience it could become a compelling mobile messaging option with an established desktop presence. It could even become a dominant messaging and VOIP platform that could supplant other choices but that doesn’t seem to be happening at all. Instead, people opt for a more fragmented approach with a fairly clear distinction between the mobile and desktop options (unless you have to use Viber which has desktop and mobile apps).

I put together a rough comparison of the various messaging options in a Google Sheets document and when I look at the feedback I received from people who responded, it certainly isn’t the case that the most widely supported app wins. WhatsApp’s and iMessage’s dominance don’t seem to be affected by their limited support (either across mobile/desktop in WhatsApp’s case or Mac and iOS vs all other platforms in iMessage’s case). Mobile trumps desktop and becoming the industry leader requires a lot more than cross-platform support.

Perhaps, like Twitter, becoming the preferred messaging choice requires a simpler, frictionless experience and not the apparent UX overhead that comes with more complex, cross-platform alternatives?

That said, I wonder if the dark horse in this race isn’t, perhaps, Facebook Messenger? It has pretty capable mobile apps, is accessible in your browser and integrates with Skype. Bring along Facebook’s 1.5+ billion users and you have a pretty compelling choice largely because the people you would want to keep in touch with are a download away because they already use Facebook. Facebook’s aggressive push to persuade users to download the Facebook Messenger app makes a lot more sense because if you are already sharing your life with friends and family on Facebook and have the Facebook Messenger app installed on your device, why not just use that for your messaging requirements too? Skype then becomes just another road that leads to Facebook.

For now, though, the messaging space is pretty cluttered but consolidation has to happen at some point. The bigger players are going to want to start entrenching themselves even further and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some sort of WhatsApp-Facebook Messenger integration down the line to bring all those WhatsApp users into the broader Facebook ecosystem to create a massive, more coherent and encompassing social experience.

Business and work Social Web

What the heck is going on with WeChat?

I just visited LinkedIn to publish my previous post and this stunned me. I installed WeChat on my phone a while ago, was pretty uneasy about it (I searched for information about the encryption it uses or other security features and couldn’t even a hint and that troubled me) and removed it from my phone.

Lately that marketing budget seems to be paying off even more because WeChat is popping up everywhere as a communication option for brands although I thought this was a consumer thing. The option to link my LinkedIn profile to a WeChat profile says something very different. Is WeChat poised to become a significant business connector because that is what the adoption trends point to or is this just what a lot of money can buy?

Business and work Useful stuff

Picking up the Slack

I paused my Basecamp account last year when my team members went their separate ways and I continued on as a solo towards the end of the year. My plan was to resurrect my Basecamp account in the new year once I started building a new team.

I’m not sure where I came across Slack but I’ve started using it with a new addition to my team and it is proving to be a really dynamic team communication tool. If you haven’t heard of Slack, you’re probably not alone. It is only a few months old and it has been growing at an impressive rate due largely to word of mouth referrals. This is how GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram describes Slack in his post “Flickr co-founder launches Slack, an all-in-one messaging tool designed to kill email forever”:

Slack, which has both an iOS app and an Android app as well as a Mac app, allows team members to easily track messages from co-workers but also to see status reports from across the company, by connecting to tools like SVN, Github, MailChimp, Crashlytics, Heroku and JIRA — things that would otherwise have likely remained in a separate silo or service. An API allows for almost any other service or tool to be integrated into the system as well, Butterfield said. When I thought about what I could do with my team with Basecamp and compared it to what I seem to be able to do with my new team with Slack, the one thing that is missing from Slack’s native features is a task manager. You can integrate Asana or Trello into Slack for that (for now, I am leaving task management up to each individual in my team – I use OmniFocus). We never used Basecamp’s calendars all that much (Google Calendars) although we often forwarded emails into our projects. I thought I saw something about this in Slack but can’t seem to find a way to do that yet.

Slack works really well as a team communication tool (which it basically is) and as a way to share files (the Dropbox and Google Drive integrations look pretty interesting). It will also cost quite a bit less that the $50 to $100 each month that Basecamp costs for a decent number of projects (Basecamp is a remarkable tool and worth what you pay but the exchange rate just aggravates Basecamp’s somewhat premium pricing).

What I really like is the attention to security and confidentiality concerns. Here is how they secure Slack:

End-to-End Encrypted Communication Whether you’re at your computer or on your phone, absolutely nothing goes over the network in the clear. Slack uses 256-bit AES, supports TLS 1.2 for all of your messages, and uses the ECDHE_RSA Key Exchange Algorithm. We monitor the security community’s output closely and work promptly to upgrade the service to respond to new vulnerabilities as they are discovered. I also really like how you can export your data as a JSON file/stream (not sure how to describe JSON output).

Anyway, this post was meant to be a short “I use this too, you may want to take a look” post so thanks for reading this far. If this tool interests you, definitely try it out. I’m enjoying it so far.

Update (2014-02-13): Slack is offering a $100 credit when you sign up. It is available until 15 April 2014 or so:


Lawyers can be terrible writers

Rian van der Merwe wrote an interesting post titled “Good writing and the death of plain language” recently which touches on something I think about each time I sit down to write an article or a contract.

Van der Merwe quoted William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” and this one paragraph stood out for me:

Our national tendency is to inflate and thereby sound important. The airline pilot who announces that he is presently anticipating experiencing considerable precipitation wouldn’t think of saying it may rain. The sentence is too simple—there must be something wrong with it.

This is something that afflicts the legal profession. Lawyers have always been pretty difficult to understand and despite plain language imperatives they persist with only mildly more intelligible language. I occasionally find myself having a conversation with a lawyer who is dumbfounded by something I have written, not because it is complex (which it usually isn’t) but because I make a point of not writing like a typical lawyer using typical document formats.

It still surprises me that so many lawyers seem to link the complexity of the language they use in their documents with their sense of worth as lawyers. It’s as if writing in legalese is an inherent characteristic of a lawyer instead of our ability to understand complex transactions and describe them effectively and simply in the legal documents we write.