If you’d like some more background and context on Tumblr and Automattic coming together I had a chance to have a short but nuanced conversation with Nilay Patel and Julia Alexander on The Verge’s podcast, Vergecast. I love how great journalists are able to really dive into the heart of issues, and I really enjoyed the conversation.
It is not surprising that the news about Automattic buying Tumblr has picked up a lot of coverage. I especially appreciated the notes of support from Tumblr founder David Karp, former CTO Marco Arment, and investor Bijan Sabet. I am beyond excited to see what the Tumblr team creates next, and I will definitely be connecting with alumni to hear their perspective.
There has also been a lot of speculation on the purchase price, which I think is missing the real story. I would like to take this opportunity to express my respect for Verizon and how they approached this entire process. They inherited Tumblr through an acquisition of a merger, a few steps removed from its initial sale; it’s probably not a company they would have bought on its own, but they nonetheless recognized that there is a very special community and team behind the product. It’s also worth noting at this point that Verizon is a company that will do over $130B in revenue this year and has over 139,000 employees.
First, they chose to find a new home for Tumblr instead of shutting it down. Second, they considered not just how much cash they would get on day one, but also — and especially — what would happen to the team afterward, and how the product and the team would be invested in going forward. Third, they thought about the sort of steward of the community the new owner would be. They didn’t have to do any of that, and I commend them for making all three points a priority.
Automattic is still a startup — I’m sure there are deep-pocketed private equity firms that could have outbid us, but the most likely outcome then would have been an “asset” getting chopped up and sold for parts. (This is a caricature and there are PE firms I like, but it’s not a terrible stretch of the imagination.) Instead, Tumblr has a new chance to redefine itself in 2019 and beyond. Its community is joining with WordPress’ 16-year commitment to open source and the open web.
I didn’t realize this, but apparently macOS has a built-in ability to show really stunning animated wallpapers, like this one created by Folletto that subtly changes colors throughout the day in an incredibly engaging well:
Check out Folletto’s blog for another dynamic wallpaper and some of process behind creating it. This would be awesome to have for iPhones as well.
I had an interesting conversation with David Perell on his North Star Podcast that I recommend checking out. He’s also leading a really interesting program called Write of Passage which is an online course which helps people grow their career by writing and sharing online, which I think is brilliant and a big source of my career growth over the years. I’ve heard he has another coming soon around information organization. David is someone to watch and follow.
Writing novels is hard, and requires vast, unbroken slabs of time. Four quiet hours is a resource that I can put to good use. Two slabs of time, each two hours long, might add up to the same four hours, but are not nearly as productive as an unbroken four.Neil Stephenson on Why I’m a Bad Correspondent
WordPress is about democratizing publishing, removing barriers to getting your words on the web. There’s a cool effort underway right now to remove some barriers that people from groups underrepresented in tech might face when becoming a WordCamp speaker. Automattic is supporting this by sponsoring Jill Binder’s work on the WordPress Diverse Speakers Training Group.
I would love to see the WordPress contributor base become more diverse, and training people from marginalized communities to speak at WordCamps is a great way to help that along. Check out that effort if you’d like to get involved.
Every year for my Mom’s birthday lunch she has a Doberge cake from Gambino’s in New Orleans, but this year there was a Fedex snafu and it arrived spoiled. We found a last-minute replacement, but it piqued my curiosity as to better alternatives and I commissioned this survey of eight bakeries to answer the question: What’s the best Doberge cake in Houston or New Orleans? The article and pictures that follow are from food critic, travel journalist, and medical science writer Alice Levitt. I hope you enjoy the history, reviews, and surprise winner.
1885, Budapest. Franz Josef I and his wife, Elizabeth, rulers of Austro-Hungary, are attending the National General Exhibition of Budapest. There is much to see, but the emperor’s sweet tooth is pulling him toward one particular display. He simply must taste this new cake he’s been hearing about. He must find the Dobos torte.Dobos torte?! Tell me more!
As you may have read on the WooCommerce blog, Prospress blog, WP Tavern, Post Status, or Techcrunch, the team at Prospress is joining forces with WooCommerce at Automattic to help accelerate the adoption and democratization of ecommerce across the web. Whew that’s a lot of links! Prospress was best known for their extension that allowed many types of Subscriptions on top of WooCommerce, but also has some cool marketing automation and automated testing tools as well. I love that Prospress was already a Five for the Future company, which aligns really well with Automattic’s long-term goals and contributions to the wider community.
I’ve been meeting with some brilliant people for Distributed, my new podcast dedicated to exploring the future of work. The first episode is a conversation with Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork, about how they built a distributed culture, and how flexible work will shape the future of the global economy.
Unlike Automattic, Upwork does have an office in Silicon Valley (albeit one with a remote receptionist!). It was interesting to hear how Stephane’s teams balance in-person culture with inclusiveness for all employees, no matter where they live. Read more about Stephane’s work at Distributed.blog, and subscribe at Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Distributed work is becoming a reality for more companies. Automattic has been operating in a distributed-first fashion for more than 13 years now — we’re now up to more than 850 employees in 68 countries. But even in companies with physical offices, more employees are distributed around the globe and working together. Google just shared some fascinating stats about its work culture, with 100,000 employees working across 150 cities. Two out of five work groups have employees working from more than one location:
We’re a more connected world, so it makes sense that global business wouldn’t be confined to just one physical space. I often use Google as an example because I’ve been in meetings there where people were one building away from each other but still using video chat because of the time required to walk between meetings on their campus.
Our first product is Happy Schedule, which helps teams manage flexible schedules across time zones. Right now we’re rolling it out in a consultative way with just a few early customers to make sure the team can be totally responsive to their needs. We’re excited about this and other upcoming tools, because we believe that this is the future of work. We’re excited to have other companies give it a try.
Keep an eye on this space: There’s an entire suite of tools that make up the operating system of what has helped Automattic scale so effectively over the years. I’ve always believed it’s important to invest in your internal tools, and I’m excited to release more of them. If there’s something better in the market, we won’t release a tool for it—I’d rather use something external than have to build things ourselves—but where the industry still has a gap after such a long time, we’ll throw our hat into the ring.
“Vague, but exciting.” Thirty years ago yesterday, Sir Tim Berners-Lee submitted his original proposal for an information management system to his boss at CERN — what would later become the World Wide Web (and, it turns out, a huge influence on my life and career).
To help celebrate, I tweeted WordPress’s contribution to the web’s grand timeline (above), and I got to participate in The Economist’s Babbage podcast looking back at the pioneers of the early web. Listen to the whole episode below:
Here’s what I read in 2018, in chronological order of when I finished it, as promised in my birthday post. I’ve highlighted a few in bold but in general I was pretty satisfied with almost all of my book choices this year. I’ve put a lot more time into the “deciding what to read” phase of things, and have also had some great help from friends there, and have been trying to balance and alternate titles that have stood the test of time and newer au courant books.
- Hot Seat: The Startup CEO Guidebook by Dan Shapiro
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (audio)
- A Higher Standard by Ann E. Dunwoody
- Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin (audio)
- The Boat by Nam Le
- Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
- Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg
- How to Say Goodbye by Wendy Macnaughton
- When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön
- Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery
- Poor Charlie’s Almanack by Charlie Munger and Peter Kaufman
- Sam the Cat by Matthew Klam
- The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
- The Vegetarian by Han Kang
- The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu
- After On: A Novel of Silicon Valley by Rob Reid
- The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell
- How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee
- Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
- Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed
- Darkness Visible by William Styron
- Tin Man by Sarah Winman
- Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
- Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard
- Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
- Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari
- The Lessons of History by Will & Ariel Durant
- Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
- So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
- Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
- How to Fix a Broken Heart by Guy Winch
- Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman
- Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
- Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
- Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most by Steven Johnson
- Severance: A Novel by Ling Ma
- On the Shortness of Life by Seneca
- It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
- Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
Julie Sugar has a beautiful piece in Lilith Magazine about miscarriage and faith.
Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.— Thich Nhat Hanh in The Miracle of Mindfulness
It has over 130,000 views already! What I really love about this video in particular is that we get into the specifics of how a company can start to embrace a culture of letting employees work from anywhere, even if it started out as a traditional office with everyone in the same place. Automattic never started that way, so even as we’ve scaled up to more than 840 people in 68 countries, there’s never been a question — it’s now built in to our entire culture.
For distributed work to scale up, it’s going to require more CEOs, workers, and managers to test the waters. Any company can experiment with distributed work — just pick a day or two of the week in which everyone works from home, I suggest Tuesdays and Thursdays, then build the tools and systems to support it. Yes, that may require some shuffling of meetings, or more written documentation versus verbal real-time discussion. But I think companies will be surprised how quickly it will “just work.”
If the companies don’t experiment, workers may force them to do it anyway:
WordPress.com is partnering with Google and news industry leaders on a new platform for small- and medium-sized publishers, called Newspack. The team has raised $2.4 million in first-year funding from the Google News Initiative, Lenfest Journalism Institute, Civil funder ConsenSys, and the Knight Foundation, among others. We’re also still happy to talk to and engage other funders who want to get involved — I’d love to put even more resources into this.
It’s been a difficult climate for the news business, particularly at the local level. It also breaks my heart how much of their limited resources these organizations still sink into closed-source or dead-end technology. Open source is clearly the future, and if we do this right Newspack can be the technology choice that lasts with them through the decades, and hopefully our 15 years of growth lends some credibility to our orientation to build things for the long term.
Here’s Kinsey in Nieman Lab:
The goal is to both make sure that the catalog of publishing tools as well as business tools they need to be able to run what one hopes is a sustainable news operation are addressed simultaneously. It’s not simply a CMS for a newsroom, but a full business system that enables publishing and monetization at the same time.–Nieman Lab interview
As you have come to expect from Automattic, everything will be open source and developed to the same standards WordPress itself is. We’re working with Spirited Media and the News Revenue Hub on the platform, and we will likely look for even more partnership opportunities from across the WordPress ecosystem. If you’d like to invest or get involved, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What a year.
First, it feels amazing to write this inside of the new Gutenberg block editor in WordPress 5.0. It was a labor of love for so many and the next chapters are going to be even more exciting.
The best part of the last year was growing closer to my friends and loved ones — I don’t know if it’s externally perceptible but my heart feels a lot more open.
I’ve found a good balance with meditation, work, sleep, fasting, eating, and reading that gives me a lot of joy, energy, and feels like a combination I could sustain the rest of my life.
Reading in particular was a highlight as I finished 38 books, which is the most in a year since I started tracking, and so many of them were truly excellent I’m going to do another post just on books. I will give a special call out to The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu. Leaving my Kindle Oasis at an airport ended up being a blessing in disguise as I started using the Kindle app on my iPhone a lot more and that’s become my new favorite habit. (And the physical Kindle was returned!)
It was a strong travel year, covering 126 cities, 20 countries, and 377k miles. I especially enjoyed visits to Tulum, Iceland, Bodrum, Tonga, Kauai, Lanai, and Courchevel. I finally checked off my bucket list item to become scuba certified and had an amazing opportunity to swim with humpback whales.
I also had lots of opportunities to practice patience, weathered a torrent of personally-directed criticism across every medium, and had a few months that were the hardest I’ve worked in my career. With the benefit of a little distance, though, those things don’t loom as large. I learned a ton — often the hard way but often that’s what it takes — and discovered I had some additional gears that can kick in when needed.
As I pass solidly into my mid-thirties, I don’t have any drastic shifts on the horizon but I am looking forward to continuing to strengthen the habits I’ve been able to develop this past year.
During my State of the Word Q&A I received some blogging homework from Toru Miki, a WordPress contributor based in Tokyo. He asked me to revisit the WordPress mission, “Democratize Publishing,” and reflect on what that mission means to me today. So here you go, Toru:
For many years, my definition of “Democratize Publishing” has been simply to help make the web a more open place. That foundation begins with the software itself, as outlined by the Four Freedoms:
0. The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
1. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish.
2. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
3. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions, giving the community a chance to benefit from your changes.
In 2018, the mission of “Democratize Publishing” to me means that people of all backgrounds, interests, and abilities should be able to access Free-as-in-speech software that empowers them to express themselves on the open web and to own their content.
But as Toru noted in the original question, “Democratize Publishing” has come to mean many things to many people in the WordPress community. That’s one reason I like it. The WordPress mission is not just for one person to define.
So I’d like to ask everyone: What does “Democratize Publishing” mean to you?