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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
But nothing delights the mind so much as fond and loyal friendship. What a blessing it is to have hearts that are ready and willing to receive all your secrets in safety, with whom you are less afraid to share knowledge of something than keep it to yourself, whose conversation soothes your distress, whose advice helps you make up your mind, whose cheerfulness dissolves your sorrow, whose very appearance cheers you up!
Over the weekend I was in Nashville with over a thousand other WordPress enthusiasts. I met a ton of people, learned a lot, and was able to share the annual State of the Word address with the audience, which is a big summary of what WordPress has been up to and where it’s going. This year we covered user testing, Gutenberg, 5.0, the future phases of Gutenberg, all the latest and greatest blocks, new minimum PHP requirements, the adoption of 5.0, and some event and community updates. You can also see just the slides. The Q&A is here in a separate video.
If you’d like a text summary and commentary on the speech, Post Status and WP Tavern both have good write-ups.
Yesterday I was able to have a great conversation with Adam from WP Crafter, a popular Youtube channel with over five million views. Adam said it was his first interview but you can’t tell, we had an excellent conversation that covered Gutenberg, the 5.0 release, why WordPress has done well so far, and what’s coming in the future. If you’d like more context than text or tweets can give for what’s happening in WordPress today, check it out.
Of course Friday and Saturday are WordCamp US, which returns to Nashville this year. Everything will be live-streamed for free, including my State of the Word presentation on Saturday, you just need to pick up a free streaming ticket.
Update: On December 6th we released WordPress 5.0. It was definitely the most controversial release in a while, but the usage and adoption metrics are looking similar to previous releases. I’m looking forward to continuing to iterate on the new block editor!
We are nearing the release date for WordPress 5.0 and Gutenberg, one of the most important and exciting projects I’ve worked on in my 15 years with this community.
I knew we would be taking a big leap. But it’s a leap we need to take, and I think the end result is going to open up many new opportunities for everyone in the ecosystem, and for those being introduced to WordPress for the first time. It brings us closer to our mission of democratizing publishing for everyone.
I recently visited WordCamp Portland to talk about Gutenberg and WordPress 5.0, which will also include the new default theme Twenty Nineteen, which you’re seeing me test out on this very site. There were some great questions and testimonials about Gutenberg, so I’d urge you to watch the full video and read the WP Tavern recap. I’ve also visited meetups, responded to review threads, kept an eye on support, and I’m in the middle of office hours with the core community.
As we head toward the release date and WordCamp US, I’ve put many questions and answers into a Gutenberg FAQ below. For those who have other questions, I will be checking the comments here.
It’s an exciting time, and I’m thrilled to be working with y’all on this project.
What is Gutenberg?
Gutenberg, for those who aren’t actively following along, is a brand new Editor for WordPress — contributors have been working on it since January 2017 and it’s one of the most significant changes to WordPress in years. It’s built on the idea of using “blocks” to write and design posts and pages.
This will serve as the foundation for future improvements to WordPress, including blocks as a way not just to design posts and pages, but also entire sites.
The overall goal is to simplify the first-time user experience of WordPress — for those who are writing, editing, publishing, and designing web pages. The editing experience is intended to give users a better visual representation of what their post or page will look like when they hit publish. As I wrote in my post last year, “Users will finally be able to build the sites they see in their imaginations.”
Matías Ventura, team lead for Gutenberg, wrote an excellent post about the vision for Gutenberg, saying, “It’s an attempt to improve how users interact with their content in a fundamentally visual way, while at the same time giving developers the tools to create more fulfilling experiences for the people they are helping.”
Why do we need Gutenberg at all?
For many of us already in the WordPress community, it can be easy to forget the learning curve that exists for people being introduced to WordPress for the first time. Customizing themes, adding shortcodes, editing widgets and menus — there’s an entire language that one must learn behind the scenes in order to make a site or a post look like you want it to look.
The idea with blocks was to create a new common language across WordPress, a new way to connect users to plugins, and replace a number of older content types — things like shortcodes and widgets — that one had to be well-versed in the idiosyncrasies of WordPress to understand.
The block paradigm is not a new one — in fact many great plugins have already shown the promise of blocks with page design in WordPress. Elementor, one of the pioneers in this space, has now introduced a new collection of Gutenberg blocks to showcase what’s possible:
Why change the Editor?
The Editor is where most of the action happens in WordPress’s daily use, and it was a place where we could polish and perfect the block experience in a contained environment.
Additionally, the classic Editor was built primarily for text — articles have become increasingly multimedia, with social media embeds, maps, contact forms, photo collages, videos, and GIFs. It was time for a design paradigm that allowed us to move past the messy patchwork of shortcodes and text.
The Editor is just the start. In upcoming phases blocks will become a fundamental part of entire site templates and designs. It’s currently a struggle to use the Customizer and figure out how to edit sections like menus, headers, and footers. With blocks, people will be able to edit and manipulate everything on their site without having to understand where WordPress hides everything behind the scenes.
What does Automattic get out of this?
There have been posts recently asking questions about Automattic’s involvement in Gutenberg compared to other contributors and companies. There is no secret conspiracy here — as project lead I was able to enlist the help of dozens of my colleagues to contribute to this project, and I knew that a project of this size would require it. Automattic aims to have 5% of its people dedicated to WordPress community projects, which at its current size would be about 42 people full-time. The company is a bit behind that now (~35 full-time), and the company is growing a lot next year, so look for 10-15 additional people working on core and community projects.
In the end, Gutenberg is similar to many other open source projects — Automattic will benefit from it, but so will everyone else in the WordPress community (and even the Drupal community). It’s available for everyone under the GPL. If the goal was purely to benefit Automattic it would have been faster, easier, and created an advantage for Automattic to have Gutenberg just on WP.com. That wasn’t, and isn’t, the point.
Is Gutenberg ready?
Absolutely. Our original goal with Gutenberg was to get it on 100,000 sites to begin testing — it’s now already on more than 1 million sites, and it’s the fastest-growing plugin in WordPress history. There is a lot of user demand.
The goal was to both test Gutenberg on as many sites as possible before the 5.0 release, and also to encourage plugin developers to make sure their plugins and services will be ready. With everyone pitching in, we can make this the most anti-climactic release in WordPress history.
In the recent debate over Gutenberg readiness, I think it’s important to understand the difference between Gutenberg being ready code-wise (it is now), and whether the entire community is ready for Gutenberg.
It will take some time — we’ve had 15 years to polish and perfect core, after all — but the global WordPress community has some of the world’s most talented contributors and we can make it as good as we want to make it.
Someone described Gutenberg to me as “WordPress in 3D.” I like the sound of that. Blocks are like layers you can zoom in and out of. The question now is: What are we going to build with this new dimension?
Do I have to switch to Gutenberg when WordPress 5.0 is released?
Not at all. When it’s released, you get to choose what happens. You can install the Classic Editor plugin today and when 5.0 is released, nothing will change. We’ve commited to supporting and updating Classic Editor until 2022. If you’d like to install Gutenberg early, you can do that now too. The Classic Editor plugin has been available for 13 months now, and Gutenberg has been available for 18 months. Both have been heavily promoted since August 2018, and more than 1.3 million .org sites have opted-in already to either experience, so nothing will change for them when they update to 5.0.
How can I make sure I’m ready?
Before updating to 5.0, try out the Gutenberg plugin with your site to ensure it works with your existing plugins, and also to get comfortable with the new experience. Developers across the entire ecosystem are working hard to update their plugins, but your mileage and plugins may vary. And you can always use the Classic Editor to address any gaps.
As with every new thing, things might feel strange and new for a bit, but I’m confident once you start using it you’ll get comfy quickly and you won’t want to go back.
The release candidate of 5.0 is stable and fine to develop against and test.
When will 5.0 be released?
We have had a stable RC1, which stands for first release candidate, and about to do our second one. There is only currently one known blocker and it’s cosmetic. The stability and open issues in the release candidates thus far makes me optimistic we can release soon, but as before the primary driver will be the stability and quality of the underlying software. We made the mistake prior of announcing dates when lots of code was still changing, and had to delay because of regressions and bugs. Now that things aren’t changing, we’re approaching a time we can commit to a date soon.
Is it terrible to do a release in December?
Some people think so, some don’t. There have been 9 major WordPress releases in previous Decembers. December releases actually comprise 34% of our major releases in the past decade.
Can I set it up so only certain users get to use Gutenberg?
Yes, and soon. We’re going to be doing another update to the Classic Editor before the 5.0 release to give it a bit more fine-grained user control — we’ve heard requests for options that allow certain users or certain roles and post types to have Gutenberg while others have Classic Editor.
What happens after 5.0?
We’ve been doing a release of Gutenberg every two weeks, and 5.0 isn’t going to stop that. We’ll do minor release to 5.0 (5.0.1, 5.0.2) fortnightly, with occasional breaks, so if there’s feedback that comes in, we can address it quickly. Many of the previous bugs in updates were from juggling between updates in the plugin and core, now that Gutenberg is in core it’s much easier and safer to incrementally update.
What about Gutenberg and accessibility?
We’ve had some important discussions about accessibility over the past few weeks and I am grateful for those who have helped raise these questions in the community.
Accessibility has been core to WordPress from the very beginning. It’s part of why we started – the adoption of web standards and accessibility.
But where I think we fell down was with project management — specifically, we had a team of volunteers that felt like they were disconnected from the rapid development that was happening with Gutenberg. We need to improve that. In the future I don’t know if it makes sense to have accessibility as a separate kind of process from the core development. It needs to be integrated at every single stage.
Still, we’ve accomplished a lot, as Matías has written about. There have been more than 200 closed issues related to accessibility since the very beginning.
We’re also taking the opportunity to fix some things that have had poor accessibility in WordPress from the beginning. CodeMirror, which is a code editor for templates, is not accessible, so we have some parts of WordPress that we really need to work on to make better.
Speaking of which, CodeMirror was seeking funding for their next version — Automattic has now sponsored that funding and in return it will be made available under the GPL, and that the next version of CodeMirror will be fully accessible.
Finally, Automattic will be funding an accessibility study of WordPress, Gutenberg, and an evaluation of best practices across the web, to ensure WordPress is fully accessible and setting new standards for the web overall.
After WordPress 5.0, is the Gutenberg name going to stick around?
Sometimes code names can take on a life of their own. I think Gutenberg is still what we’ll call this project — it’s called that on GitHub, and you’re also seeing it adopted by other CMSes beyond WordPress — but for those outside the community I can see it simply being known as “the new WordPress editor.”
With the adoption of React for Gutenberg, what do you see as the future for React and WordPress?
The other beautiful thing is that because Gutenberg essentially allows for translation into many different formats — it can publish to your web page, it can publish your RSS feed, AMP, it can publish blocks that can be translated into email for newsletters — there’s so much in the structured nature of Gutenberg and the semantic HTML that it creates and the grammar that’s used to parse it, can enable for other applications.
And WordPress 5.0 is just the starting line. We want to get it to that place where it’s not just better than what we have today, but a world-class, web-defining experience. It’s what we want to create and what everyone deserves.
Was this post published with Gutenberg?
Of course. 😄 No bugs, but I do see lots of areas we can continue to improve and I’m excited to get to work on future iterations.
I’ve had the opportunity to talk about Gutenberg at two great venues recently. The first was at WordCamp Portland which graciously allowed me to join for a Q&A at the end of the event. The questions were great and covered a lot of the latest and greatest about Gutenberg and WordPress 5.0:
Last week I also joined Episode 101 of the WP Builds podcast, where as Nathan put it: “We talk about Gutenberg, why Matt thinks that we need it, and why we need it now. We go on to chat about how it’s divided the WordPress community, especially from the perspective of users with accessibility needs.”
SDR Kashmir Travel Folio, made with this super-cool material called Dyneema, which is twice as strong as Kevlar and 15 times as strong as steel, but virtually weightless.
Garmin Forerunner 935 which is a triathlon watch, so it can tell me how much I don’t run, how much I don’t bike, and how much I don’t swim. Crazy sensors on it, and it’s lighter than an Apple Watch, which I tried again to use this year but wasn’t able to handle another device in my life that I had to charge daily. It has a weird charger, pictured next to it, but only needs charging once every few weeks so I don’t mind at all.
This is the latest 15” grey touchbar MacBook Pro, customized by Uncover to have the Jetpack logo on it. I like the keyboard quietness and performance improvements of latest generation.
Fit Pack 2 from Aer is the same I wrote a whole blog post about last year, and I still love and adore it every day. They have a few bigger and smaller packs, but the quality is just fantastic and I love all the pockets. Mine is starting to tear a little bit by one of the shoulder straps, but I do keep ~18lbs in it regularly.
Passport, because you never know when you’ll need to leave the country.
Kindle Oasis with this random case on it. I dig that this one is apparently waterproof — which I’ve never tested — but doesn’t feel like we’ve found the perfect size and weight balance yet. Reading is my favorite activity right now so this is my most-loved item.
A super small international adapter, which is also nice for converting the 3-prong in the next item into a 2-prong. It’s Lenmar but I’m not going to link Amazon because they’re charging too much, just picked up in an airport store.
Probably my favorite new item of the year: I have given Native Union a hard time in the past but super love this combo extension cord and USB charger. It is an 8-foot extension cord, which is remarkably handy, has two AC outlets, 3 USB ports, and one USB-C. Total life-saver.
This is a bag with some small opals I gave as a Burning Man gift.
iPad Pro 10.5 and Apple sleeve with Pencil holder, which is still one of my favorite gadgets of the year. Everything about this device just works and is a pleasure to use, and I’ve already ordered the new 11″ Pro and related accessories.
Bragi Pro custom earphones. For many years I had custom in-ear monitors, but the convenience of wireless overcame that, even before they started taking headphone jacks out of phones. Bragi now allows you to send in ear molds from an audiologist and they’ll make these custom true wireless headphones that fit and sound great, but I have trouble recommending because the case is so heavy and once got so jammed I almost thought I’d have to throw the whole thing away, and the app has never been able to “connect” for me because it gets stuck on turning on some fitness sensors. If it could connect I think I could turn off the other feature that is annoying, which is the touch controls that I find get triggered by my hat or when my head is against a chair. So, a qualified “maybe try this.”
Sennheiser Culture Series Wideband Headset, which I use for podcasts, Skype, Facetime, Zoom, and Google Hangout calls with external folks and teams inside of Automattic. Light, comfortable, great sound quality, and great at blocking out background noise so you don’t annoy other people on the call. I’d love to replace this with something wireless but haven’t found one with as high fidelity audio.
GL.iNet GL-AR750 Travel AC Router which I use to create wifi networks different places I go, which is often faster than hotel/etc wifi, and I can also VPN encrypt all my traffic through it. Pretty handy! But not user-friendly. Often keep it in my suitcase and not my backpack. I have a retractable Ethernet and micro-USB attached to it.
Matte black Airpods. I love Airpods and these look super cool, I think these were from BlackPods which looks shut down now but Colorware has some alternatives. (2nd year)
An ultralight running jacket I think I got at Lululemon Lab in Vancouver. They don’t have anything like it available online right now but it folds up ultra-tiny, weighs nothing, and is a nice layer for on an airplane. My only complaint (as with all Lululemon products) is the low quality of the zipper. (2nd year)
I recently returned from Orlando where Automattic hosted its annual Grand Meetup where nearly all of our 800 employees from around the world, spend a week together in the same place. (And yes, we’re hiring.)
Despite being a fully distributed company, I believe it’s still important to meet face-to-face — just not every day, in the same office. The Grand Meetup is our chance to get to know the people behind the Slack avatars and build relationships that can carry us through other 51 weeks of the year, when we’re working from more than 65 countries. It’s so much easier to hear the nuance in someone’s chat messages or p2 posts if you’ve hung out with them at Harry Potter World, or learned about their family, pets, and hobbies during a flash talk.
This year we were proud to welcome some incredible keynote speakers: Wild author Cheryl Strayed talking about creativity and writing; Automattic board member Gen. Ann Dunwoody, the first woman in U.S. Army history to achieve the four-star officer rank; Ari Meisel on delegating and automating your life; and Dan Harris, author of 10% Happier, on the panic attack that led him to embrace meditation and mindfulness.
I walked a week’s worth of the Portuguese path of the Camino de Santiago with a few friends, which was a nice bookend to my Rebirth and Yellow Arrows post at the beginning of last year. My feet are sore, and I have the first significant knee pain which has given me newfound empathy for the people I love who struggle with their knees. I traveled light and just brought an iPhone XS as my camera, and these are a few snaps of things I saw along the trail.
The downside of Zuckerberg’s exalted status within his company is that it is difficult for him to get genuine, unexpurgated feedback. He has tried, at times, to puncture his own bubble. In 2013, as a New Year’s resolution, he pledged to meet someone new, outside Facebook, every day. In 2017, he travelled to more than thirty states on a “listening tour” that he hoped would better acquaint him with the outside world. David Plouffe, President Obama’s former campaign manager, who is now the head of policy and advocacy at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the family’s philanthropic investment company, attended some events on the tour. He told me, “When a politician goes to one of those, it’s an hour, and they’re talking for fifty of those minutes. He would talk for, like, five, and just ask questions.”
But the exercise came off as stilted and tone-deaf. Zuckerberg travelled with a professional photographer, who documented him feeding a calf in Wisconsin, ordering barbecue, and working on an assembly line at a Ford plant in Michigan. Online, people joked that the photos made him look like an extraterrestrial exploring the human race for the first time. A former Facebook executive who was involved in the tour told a friend, “No one wanted to tell Mark, and no one did tell Mark, that this really looks just dumb.”
There seem to be three communication gaps outlined here in Evan Osnos’s revealing profile of Mark Zuckerberg: one is getting unvarnished feedback from your employees. Speaking as a fellow CEO and founder, it’s certainly hard to pop that bubble — see “the bear is sticky with honey.” There are a few techniques like skip-level 1:1 meetings, anonymous feedback forms, interviewing new hires, and 360 reviews you can do to try to counter this, but there’s no panacea and this one requires constant work as you scale.
The second gap is getting the unvarnished truth from your users — much easier, as they’re quite happy to tell you what’s what. I’ve recently started cold-calling (yes, on the phone!) some of our Jetpack customers just to understand what they love and don’t love about the experience and about how we can help them solve their business challenges. There’s a casual intimacy to phone conversations that just can’t be replicated in other user feedback forums. Pair this with good instrumentation throughout your product so you see what people do and not just what they say and you’re golden.
The third and last communication gap is the connection to the world as most people experience it. If your status, wealth, or celebrity reach a point that they are shutting you out from “real” experiences, take some risks and get outside of your comfort zone. As it turns out, this new GQ profile of Paul McCartney offered a tip on that:
McCartney tells me a further such story of a time he took the Hampton Jitney, the slightly upmarket bus service that runs from the Hamptons into Manhattan, because he was deep into Charles Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby and he wanted to finish it, and how he then took a local bus uptown, and when a woman blurted from across the bus, “Hey! Are you Paul McCartney?” he invited her to sit next to him and chatted all the way uptown. “It’s a way of not worrying about your fame,” he says. “It’s a way of not turning into the reclusive rock star. I often say to Nancy: I get in their faces before they get a chance to get in mine.”
Makes me wonder if Jack Dorsey still rides the bus to work every day. I think this is what Zuckerberg was attempting with his 30-state tour, and hopefully it was helpful even if the optics didn’t appeal to everyone — the daily habit of his 2013 resolution to meet someone new every day feels more powerful than the touristic 30-state one. But for an entity as large as Facebook maybe it’s moot, as Casey Newton pointed out in his newsletter last week it can be quite hard to pin the answers to Facebook’s real problems, and our democracy’s real challenges in the face of targeted online propaganda, to just one person.