Moving Image

A mosaic of soldiers who have died in Iraq:

Mosiac of soldiers faces arranged to portray Bush

Original Source. Mirrored here in small, medium, and large sizes. The largest is about 4.4 megabytes and you can clearly make out each face. It’s also good to take a step back from the screen.

Categories
Asides

Passwords and Brute Force

Almost 3 years ago we released a version of WordPress (3.0) that allowed you to pick a custom username on installation, which largely ended people using “admin” as their default username. Right now there’s a botnet going around all of the WordPresses it can find trying to login with the “admin” username and a bunch of common passwords, and it has turned into a news story (especially from companies that sell “solutions” to the problem).

Here’s what I would recommend: If you still use “admin” as a username on your blog, change it, use a strong password, if you’re on WP.com turn on two-factor authentication, and of course make sure you’re up-to-date on the latest version of WordPress. Do this and you’ll be ahead of 99% of sites out there and probably never have a problem. Most other advice isn’t great — supposedly this botnet has over 90,000 IP addresses, so an IP limiting or login throttling plugin isn’t going to be great (they could try from a different IP a second for 24 hours).

Categories
Asides

Syn-thesis 1 and Chris Pearson

I ended up in an impromptu conversation with Chris Pearson and Andrew Warner earlier today regarding the issue of Thesis violating WordPress’ license. For entertainment purposes you can read some choice quotes on Hacker News (here’s another) but the whole thing is worth a listen even though I did not articulate the issues as well I could have. Ultimately the legal, community, and pure business arguments fell on deaf ears, so no minds were changed but yours might be after listening to it. Unfortunately it ends with Mr Pearson basically saying “sue me.” See also: Jane’s post.

Categories
Essays

1.0 Is the Loneliest Number

Many entrepreneurs idolize Steve Jobs. He’s such a perfectionist, they say. Nothing leaves the doors of 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino without a polish and finish that makes geeks everywhere drool. No compromise!

I like Apple for the opposite reason: they’re not afraid of getting a rudimentary 1.0 out into the world.

“No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.” — cmdrtaco, Slashdot.org, 2001, reviewing the first iPod

I remember my first 1G iPhone. Like a meal you have to wait for, or a line outside a club, the fact that I stood in line for hours made the first time I swiped to unlock the phone that much sweeter. It felt like I was on Star Trek and this was my magical tricorder… a tricorder that constantly dropped calls on AT&T’s network, had a headphone adapter that didn’t fit any of the hundreds of dollars of headphones I owned, ran no applications, had no copy and paste, and was as slow as molasses.

Now, the crazy thing about that release is when the original iPhone went public, flaws and all, you know that in a secret room somewhere on Apple’s campus they had a working prototype of the 3GS with a faster processor, better battery life, normal headphone jack… a perfect everything. Steve Jobs was probably already carrying around one in his pocket. How painful it must have been to have everyone criticizing them for all the flaws they had already fixed but couldn’t release yet because they were waiting for component prices to come down or for some bugs to be worked out of the app store.

“$400 for an Mp3 Player! I’d call it the Cube 2.0 as it wont sell, and be killed off in a short time… and it’s not really functional. Uuhh Steve, can I have a PDA now?” — elitemacor, macrumors.com, 2001, responding to the original iPod announcement

Or, I wonder, are they really quite zen about the whole thing? There is a dark time in WordPress development history, a lost year. Version 2.0 was released on December 31st, 2005, and version 2.1 came out on January 22nd, 2007. Now just from the dates, you might imagine that perhaps we had some sort of rift in the open source community, that all the volunteers left or that perhaps WordPress just slowed down. In fact it was just the opposite, 2006 was a breakthrough year for WP in many ways: WP was downloaded 1.5 million times that year, and we were starting to get some high-profile blogs switching over. The growing prominence had attracted scores of new developers to the project and we were committing new functionality and fixes faster than we ever had before.

What killed us was “one more thing.” We could have easily done three major releases that year if we had drawn a line in the sand, said “finished,” and shipped the darn thing. The problem is that the longer it’s been since your last release the more pressure and anticipation there is, so you’re more likely to try to slip in just one more thing or a fix that will make a feature really shine. For some projects, this literally goes on forever.

“hey – heres an idea Apple – rather than enter the world of gimmicks and toys, why dont you spend a little more time sorting out your pathetically expensive and crap server line up? or are you really aiming to become a glorified consumer gimmicks firm?” — Pants, macrumors.com, 2001

I imagine prior to the launch of the iPod, or the iPhone, there were teams saying the same thing: the copy + paste guys are *so close* to being ready and we know Walt Mossberg is going to ding us for this so let’s just not ship to the manufacturers in China for just a few more weeks… The Apple teams were probably embarrassed. But if you’re not embarrassed when you ship your first version you waited too long.

A beautiful thing about Apple is how quickly they obsolete their own products. I imagine this also makes the discipline of getting things out there easier. Like I mentioned before, the longer it’s been since the last release the more pressure there is, but if you know that if your bit of code doesn’t make this version but there’s the +0.1 coming out in 6 weeks, then it’s not that bad. It’s like flights from San Francisco to LA, if you miss one you know there’s another one an hour later so it’s not a big deal. Amazon has done a fantastic job of this with the Kindle as well, with a new model every year.

Usage is like oxygen for ideas. You can never fully anticipate how an audience is going to react to something you’ve created until it’s out there. That means every moment you’re working on something without it being in the public it’s actually dying, deprived of the oxygen of the real world. It’s even worse because development doesn’t happen in a vacuum — if you have a halfway decent idea, you can be sure that there are two or three teams somewhere in the world that independently came up with it and are working on the same thing, or something you haven’t even imagined that disrupts the market you’re working in. (Think of all the podcasting companies — including Ev Williams’ Odeo — before iTunes built podcasting functionality in.)

By shipping early and often you have the unique competitive advantage of hearing from real people what they think of your work, which in best case helps you anticipate market direction, and in worst case gives you a few people rooting for you that you can email when your team pivots to a new idea. Nothing can recreate the crucible of real usage.

You think your business is different, that you’re only going to have one shot at press and everything needs to be perfect for when Techcrunch brings the world to your door. But if you only have one shot at getting an audience, you’re doing it wrong.

After the debacle of the 2.0 -> 2.1 lost year of 2006 the WordPress community adopted a fairly aggressive schedule of putting a major release out 3 times a year, and we stuck to it fairly well although in 2009-2010 we’ve slacked a bit, falling into the “one more thing” mentality again. But more fundamentally it’s still shrink-wrap software, which means that updates burden its users in some way so we have to spread them out.

That’s why I love working on web services and pretty much everything Automattic focuses on is a service. On WordPress.com we deploy code to production twenty or thirty times a day and anyone in the company can do it. We measure the deploy time to hundreds of servers and if it gets too slow (more than 30-60 seconds) we figure out a new way to optimize it. In that short rapid iteration environment the most important thing isn’t necessarily how perfect code is when you send it out, but how quickly you can revert if you need to so the cost of a mistake is really low, under a minute of brokenness. Someone can go from idea to working code to production and more importantly real users in just a few minutes and I can’t imagine any better form of testing.

“Real artists ship.” — Steve Jobs, 1983

A version 1.0 of this essay appeared in the book Do More Faster. I should also note that Automattic is always hiring.

Categories
WordPress

Dear WordPress,

Has it really been 10 years? It seems just yesterday we were playing around on my blog, and the blogs of a few high school friends. Two of those friends are married, one isn’t anymore, two are still figuring things out, and one has passed away.

You were cute before you became beautiful. Wearing black and white, afraid of color, trying to be so unassuming. I know you got jealous when I wore those Blogger t-shirts. They were the cool kids at SxSW and I thought maybe you could grow up to be like them.

You wouldn’t have shirts of your own for a few more years. We didn’t know what we were doing when we made them and the logo printed ginormous. People called them the Superman shirt and made fun of them. But, oh, that logo — the curves fit you so well.

You showed the world you were growing up, and how much you cared about design and typography and other platonic ideals. You knew that open source didn’t have to be homely. I stretched myself too thin trying to get you there, and I did a stupid thing to pay for it. I hurt you, but instead of casting me away you held me closer, supported me, gave me another chance. I will never forget that. Akismet made me feel less guilty. I wouldn’t change anything, because the mistake made me understand how important it is to fly straight and take your time.

You’re so beautiful… I’m continually amazed and delighted by how you’ve grown. Your awkward years are behind you. Best of all, through it all, you’ve stuck with the principles that got you started in the first place. You’re always changing but that never changes. You’re unafraid to try new things that may seem wacky or unpopular at first.

I see you all over the world now, glowing from screens, bringing people together at meetups and WordCamps — you’re at your best when you do that. You’re my muse; you inspire me, and I’ve seen you inspire others. You become a part of their life and they become a part of yours. I hope we grow old together.

Cheers to ten years, and here’s to a hundred more.

Love,
Matt

Categories
Essays Meta

New Spring Design

Time to break out of your RSS readers: there’s a new design on Ma.tt! Recommended only for the high-bandwidth and the open-minded. There was nothing wrong with my old theme, I just get an itch for something new every now and then and wanted a totally different direction — especially now that every site has copped the worn paper look / colorful flourish. Also it’s refreshing to be able to have a design where the only person in the world it needs to please is me. Here’s a before and after:

For fans of the old design, I’m going to abstract it into a regular WordPress theme — gallery features and all — that will be available to the entire world, including WordPress.com. It’s amazing to me how many great designs are thrown away, never to be used again, when as a WP theme they could live forever.

I wanted to thank Julien Morel, the creative mind behind this iteration, and Brian Colinger, who turned the vision into HTML, CSS, and PHP.

If I could I would redesign the site every season: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall. It just always takes longer than I planned (this was supposed to launch in Winter). The cobbler’s sons go shoeless.

What do you think?

Categories
Essays

Starting a Bank

I often get asked something along the line of, “If you weren’t leading Automattic, what would you work on?” There’s not a single answer to this question; the answer changes day to day. But I think if you asked me today, I’d say I would like to start a bank.

There are very few people who really love their bank. We’ve all dealt with overage fees that stack up, brain-dead fine print, and a general malaise. There’s also a unique opportunity in that mainstream contempt for financial institutions has never been higher, while at the same time there is an incredible amount of government backing that essentially makes it a no-risk environment. People are hungry just for anything different, something contrarian. A David to the Goliath banking industry.

The name of my bank would be something supremely boring, like SafeBank. The idea behind it is that bad behaviour in the banking world has been largely inevitable because their compensation structures incented people to do overly risky things. SafeBank would maintain a reserve level 2-3x higher than Fed requirements and any other bank. SafeBank would have no bonuses. Critics would say this would make it impossible to attract top-shelf talent. Every time the bank gets attacked we’d turn it into an advertising opportunity to emphasize why we’re different. “We can’t attract top-shelf talent? We take your money and put it in a vault. We don’t need the million-dollar bonus geniuses on Wall Street to do that. SafeBank. Bank, safe.”

In fact, the first few years of SafeBank would be largely focused on acquisition through every trick in the book. At the very beginning pull a Gmail/WordPress.com and make it invite-only, which will create a buzz and also allow you to give amazing white-glove service to the initial customers, who will in turn tell their friends and make a ton more buzz. (You can also target certain profitable segments and ultra-safe depositors at first, like Gmail users in San Francisco (using Firefox with an ad-blocker) who make six figures a year.) There would be only one style of checks and debit cards and they’d need a distinctive design so if you saw one you’d say, “What’s that?” which would then start the whole conversation again about how SafeBank is different.

For the first two years you could also do things like not allow accounts larger than the FDIC-insured limit. No one has ever heard of a bank turning away money! But you’d say that although everything SafeBank does is risk-free, it’s still a startup and if people have more than the insured limit (250k for single, 500k for couples) in an account, they should put the extra somewhere else. Again, this will impact a very low percentage of customers, but everyone will think it’s remarkable. This can be phased out after a few years; in fact, it would be a PR opportunity. “We’ve been in business now long enough that we feel comfortable with larger accounts.” Boom, free coverage.

I’m a tech guy so of course a lot of focus would be on the website. Imagine an old-time vintage design aesthetic combined with a Google-like simplicity and attention to speed. All logins would be two-factor, with the default being it’d SMS you a one-time code to log in when you gave your email address. A big part of the website would be the blog, of course. It would have a strong Ben Franklin-like common sense voice, and in addition to giving a few cool saving or home tips each week, it would cover at least one financial industry story a day.

  • “Bank of America spent $40,000,000 dollars on airplanes last year. We spent $40,000 to develop an iPhone application so you can check your balance from anywhere.”  (Hmm, the iPhone app should cost like $2.99.)
  • “Here’s how to block advertising when you browse the web with Firefox; it makes the web faster and less annoying.”
  • “Goldman Sachs just paid out 16 billion dollars in bonuses to their employees. If we had an extra 16 billion dollars lying around, we’d put it in the bank for a rainy day. (If Goldman had never paid out bonuses they never would have needed government intervention.)”
  • “So-and-so Bank’s website requires you to use Internet Explorer. We beg that you don’t, because there are way cooler and faster browsers. Here are 3 open source browsers you can switch to today.”
  • “68 Million Reasons Your Bank Sucks. That’s the amount BoA collected last quarter in needless ATM fees.”

(That’s all made up.) The headlines would almost write themselves, and every time a financial institution is in the news it’d be an opportunity to contrast why SafeBank is different and what the underlying philosophy is behind why it’s different.

All of the marketing would be on the web and viral, because it’d be an online-only bank like ING Direct. No storefronts where people have to wait in line or risk a bad interaction with a teller, or that get robbed and need insurance; basically a lot of the historical risk of running a bank could be eliminated. When you sign up it would have a “tell your friends about SafeBank” address book feature that would connect you to them if they signed up for an account, give you both money (Bank of America has something like this), and also make it easy to send them money, PayPal-style, if they have an account.

How would the bank make money? I think it wouldn’t touch anything risky on the financial side — it would be a data company. The first 3 years the focus would be entirely on customer acquisition, marketing, PR, and building a world-class tech team building a rock solid infrastructure. SafeBank would make way, way less money than banks currently do, but it would be more than enough to build an amazing product in a sustainable way, like Craigslist did with newspaper classifieds. After a certain milestone, say 100 billion in deposits, I would buy or clone Mint. SafeBank would have more (and more accurate) data about its customers than almost any other company in the world other than credit card companies, so the online interface would have Mint-like lead generation offers based on that information. For example, you spend $140 a month on electricity, but if you switch to this new solar provider you’d save $200 a year. Think of it like Gmail contextual advertising but based on where you spend your money rather than the words in an email. There also might be aggregate data opportunities for economic research or targeting, but I’m not sure if I like the privacy implications there.

SafeBank couldn’t raise VC or anything like that because having any sort of exit expectations would completely kill the safety story, but I think it could be bootstrapped and after a few years would be hugely profitable. Its existence would also put huge pressure on existing banks because depositors would be leaving in droves, putting pressure on their reserve requirements. Existing banks couldn’t compete in a traditional way because they have such a sordid history of customer apathy and bad PR. SafeBank wouldn’t be trying to capture their profits, it would largely be destroying them and making much smaller amounts of money in non-traditional bank ways. It would be somewhat like a credit union, but for the masses.

Anyway, this is just how my mind wandered this morning while brushing my teeth. Tomorrow I’ll think the last industry I’d every want to be in is banking. 😉

Would you trust your money to SafeBank?

Categories
Asides

Gravatar-enabled

The comments on this blog are now Gravatar-enabled. I didn’t use a plugin, just 2 lines of PHP. It’s pretty fascinating going through old posts and comments and seeing who has a Gravatar already. Do you have an account yet?

Categories
Essays Personal

Twenty-Five

Today I am a quarter of a century old. To be honest I never thought I would be this old, it was a number beyond where I could imagine or visualize but the last few years have just gone by in a blur and here I am, 25 years young and finally able to rent a car without paying an age penalty.

Following up from the open source resolutions, here’s what I’m going to aim for this year in no particular order:

  • Learn a language where WP has a big impact (probably Spanish).
  • Take more videos, post at least 2 a month.
  • Post 10,000 photos in 2009.
  • Post at least one book a month I’ve enjoyed.
  • Don’t try to do everything myself.
  • Redesign Ma.tt! (And get back up in the search engine rankings for “Matt” on Google.)
  • Post more personal stuff. (Like this.)
  • Spend more time working with and coaching other young entrepreneurs and startups.
  • Donate to 5 Open Source projects that touch my life daily.
  • Learn to make/prepare one food item a month.
  • Launch, launch, launch! (Real artists ship.)
  • Get people to capitalize WordPress correctly, and stop using the fake mis-proportioned W. 🙂 (Here are some correct ones.)
  • Print my favorite picture of another person every month and send it to that person in a picture frame.
  • Reinstate WordPress Wednesdays and make it easier to do an amazing photoblog with WP.

(Hat tip to Boris Mann, Benji, Niall Kennedy, John Roberts, Titanas, Network Geek, Avinash, Kirb, Julie, Mark Jaquith, and Kabatology for the resolutions.)

This is the seventh year I’ve blogged my birthday: 19, 20, 21, 22, and 23, and 24. If you had asked me 7 years ago where I would be today I couldn’t have imagined all of the amazing things that have happened, the incredible people I’ve met, and the communities that I’ve become a part of. Thank you. Here’s to the next 25.

Categories
Essays Meta

The Way I Work, annotated

pna I was fortunate enough to be featured in the July issue of Inc. magazine’s “The Way I Work” column. (Page 114, the one with Paul Graham on the cover.) The article is great and the photography very flattering, but it’s a little misleading. All TWIW articles are written in the first person, but not directly authored by the subjects, and we’re not allowed to see them before they’re published. These bizarre rules have some unexpected outcomes, and I’ve taken the liberty of rewriting the article in my own words and with lots of extra links. (You can read the original here.)

On a good morning there’s no alarm clock. I wake up with the sun and do my best to resist the instinctive urge to look at the computer or check email for at least an hour.

My vice of choice isn’t coffee, but the Kindle. Its electronic shelves are filled mostly with the business books  I read in order to grow up to be a real businessman (before someone figures out I’m not). At any point in time I have about 120 books downloaded. Interspersed between Drucker, Godin, and Buffett are classics like Seneca, which I wish I could read more often but only get to a few times a year.

Automattic, the holding company behind WordPress.com, finally got an office late last year at Pier 38, a beautiful open-floorplan space right on the Embarcadero. It’s about a five-minute walk from my apartment, but my preference is to work from home. We’re very much a virtual company where everyone primarily works from home (or their coffee shop of choice). The half dozen of us in the Bay Area will go in on Thursdays to have a little company, but six days out of the week the space is usually empty. But we throw some great parties there.

The team communicates mostly via P2, something a little like Twitter but password-protected, with real-time updates and threaded inline conversations. P2 is almost like a chat channel, but structured like a blog, and we’ve evolved to have almost a dozen across the 40 people at Automattic – serving a variety of purposes. We fill any gaps in communication by IRC, Skype, and, in a pinch, email.

In my home office there are two 30-inch monitors — a Mac and a PC. They share the same mouse and keyboard using Synergy so I can copy and paste between them. The Mac is mostly used for email and chat, while web stuff and coding happen on the PC. The keyboard is, of course, Dvorak, a more efficient keyboard layout that I switched to 10 years ago. I also have a Sony Z90 laptop with me all the time, whether I’m going overseas or just to the doctor’s office. I’m pretty rough on laptops, sometimes going through two a year. At home I like to geek out with home servers and networking, and sometimes find myself doing IT support for family, friends, and colleagues.

One of my favorite programs that we didn’t make is RescueTime, so much so I invested in the company. Hackers all know that you have to profile before you can optimize, and RescueTime runs in the trap of my computers and tracks how much time I spend on different things, sometimes with surprising results. My biggest time-suck is email, and to help out I wrote a WordPress plugin that filters people into folders based on their email address and priority settings which helps keep my inbox relatively clean. Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Work Week, advocates checking email only twice a week but that’s too severe for me. I’m currently trying Leo Babauta’s approach from The Power of Less, which suggests small steps like checking email five set times a day instead of constantly. It’s like dieting: People who binge diet gain it all back. That happens to me with email.

Music is my muse and I listen to it all day. There’s a lot of jazz — Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins — but I’m also a big fan of Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and Method Man. I have an analog Shindo stereo that was hand built in Japan and the aural experience is mind-blowing. When you’re coding you really have to be in the zone so I’ll listen to a single song over and over on repeat, hundreds of times. It helps me focus. The other best way to focus is to turn off email and instant messenger. The moment that little toaster pops up and says “you’ve got mail” you’re taken out of the flow. You’re juggling variables and functions and layouts and the moment you look away it all falls to the ground — it takes you 10 minutes getting it back in the air again.

A big part of my job is to manage the support, usability, and product development people who are scattered all over the globe, from Alabama to Ireland to Bulgaria. My management strategy is centered on hiring: find extremely self-motivated and curious people and then give them the autonomy to succeed. There’s no manager looking over anybody’s shoulder, so everyone needs to be self-directed. For every person we hire there are hundreds of applications. We always start people on a contract basis first; that way we mutually understand what it’s like to work with each other. One of the most important things I look for in résumés is a history of contributing to Open Source projects, because I know these people will understand our ethos.

For four years I was the only developer on Akismet, our anti-spam service. It started because my mom had wanted to start a blog but I was scared she’d be bombarded by spam for Viagra and worse, think that’s what I looked at all day. We finally added a second engineer to the project at the end of 2008, which was weird for me but was necessary for growth, especially as I’m pulled in more and more directions.

I go out for lunch whenever I can, which fits well with my preference for no meetings before 11 AM. There’s something very personal about sharing food with someone; it’s a deeper connection than shaking hands in a boardroom. Often when I’m in town I’ll have lunch with Toni Schneider, my CEO. He and I get along super well which is one of the reasons I think the business has worked. He brings gravitas because he’s a digital native but also has great startup experience including being the CEO of Oddpost, a webmail company Yahoo acquired in 2004. Sometimes we’ll go to lunch at 12:30 and stay until 5.

In general, I’m pretty darn disorganized, late as often as not, and really bad at keeping a schedule. My PA is now focusing on office and event tasks so I’m in the market for someone new. Last year I was on the road 212 days and clocked 175,000 miles, which is seven times around the globe (according to Dopplr, a great travel journal I use). The bulk of my travel is to WordCamps, which are educational and networking events that celebrate blogging. Automattic held our first annual WordCamp in San Francisco in 2006, thrown together just a few weeks before the event happened. Now they’ve exploded all over the world and I’ve been to over 30 community-organized events from South Africa to the Philippines. I say they’re a great bargain: a full day of quality speakers, BBQ lunch, a cool t-shirt, and a party for $25. We just wrapped the largest WordCamp ever here in San Francisco with over 700 people.  Though I’d love to, if I went to every WordCamp I wouldn’t have any time to actually build WordPress, so I’m cutting back and trying to go to every other one. They are great fun, though; it’s a chance to be a rockstar for a day. In the Philippines after the conference was done I stayed almost two hours afterward taking pictures and autographing badges and laptops. I’ve even been asked to sign body parts. Really.

To document my experiences when I travel I use my Nikon D3 camera. My photos are autobiographical — my memory is so bad (and the travel pretty grueling) that I’ll forget everything about a trip, and the photos help trigger my memories. On the plane ride home I’ll process and edit the photos as a narrative of each day, a visual diary. On my trip to Vietnam last February I took 2-3 thousand photos. I’ve heard that the difference between an amateur photographer and a pro is that the amateur shows you everything they shoot. I’m somewhere in between — I’ll post maybe a quarter of what I take.

I used to think constantly about building an audience for my blog but now my attitude is that if I’m not blogging for myself it’s not worth it. I don’t force myself to post once a day, I just do it when it feels natural. Sometimes people complain — “Write more about WordPress; we don’t want to see photos of kids in Vietnam” — but I don’t really care. For my 25th birthday in January I published a list of 2009 goals on my blog. It included learning Spanish, learning how to cook, and posting 10,000 photos. Cooking has been a total fail so far; I go out for every meal. If you open my refrigerator you’ll find Girl Scout cookies and barbecue sauce. Photos are blazing along, half-way through the year and I’ve taken 20,000 photos and posted about 4,000 of them.

My blog is fortunate enough to get lot of comments and I read and manually approve each one. I think the broken windows theory — a broken window or graffiti in a neighborhood begets more of the same — applies online. I’ll happily approve a comment from someone who completely disagrees with everything I believe in, but if I get a positive comment with a curse word in it I’ll edit it out. My blog is like my living room: If someone was acting out in my house, I’d ask that person to leave.
I look at our numbers every day, usually after 5 PM PST when GMT goes into a new day. We have an internal dashboard where we track 500 to 600 statistics about everything from how often people are logging in to WordPress.com to how many words they’re pressing per day. Almost all of the numbers are real-time.

I do my best work mid-morning and super late at night, from one to five in the morning. Some people don’t need sleep, but I actually need a ton. I just sleep all the time, catching naps in the afternoon or a 20-minute snooze in the office. Our business is 24 hours — folks in Australia start their day around 4 PM my time and our guys and girls in Europe get going around midnight. Sometimes I’ll go out at night, come home from the bar at 2 or 3 AM, and then go back to work.

For WordPress we’re trying to set up a community that will be around 10 to 30 years from now, one that’s independent from the whims of the market. My role is somewhat like Linus for Linux or Shuttleworth for Ubuntu, affectionately referred to as BDFL, and it’s my responsibility to meet as many users as possible and direct the software in a way that reflects their interest. Last year I probably met 5,000 or 6,000 WordPress users, about half of them who make their living from it. We want to be like Google, eBay, Amazon — they all enable other people to make far more money than the company captures. That’s ultimately what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to create a movement.

My Mom started a blog a couple of months ago. Six years into this, and we finally made it easy enough for my Mom to use. (She hates it when I say that.)

If you ask questions in the comments, I’ll do my best to answer them.

Categories
Meta

New Spring Design

Time to come out of your RSS readers and visit the site. In celebration of Spring, Summer, the new domain, and WordPress 2.5 I’m launching a new version of Photo Matt / Ma.tt. Here’s a before and after picture:

Old and new ma.tt

A couple of functionality changes you’ll notice:

  • Thumbnails and photos are now much larger. (Especially photos, now 840px wide.) Imagine it like going HD, you’ll definitely enjoy it more on broadband.
  • I’ve brought back the photo tech details like aperture and focal length.
  • In addition to posts and asides, I’m now doing new post types: galleries, quotes, videos, and highlight photos.
  • You can now click on a photo to go to the next one, making  browsing galleries easier.
  • The header is a lot shorter, so you get to the content faster. You can’t say I have a big head anymore. 🙂
  • I’m starting to use the new taxonomy bits in 2.5 to tag people, places (geotagging), things, and concepts in the various photos. (More on this later, still a bit broken.)
  • This is the first iteration of this site that is powered entirely by WordPress. (I know, 5 years late. The cobbler’s children go shoeless!) Before it was a cobbled together set of PHP includes and software like Gallery. Now 100% WP.
  • Gravatars are much more prominent. I wonder if there’s a way to only allow comments from people with Gravatars? It looks so much better.
  • Name has changed from Photo Matt to Ma.tt, tagline is the same.

The fine design was executed by Nicolò Volpato, the same talented fellow who did the last design. My concept was to evoke Spanish talavera, inspired by my trips to Spain and Argentina and pottery at my parents’ house like this, this, and this. It was a lot of fun to work with Nicolò on and I already have a few ideas for Fall. 🙂

I’ve been noodling on the implementation for months now. Last night I had just arrived from New York and it turned out the Jay-Z/Mary J Blige concert in Oakland got postponed so I found myself with a bit of time on my hands and decided to tie up all the loose ends. There are still a ton of things broken like the photo border on portrait images, I still have 15k old photos to import, and you may see the old design on some older pages, but I wanted to get it out there. There are also some weird things, like Firefox seems to back the background image blurry while it’s razor-sharp in IE and Safari. I feel like I’ve seen that somewhere before.

Finally I’m hoping to release a lot of the work I did here, including a version of the old theme, the plugin + script I’m using to resize all my old images on the fly, the taxonomy stuff, and some core improvements to WP to make some of the things I’m doing here easier. (I got lazy and did some direct SQL queries, etc.)

Categories
Asides

On React and WordPress

Big companies like to bury unpleasant news on Fridays: A few weeks ago, Facebook announced they have decided to dig in on their patent clause addition to the React license, even after Apache had said it’s no longer allowed for Apache.org projects. In their words, removing the patent clause would "increase the amount of time and money we have to spend fighting meritless lawsuits."

I'm not judging Facebook or saying they're wrong, it's not my place. They have decided it's right for them — it's their work and they can decide to license it however they wish. I appreciate that they've made their intentions going forward clear.

A few years ago, Automattic used React as the basis for the ground-up rewrite of WordPress.com we called Calypso, I believe it's one of the larger React-based open source projects. As our general counsel wrote, we made the decision that we'd never run into the patent issue. That is still true today as it was then, and overall, we’ve been really happy with React. More recently, the WordPress community started to use React for Gutenberg, the largest core project we've taken on in many years. People's experience with React and the size of the React community —  including Calypso — was a factor in trying out React for Gutenberg, and that made React the new de facto standard for WordPress and the tens of thousands of plugins written for WordPress.

We had a many-thousand word announcement talking about how great React is and how we're officially adopting it for WordPress, and encouraging plugins to do the same. I’ve been sitting on that post, hoping that the patent issue would be resolved in a way we were comfortable passing down to our users.

That post won't be published, and instead I'm here to say that the Gutenberg team is going to take a step back and rewrite Gutenberg using a different library. It will likely delay Gutenberg at least a few weeks, and may push the release into next year.

Automattic will also use whatever we choose for Gutenberg to rewrite Calypso — that will take a lot longer, and Automattic still has no issue with the patents clause, but the long-term consistency with core is worth more than a short-term hit to Automattic’s business from a rewrite. Core WordPress updates go out to over a quarter of all websites, having them all inherit the patents clause isn’t something I’m comfortable with.

I think Facebook’s clause is actually clearer than many other approaches companies could take, and Facebook has been one of the better open source contributors out there. But we have a lot of problems to tackle, and convincing the world that Facebook’s patent clause is fine isn’t ours to take on. It’s their fight.

The decision on which library to use going forward will be another post; it’ll be primarily a technical decision. We’ll look for something with most of the benefits of React, but without the baggage of a patents clause that’s confusing and threatening to many people. Thank you to everyone who took time to share their thoughts and give feedback on these issues thus far — we're always listening.

Update: This post received an incredible response from the wider web and open source community, and a few days later Facebook reversed their position.

Categories
Meta

On Asides

As you may have noticed on this page or in your aggregator my normal entries are now interspersed with smaller link and commentary entries represented in an unordered list. These fall in chronological order with my other entries and are real posts with permalinks, comments, categories, trackbacks, and pingbacks. I have been wanting to do this for a long time and there was a flood of entries when I first got this working. I fully expect to post in this category with a much higher frequency than my normal posts. I come across things all the time that I want to link so badly but I just don’t have the time to write an entry about. Now every interesting tidbit I come across is just a click of a favelet away from my readers. It’s liberating.

The format of a weblog dictates its writing. There is no getting around this. Ever since my redesign I’ve had these big important titles that—as a writer—are intimidating. Everything I write has to be worthy of its 32-point Dante banner. This was a deliberate to force myself to put more thought and effort into my entries and it has worked; some of my best writing has been since the redesign. It has been stifling as well. To express what I want to express these days I need something more dynamic.

This type of linklog is nothing new. I first saw it at Kottke and since have enjoyed it at Charles Gagalac’s site. Charles was the first person I know of to do it in WordPress. This inline style fits my requirements very well, the biggest being that I wanted to use my existing post taxonomy so a second weblog would have been inconvienent. I also get the benefit of a combined RSS feed and combined update pinging. More than all of that though, I don’t want to limit myself to one type of post in a new weblog, or in this one. I already have plans to use this feature to not only highlight interesting links, but comments I make on other sites, upcoming gigs I have, photolog updates, and various activities and writing I now have spread out over a half-dozen blogs. It’s a perfect application for WordPress‘ multiple sub-categories feature. Technically, the whole thing was very easy to implement.

First I made a new category all of these posts would be a part of, it was late and I couldn’t think of anything too clever, so I went with “Asides.” This may have been subconciously inspired by Movable Blog. So I created the category in WordPress, and it had an ID of 33. Next it was simply a matter of telling my template that if a post was in the Asides category to lay it out a little differently. I wrote a quick function, in_category() that does this with no additional DB queries that is now in the WordPress CVS and will be in the 1.2 release. The function takes a single argument, a category ID, and it returns true if the current post is in that category. Here’s what I have in my post loop:

<?php if (in_category(33) && !$single) { ?>
<ul class="asides">
<li id="p<?php the_ID(); ?>"><?php echo wptexturize($post->post_content); echo ' '; comments_popup_link('(0)', '(1)', '(%)')?> <?php edit_post_link('(e)'); ?></li>
</ul>
<?php } else { ?>

So basically what this is saying is that if the post is in category #33 and we’re not on a permalink page to format it using that code, otherwise do our normal thing. We have a simple unordered list with a uniquely ID’d list item. (The ID is a throwback to about two years ago when I had a heavily hacked version of b2 with monthly archives. Can’t let those permalinks break.) I get the post content directly because I didn’t want to mess with the normal filters (like autop) applied to the_content(). I run it through texturize to keep everything pretty. Then I have a simple comment link, and finally a link that only I see that allows me to easily edit any entry. This worked great, but you can see that I have a separate unordered list for each entry, which isn’t what I want; I want all consectutive aside entries to be part of a single list. This gets tricky because you have to start the list when the current entry is an aside but the newer entry and stop it when the next entry is not an aside. Tricky tricky, and I don’t want to think what would happen if someone decided to reorder my content. I had only allocated myself ten minutes for this entire project and I was at minute number eight, so it came time for ugly code:

function stupid_hack($str) {
return preg_replace('|</ul>\s*<ul class="asides">|', '', $str);
}
ob_start('stupid_hack');

I swear that’s the actual code in my template. Put it somewhere around the top of the template, it really doesn’t matter where. It’s a hack, but it’s been working great. Simon says it is “ugly as sin,” and that’s what I thought when I wrote it. Since then, however, it has grown on me a bit. It’s like the supermodel who goes out every day dressed to the nines relaxing at home in a bathrobe, slippers, and no makeup. I keep the pretty code elsewhere, here at home I’m a little more casual. Perhaps when I have a little free time I’ll put in the more complicated logic I described above but if it ain’t broke…

Categories
rant

WordPress is Open Source

Six Apart has recently decided that the best way to win back customers fleeing their platforms is to target WordPress, which is a new strategy they call competing. (What have they been doing the past 7 years?) A good example is this exchange between a commenter on Valleywag and Byrne Reese, the lead developer of Movable Type:

Sundown: “@anildash: what part of WordPress is not open source?”

byrnereese: “@Sunnduwn – I think that is a question better asked of Automattic. Anil, and certainly not Six Apart, has never been briefed, nor has anyone for that matter been presented with an accounting of what is open and closed source at Automattic.”

Okay, here’s some accounting:

WordPress is 100% open source, GPL.

All plugins in the official directory are GPL or compatible, 100% open source.

bbPress is 100% GPL.

WordPress MU is 100% open source, GPL, and if you wanted you could take it and build your own hosted platform like WordPress.com, like edublogs.org has with over 100,000 blogs.

There is more GPL stuff on the way, as well. 🙂

Could you build Typepad or Vox with Movable Type? Probably not, especially since people with more than a few blogs or posts say it grinds to a halt, as Metblogs found before they switched to WordPress.

Automattic (and other people) can provide full support for GPL software, which is the single license everything we support is under. Movable Type has 8 different licenses and the “open source” one doesn’t allow any support. The community around WordPress is amazing and most people find it more than adequate for their support needs.

Movable Type, which is Six Apart’s only Open Source product line now that they’ve dumped Livejournal, doesn’t even have a public bug tracker, even though they announced it going OS over 9 months ago!

I had held off criticizing them after they went OS and before they decided to start an all-out confrontation because that’s not generally what OS projects do to each other.

For as long as I can remember the WordPress about page has linked and thanked Movable Type for ideas and inspiration.

Movable Type once led the market, it had over 90% marketshare in the self-hosted market. Now they call “pages” and “dynamic publishing”, features WordPress has had for 4+ years, innovation and you still can’t do basic things like click “next posts” at the bottom of home page.

For the record, I’m glad they’ve taken the license of MT in a positive direction that prevents them from betraying their customers like they did with MT3, but they have a long way to go before the project could be considered a community.

WordPress did 3 major releases last year, we’ll do 3 major releases this year. Along the way thousands of people will contribute, as well as every employee of Automattic. What we build will be greater than the sum of its parts because we’ve been a community and open source from the beginning, and always will be.

Braindead Finder Behaviour

Because of what I consider totally braindead behivour in the OS X Finder I appear to have lost about 60 pictures from my trip. When I offload pictures from card I generally drag the 100PENTX folder from the card onto my desktop and I leave things in that folder until I have a chance to compress the pictures, divide them into days, and upload them. Well OS X does this crazy thing where when you drag the folder onto the desktop it asks you if you want to replace the folder with the same name. On Windows I always say yes and it just adds the new pictures to those already in the folder. In OS X it apparently means delete the folder that’s already there with no way to recover it and replace it with the one you’re dragging. This happened to me a few times and I couldn’t figure out what was happening, luckily though I had backups on my iPod. Unfortunately going back over the pictures from the trip it seems a day is missing. Fortunately it was a day of mostly travel so I’ll live, but still a bummer. Updates: John Gruber weighs in, and here’s the exact message in Windows.

New update: Robert Scoble put me in touch with Bob Day who had this to say:

If the question is just “Why do merge by default?”, there are lots of
answers.

1. Because it maps well to operations that users are likely trying to
accomplish (see the scenario of dropping a picture folder from a
camera).
2. Folder replace can be done by deleting the destination folder first,
and then copying. If you have replace be the primary method, then merge
becomes a very tedious process.
3. Because it is less destructive?

Please realize that having a camera that uniquely assigns picture
numbers until you reset them becomes very important with this merge
behavior. If your pictures are all uniquely named, the default of
replacing files with the same name will allow you to not lose any files.

Also realize that this is a complicated scenario for most users. Almost
any choice is going to be bad for some users.

And yes, the behavior is a concious choice. We had to implement this
feature in Windows 95.

I followed up that “So before that [Windows 95] folders were deleted and
overwritten?” Bob responded: “I need the source code to Windows 3.1 to confirm. Anybody remember “File
Manager”? wow, that is old.” And dug up:

Ok, archeological discovery over. (wipes the dust off his sleeves)

Win3.1 would say the same thing for folders as it did for files:
“Replace file with file

And if you said “yes” for a folder, it would try to delete the
folder first, which would error out if the directory
wasn’t empty. Not sure what the error message is there.

I would love to get similar background for the Mac OS X behaviour.

Categories
Asides

Blocked in Turkey

People trying to visit WordPress.com from Turkey are seeing this message: “Access to this site has been suspended in accordance with decision no: 2007/195 of T.C. Fatih 2.Civil Court of First Instance.” I didn’t realize Turkey had a great firewall like China. This is really unfortunate because we have a really passionate Turkish community that gets about 12 million pageviews a month. Any good tips for people to get around the block? Update: This comment has the story and resolution. We’re back Update 2: It appears we’re still blocked, here is more info.

Categories
Yahoo

On Yahoo-Tumblr

It now looks pretty certain that Yahoo has pulled off a deal to buy Tumblr for 1.1B. The relationship between WordPress and Tumblr has always been pretty friendly: Tumblr’s own blog used to be on WP, WordPress.com supports Tumblr as a Publicize option alongside Twitter and Facebook, our Akismet team sends them daily emails of splogs on the service, and there’s healthy import and export traffic both ways. (Imports have actually spiked on the rumors even though it’s Sunday: normally we import 400-600 posts an hour from Tumblr, last hour it was over 72,000.)

News like this, whether from a friend or a competitor, is always bittersweet: I’m curious to see what the creative folks behind Tumblr do with their new resources, both personal and corporate, but I’m more interested to know what they would have done over the next 5-10 years as an independent company. I think we’re at the cusp of understanding the ultimate value of web publishing platforms, particularly ones that work cross-domain, and while Yahoo’s all-cash deal by some metrics, like revenue, is very generous, I think it’s a tenth of the value that will be created in these platforms over the coming years.

Update: Some people are reading too much into the import numbers — I don’t think there will be an exodus from Tumblr. For more color read the comments on this post.

Categories
WordPress

A Response

Let me do my best to respond to the inquiries have been coming in, only some of these are direct quotes.

There is a shorter version of this available too.

Is this an April Fool’s joke?

Unfortunately not. If I was more clever perhaps I could make it a killer intro for one, but that’ll have to wait for next year.

What was your thinking behind accepting the advertising?

Categories
Automattic

Act Two

You’ve probably seen the news on GigaOM, Automattic has raised a new “series B” round of funding. We’re entering what I consider Act II of the Automattic story. I’ll talk about where we’re going, but first some history.

In 2005 Automattic was small. Through some miracle I had convinced Donncha O Caoimh, Andy Skelton, and Ryan Boren to leave their safe jobs, join a company with almost no money in the bank run by someone with no experience, and whose core idea was to give away and open source all our core IP. There were more questions than answers. Would a hosted version of WordPress move beyond the geek appeal the OS project had? How would the virtual company with no office work? Could we develop a service alongside an OS project without screwing both of them up? Should I raise money? Most importantly, would it scale?

In 2006 we developed a series of answers (sometimes hard-learned) to those questions. WordPress was obviously limited by its installation requirements — when it was added as a one-click to web hosts and when WordPress.com (and other MU hosts) made it simple to get a blog the popularity grew beyond what I could have ever imagined. In the WordPress.org world it wasn’t perfect — I consider the long period between versions 2.0 and 2.1 a personal failure — but after that initial bump the development really picked up and the community and usage exploded. There have been 5,880,790 downloads of WordPress.org since Automattic started. (3,852,554 in the past year alone.)

We ended up raising a small amount of money (1.1 million) to allow the company to take some risks without worrying about payroll but we ended up using very little of that capital because revenues grew quickly, allowing us to remain break-even even as the team scaled to 18 full-time folks and a number of contractors. Toni Schneider left Yahoo to join as CEO, a partner I couldn’t imagine getting along better with, and we started to look like a real company despite having no office and some of us never meeting in person.

Fast forward to 2007: many of the seeds planted started to really bloom. On WordPress.com 1.8 million new users joined, they created 25 million posts, we served 3.2 billion dynamic pageviews, and grew to reach over 100 million unique users worldwide. Akismet blocked billions of spams from reaching blogs. Nearly every major media organization, from the NY Times, WSJ, CNN, Fox, Time, People, and more, have embraced WordPress. Finally the approach of serious acquisition or majority-stake investments brought up the biggest question we’d faced so far: should we sell, or build out Automattic to be an independent company for many years to come.

That decision actually wasn’t hard. I couldn’t stop thinking about the opportunities and it became clear that the road ahead was much longer than the road behind us.

That brings us to today. The New York Times, the flagship of media, is joining our existing investors Polaris, True, and Radar in expanding their minority stake in the company. Automattic is now positioned to execute on our vision of a better web not just in blogging, but expanding our investment in anti-spam, identity, wikis, forums, and more — small, open source pieces, loosely joined with the same approach and philosophy that has brought us this far.

See also: GigaOM, Toni Schneider, New York Times, Techcrunch, Wall Street Journal, Mark Jaquith, Jackie Danicki, Mark Evans, Mathew Ingram, Michael Bazeley, Venturebeat, Lloyd Budd, Raanan Bar-Cohen, bu.blicio.us, VC Mike.

P.S. I’ve moved to a new domain, ma.tt, but more on that later. You can subscribe to my feed here.

Categories
Automattic

Woo & Automattic

For years, we’ve been working on democratizing publishing, and today more people have independent sites built on open source software than ever before in the history of the web. Now, we want to make it easy for anyone to sell online independently, without being locked into closed, centralized services — to enable freedom of livelihood along with freedom of expression.

It’s not a new idea: at a WordCamp a few years ago, someone stood up and asked me when we were going to make it as easy to create an online store as we’d made it to create a blog. Everyone applauded; there’s long been demand for better ecommerce functionality, but it’s been outside the scope of what Automattic could do well.

That changes today — drum roll — as WooCommerce joins the Automattic team to make it easier for people to sell online. Along with Woo’s announcement, here’s a short video explaining more:

In the past few years, WooCommerce really distinguished itself in its field. Just like WordPress as a whole, it developed a robust community around its software, and its products meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

Woo is also a team after Automattic’s own distributed heart: WooCommerce is created and supported by 55 people in 16 countries. Added to Automattic’s 325 people in 37 countries, that’s a combined 380-person company across 42 countries — the sun never sets.* I can’t wait to meet all my new colleagues.

Just like us, the vast majority of WooCommerce’s work is also open source and 100% GPL. And just like WordPress, you’ll find WooCommerce meetups popping up everywhere, from Los Angeles to London, and its global and community-focused work together to make the users’ experiences the best they can be.

ecomm-trends The stats are impressive: the WooCommerce plugin has over 7.5 million downloads and a million+ active installs; BuiltWith’s survey of ecommerce platforms shows Woo passing up Magento in the top million, with about triple the number of total sites. Even a conservative estimate that WooCommerce powers 650,000 storefronts means they’re enabling a huge number of independent sellers. They’ve added a tremendous amount to the WordPress ecosystem (alongside everyone else working in this area).

WordPress currently powers about 23% of the web. As we work our way toward 51%, WooCommerce joining Automattic is a big step opening WordPress up to an entirely new audience. I can’t wait to see how much more we can build together.

Automattic turns ten next month: another amazing milestone I couldn’t have imagined a decade ago. Today’s news is just the first of a number of announcements we have planned for the remainder of the year, so please stay tuned! There’s still so much work to do.

* Want to work with us? We’re hiring. Bonus points if you live in Antarctica, the only continent we don’t have covered.

As I said in the video, please drop any questions you might have in the comments and I’ll answer them as soon as I can. Also check out the posts from Mark and Magnus.

Read more: Mashable, Recode, Techcrunch, Venturebeat.