Category Archives: Asides

Interesting links.

There’s fascinating and terrifying feature article about Facebook, Duterte, and the drug war in the Philippines, written by Davey Alba. My first trip there was actually to Davao, and having been to the country several times and met so many bloggers there it’s hard to imagine what’s described. There are definitely echoes of the Wired feature on Facebook and ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. Both are good reminders that as technologists the tools we create can be used and leveraged in ways we wouldn’t imagine in our worst nightmares.

Brett Martin has an excellent longread in GQ, Houston Is the New Capital Of Southern Cool. I moved to San Francisco when I was 20, I hadn’t ever even been old enough to drink in Houston, but when I returned in my late twenties and really made it my home I was blown away at how much the city had changed in the time I had been away. Or maybe I just grew up enough to appreciate it. Regardless, Brett captures the verve and paradoxes of the city well.

 

This week I spoke with TechCrunch about one facet of distributed work that differs from physical offices — the idea of “office politics.” I can’t claim that distributed work will solve everyone’s personal differences, but I do think it relieves some of the pressures that might come from forced cohabitation and environments that are prone to interruption. They also have some great points from Jason Fried and and Wade Foster.

Yes, it is a press, certainly, but a press from which shall soon flow in inexhaustible streams the most abundant and most marvelous liquor that has ever flowed to relieve the thirst of man! [….] A spring of pure truth shall flow from it! Like a new star, it shall scatter the darkness of ignorance, and cause a light heretofore unknown to shine among men.

— Johannes Gutenberg

From Dan Knauss via Post Status.

My Recode Decode Interview with Kara Swisher

“We want to make the best tools in the world, and we want to do it for decades to come. I’ve been doing WordPress for 15 years, I want to do it the rest of my life.”

The last time I chatted with Kara was in 2013 in the back of a pedicab in Austin. This time I got to sit in the red chair at Vox headquarters in San Francisco, and per usual Kara was thoughtful, thorough and to the point: we talked about WordPress and the future of the open web, the moral imperative of user privacy, and how it all relates to what’s going on at Facebook.

(As it turns out, Facebook also is turning off the ability for WordPress sites — and all websites — to post directly to users’ profile pages. The decision to shut down the API is ostensibly to fight propaganda and misinformation on the platform, but I think it’s a big step back for their embrace of the open web. I hope they change their minds.)

Kara and I also talked about distributed work, Automattic’s acquisition of Atavist and Longreads, and why every tech company should have an editorial team. Thanks again to Kara and the Recode team for having me.

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.

Lawrence Pearsall Jacks in Education through Recreation, 1932

I’m a huge fan of Mailchimp, but dang does the service get abused by folks aggressively opting you into mailing lists. I have a very early, very generic Gmail address that people put as a filler address into every possible service and it gets tens of thousands of list and spam mails. A good trick to find and unsubscribe from all the Mailchimp lists you’re on is to search for mcsv.net and then select all, report as spam, and unsubscribe. Gmail doesn’t deal well when the unsubscribe list is taller than your screen, so you may need to hit command + - a few times to make it all fit. Also according to this post, “you can also get in touch with our compliance team directly at compliance@mailchimp.com with the email address you would like to remove from all lists and they will be happy to further assist you there as well.” I will try that as well.

Atavist & Automattic

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, and an interview about on the WP.com blog, Automattic has acquired the Atavist platform, magazine, and team. Looking forward to working alongside the team: we’re keeping the magazine going and it’ll complement Longreads, and integrating the best of the platform’s CMS and publisher features into WordPress.com and Jetpack and after that’s done providing an upgrade path so all of its publishers can move to being WordPress-powered.

I really love this thread and the replies sharing stories about Val Vesa’s experience talking about WordPress in an Uber / Lyft ride:

Elif Batuman, who was recently a Pulitzer finalist for her novel The Idiot, has a stunning story in the New Yorker on Japan’s Rent-a-Family Industry, “People who are short on relatives can hire a husband, a mother, a grandson. The resulting relationships can be more real than you’d expect.”

You think from the title it’s going to be one of those gee-whiz stories or vaguely condescending toward Japanese, but what follows is actually an incredibly poignant and powerful view of society through a lens I had never imagined before. It’s a #longread but I hope you take the time to sit with it this weekend. You may need a swordsman.

From Bertrand Russell’s A Conquest of Happiness.

It is very singular how little men seem to realize that they are not caught in the grip of a mechanism from which there is no escape, but that the treadmill is one upon which they remain merely because they have not noticed that it fails to take them up to a higher level.

He also says later, “There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.” 😂

On Automattic's internal BuddyPress-powered company directory, we allow people to fill out a field saying how far their previous daily commute was. 509 people have filled that out so far, and they are saving 12,324 kilometers of travel every work day. Wow!

No Office Workstyle

Reed Albergotti has a great article titled Latest Amenity for Startups: No Office. You can put in your email to read I believe but it's behind a paywall otherwise. The Information is a pretty excellent site that alongside (former Automattician) Ben Thompson's Stratechery I recommend subscribing to. Here are some quotes from the parts of the article that quote me or talk about Automattic:

So it’s no coincidence that one of the first companies to operate with a distributed workforce has roots in the open source movement. Automattic, the company behind open source software tools like WordPress, was founded in 2005 and has always allowed its employees to work from anywhere. The company’s 680 employees are based in 63 countries and speak 79 languages. Last year, it closed its San Francisco office, a converted warehouse — because so few employees were using it. It still has a few coworking spaces scattered around the globe.

Matt Mullenweg, Automattic’s founder and CEO, said that when the company first started, its employees communicated via IRC, an early form of instant messaging. Now it uses a whole host of software that’s tailor-made for remote work, and as the technology evolves, Automattic adopts what they need.

Mr. Mullenweg said Automattic only started having regular meetings, for instance, after it started using Zoom, a video conferencing tool that works even on slow internet connections.

He’s become a proponent of office-less companies and shares what he’s learned with other founders who are attempting it. Mr. Mullenweg said he believes the distributed approach has led to employees who are even more loyal to the company and that his employees especially appreciate that they don’t need to spend a chunk of their day on a commute.

“Our retention is off the charts,” he said.

And:

“Where it goes wrong is if they don’t have a strong network outside of work—they can become isolated and fall into bad habits,” Mr. Mullenweg said. He said he encourages employees to join groups, play sports and have friends outside of work. That kind of thing wouldn’t be a risk at big tech companies, where employees are encouraged to socialize and spend a lot of time with colleagues.

But for those who ask him about the negatives, Mr. Mullenweg offers anecdotal proof of a workaround.

For example, he said he has 14 employees in Seattle who wanted to beat the isolation by meeting up for work once a week. So they found a local bar that didn’t open until 5 p.m., pooled together the $250 per month co-working stipends that Automattic provides and convinced the bar’s owner to let them rent out the place every Friday.

They didn't need to pool all their co-working allowance to get the bar, I recall it was pretty cheap! Finally:

For Automattic, flying 700 employees to places like Whistler, British Columbia or Orlando, Florida, has turned into a seven-figure expense.

“I used to joke that we save it on office space and blow it on travel. But the reality is that in-person is really important. That’s a worthwhile investment,” Mr. Mullenweg said.It might take a while, but some people are convinced that a distributed workforce is the way of the future.

“Facebook is never going to work like this. Google is never going to work like this. But whatever replaces them will look more like a distributed company than a centralized one,” Mr. Mullenweg said.