It’s not every day you see noted writer Cory Doctorow refer to a column as “the piece I’m most proud of,” and his essay in Locus Magazine on IP doesn’t disappoint, connecting the free software movement and the evolution of the term “author’s monopolies” to “intellectual property.”
On a Founder’s Field Guide episode with Patrick O’Shaughnessy we had an interesting conversation that covered a lot new ground, including an idea I’ve been playing around with on, as Patrick put it:
The idea from @photomatt that the best companies are those that build intricate worlds (in the same way that J. R. R. Tolkien came up with the elvish language) will always stick with me.
We also covered the pendulum of centralization and decentralization, current challenges facing the internet, and being a connoisseur of things overlooked. You can check out the episode on Apple, Google, Spotify, Overcast, and Pocket Casts.
I’ve been impressed by the audience of this podcast, a lot of people I admire reached out after this episode.
Excited to welcome Parse.ly to the Automattic family, in an acquisition that’s closing today. They’ll be joining our enterprise group, WPVIP. The deal has been nicely covered in the Wall Street Journal and Axios. As a bonus, here’s Parse.ly co-founder Andrew Montalenti’s first comment on this blog, in 2012.
Great article, Matt. I wrote about this on my blog — Fully Distributed Teams: Are They Viable?
In it, I drew the distinction between “horizontally scaled” teams, in which physical offices are connected to remote workers via satellite (home or commercial) offices, and “fully distributed” teams where, as you said, “the creative center and soul of the organization on the internet, and not in an office.”
At Parse.ly, we’re only a couple years old but have been operating on the distributed team model, with ~13 fully distributed employees, and it’s working well. Always glad to hear stories about how Automattic has scaled it to 10X our size.
I learned something novel about how the ice age happened from this Freakishly Strong Base post by Morgan Housel:
The prevailing idea before [Wladimir] Köppen was that ice ages occur when the earth’s tilt supercharges the wrath of cold winters. Köppen showed that wasn’t the case. Instead, moderately cool summers are the culprit.
It begins when a summer never gets warm enough to melt the previous winter’s snow. The leftover ice base makes it easier for snow to accumulate the following winter, which increases the odds of snow sticking around in the following summer, which attracts even more accumulation the following winter. Perpetual snow reflects more of the sun’s rays, which exacerbates cooling, which brings more snowfall, and on and on.
You start with a thin layer of snow left over from a cool summer that no one pays much attention to, and after a few tens of thousands of years the entire earth is covered in miles-thick ice.
Fascinating! The blog goes on to apply the idea to that strong base, accumulating a bit at a time, to investing and business. The power of compounding seems appropriate to share on the day Jeff Bezos announced his retirement.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Charlie Munger, which is also how the article ends:
The iceberg photo is one I took near Svalbard in 2011.
Of all the smart home upgrades I’ve made, replacing all my regular smoke detectors with Nest Protects (Google’s smoke detector) has been the one that I regret the most.
I don’t really need a smart smoke detector. It doesn’t need to talk, connect to wifi, and cost hundreds of dollars. I don’t need it integrated with my Google account which is impossible to share, so I need to be personally involved to replace one.
But other smoke detectors are just so unsightly, and the Nest is light years ahead of the competition from a design standpoint.
There’s such an opportunity for something that looks as good as the Nest, but doesn’t require two-factor authentication to replace. I didn’t want to call it dumb but beautiful, so let’s say “autonomous and beautiful” appliances and home devices. I still want it to be smart, but if you’re going to have the risk profile of a device that connects to the internet, it needs to be worth it, like Brilliant, Sonos, smart TVs, or connected cameras.
I’m becoming more wary of any hardware that requires an app, just because of the natural decay of non-SaaS and non-open source software. Van Moof bikes are beautiful, but will they still connect well when iOS 24 is out and Bluetooth has been removed from iPhones for security reasons?
Derek Thompson’s writing for the Atlantic has been some of the most interesting this year. His latest, The Workforce Is About to Change Dramatically, is worth a close read. He gives good arguments for and against how remote working will change real estate, entrepreneurship, and something I’ve been meaning to write about but he did a much better job, how the great migration happening away from superstar cities could reshape politics.
I sincerely hope that all the people moving to new places are registering to vote in their new home, as I did when I moved from San Francisco back to Houston in 2011. The following year was 2012 and in Harris County (Houston) with 4.263 million people, Obama won by 585 votes. I was one of those votes.
Kathleen Morrison, in News & Views (“Failure and how to avoid it” Nature 440, 752–754; 2006), notes that societies have often prevented collapse by adopting new technological strategies. In today’s world, where one of the most-talked about prospects for collapse is an epidemic of infectious disease, it is worth remembering that perhaps we already have the technological strategy to avoid it — the Internet.
Remote working, made possible by the Internet (‘telepresence’), is already a key component of national and business pandemic plans. Telepresence can inhibit viral transmission by reducing human-to-human contact. Prepared organizations can leverage telepresence to allow continued productivity and functioning of supply chains during an outbreak.
He explores these ideas as well in his Long Now talk in April 2010, in which he talked about Six Easy Steps to Avert the Collapse of Civilization. Here’s an excerpt from that talk covering telepresence and telemedicine. Both videos have had under a thousand views so far. When you watch this remember that it was April, 2010!
This is the topic of his new book, The Safety Net: Surviving Pandemics and Other Disasters.
There were more good questions than we had time to get to, so at the end I suggested that we continue the conversation here, in the comments section! Comments are the best part of blogging.
So if you have a question we didn’t get to, please drop it below. If you don’t have a Gravatar yet now’s a good time to make one.
Sarah Holder at Citylab has an interesting article on a program that paid people $10,000, a year of co-working, and a subsidized apartment to move to Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Traditionally, cities looking to spur their economies may offer incentives to attract businesses. But at a time when Americans are moving less frequently than they have in more than half a century, and the anticlimactic race to host an Amazon HQ2 soured some governments on corporate tax breaks, Tulsa is one of several locales testing out a new premise: Pay people instead.
I love this idea, and hope that after the permanent step-up in remote work from the virus we see much more internal mobility between cities in the United States.
I’ve really had enough of this term “social distancing.” That is not at all what we are looking for, is it? It should be “physical distancing.” In these times of rampant loneliness (especially for seniors), disconnection, and lack of empathy and compassion, we need the opposite — social connecting. And we need it under these circumstances more than ever. Let’s be creative in finding new ways to come together.Adam Gazzaley, M. D., Ph. D, University of California, San Francisco
Update: On March 20th, the World Health Organization has officially updated it’s recommendation to “physical distancing.”
The Information wrote Business as Usual — Remotely, which includes “85% of its 900 employees working from their homes” Hashicorp, which just raised $175M at a $5.1B valuation today. (I have to get them on Distributed.) Here’s my part:
A survey of American workers by the polling firm Gallup found that in 2016 43% of employees worked remotely at least some of the time, up from 39% in 2012. Of those remote workers, almost a third spent 80% or more of their time working remotely in 2016, compared to 24% in 2012. In computer-related professions, 57% did some remote work in 2016, according to Gallup.
That includes tech companies like Automattic, which makes WordPress and other software products and has been almost entirely remote since it was founded in 2005. At one point, it opened a large office in San Francisco for employees who preferred a more traditional work environment, but it got rid of that space in 2016 because of how little people used it.
“We had this 15,000-square-foot place with only five people coming into it,” said Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic, which acquired Tumblr last year.
Now Automattic rents only one small co-working space in a WeWork suite in New York and uses another small office in San Francisco exclusively for board meetings. It manages its remote workforce using Slack and Zoom and gives new employees $2,000 so they can purchase home office equipment.
Employees can also get up to $250 per month for access to a co-working space or for daily coffees at a local coffee shop. But Mullenweg says only about 300 of the company’s 1,200 employees chose to work somewhere other than a home office.
“I hope there can be a silver lining to this crisis, which we all hope is over as soon as possible, that enables people to reexamine how they work and how they interact with things and improve it,” said Mullenweg. “I’m happy to spread the gospel wherever possible for distributed work. I think it’s better for companies, employees, the environment and the world. There are very few downsides.”
The Information is a worthwhile subscription if you’re in the tech business.
About eight of the speakers including myself are going to be doing a livestream tomorrow from 2 to 10 UTC, or what would be 9am to 5pm in Bangkok where the inaugural WordCamp Asia was supposed to happen this weekend.
We’d all much rather be in person, but I do think there is a silver lining in us learning how to do official WordPress livestream events that can be accessible to everyone all over the world, following in the footsteps awesome virtual events like WordSesh.
As a follow-on to my lists in 2017 and 2018, here are the books I completed this year. I’ve linked all to the Kindle edition except the Great Mental Models, which is so gorgeous in hardcover you should get that one, and the The World is Sound isn’t available as an ebook. Bold are ones I particularly enjoyed or found myself discussing with others a lot.
- The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coehlo
- 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
- No Longer at Ease by Chinua Achebe
- Imagine it Forward by Beth Comstock
- The Great Mental Models Vol. 1 by Shane Parrish
- Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright
- There Will Be No Miracles Here by Casey Gerald
- Less by Andrew Sean Greer
- Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
- nejma by Nayyirah Waheed
- Trust Exercise by Susan Choi (also on Obama’s book list, and based on the high school I went to, HSPVA)
- Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford
- The Way to Love by Anthony de Mello
- The Fifth Agreement by Don Miguel Ruiz, Don Jose Ruiz, and Janet Mills
- Empty Planet by Darrell Bricker
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
- How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elian Mazlish
- Make it Scream, Make it Burn by Leslie Jamison
- A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright
- Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind by Annaka Harris
- The World Is Sound: Nada Brahma: Music and the Landscape of Consciousness by Joachim-Ernst Berendt
- The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer and Diana Chapman
- Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse
- Four Soldiers by Hubert Mingarelli
- Working by Robert Caro
- Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
- Skin in the Game by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
- The Devil’s Financial Dictionary by Jason Zweig
- How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell (also on Obama’s book list)
What’s interesting is that if you were to purchase every single one of those books, it would be about $349. You could get them all for nothing from your local library, even on a Kindle. The money I spend on books is by far and away the best investment I make every year — books expand my mind and enrich my life in a way that nothing else does.
Over the summer Terence Tao, a Fields Medal-winning mathematician considered one of the best of his generation, got an anonymous comment on his WordPress blog post from 2011 exploring the Collatz conjecture — one of the most persistent problems in math — suggesting he explore the problem for “almost all” numbers. Terence has been a regular WP.com blogger since 2007 and he and his commenters make extensive use of our LaTeX feature to express and embed equations.
That anonymous comment led him to an important breakthrough on the Collatz Conundrum, as Quanta Magazine reports. If you want great comments, you as the author have to participate in them and Terence is incredibly active in engaging with the commenters on his site.
I’ve always said that comments are the best part of blogging, but this is a particularly cool example. Here’s Terence’s latest post on it, with an excellent comment thread following.
I enjoyed this fun video from xkcd’s Randall Munroe on different ways you could power your home, illustrated. Check out his book How To for more in the same vein.
As Venturebeat has picked up, Mark Davies will be leaving Vivint and joining the merry band. Automattic is creating the operating system for the web, from websites to ecommerce to social networks. As we zoom past 1,100 employees in over 70 countries, we wanted a financial leader with experience taking businesses from hundreds of millions in revenue to billions (Vivint) and even tens of billions (Alcoa and Dell), as Mark has. I’m excited about working alongside such an experienced leader day-to-day to build what I hope will become one of the defining technology companies of the open web era.
The other week I ended up going back and forth in tweets with David Heinemeier Hansson, it wasn’t going anywhere but he graciously invited me to their podcast and we were able to expand the discussion in a way I found really refreshing and mind-opening.
DHH and I have philosophies around work and open source that I believe overlap 95% or more, so that makes where we have differences all that more interesting to mine. Although we would see each other logged into the same server 15 years ago, we haven’t actually spoken directly until this podcast started, but the conversation flowed so naturally you’d think we have been talking since then.
Check out the episode on Open Source and Power on the Rework Podcast, hopefully you enjoy listening as much as we enjoyed recording it.
Today Automattic announced it has closed a new $300 million Series D, with Salesforce Ventures taking the entire round. This puts us at a post-round valuation of $3 billion, three times what it was after our last fundraising round in 2014. It’s a tremendous vote of confidence for Automattic and for the open web.
I met Marc Benioff earlier this year, and it became obvious to both of us that Salesforce and Automattic shared a lot of principles and philosophies. Marc is a mindful leader and his sensibilities and sense of purpose feel well aligned with our own mission to make the web a better place. He also helped open my eyes to the incredible traction WordPress and WP VIP has seen in the enterprise market, and how much potential there still is there. I’ve also loved re-connecting with Bret Taylor who is now Salesforce’s President and Chief Product Officer. Bret’s experience across Google Maps, Friendfeed, Facebook, Quip, and now transforming Salesforce makes him one of the singular product thinkers out there and our discussion of Automattic’s portfolio of services have been very helpful already.
For Automattic, the funding will allow us to accelerate our roadmap (perhaps by double) and scale up our existing products—including WordPress.com, WordPress VIP, WooCommerce, Jetpack, and (in a few days when it closes) Tumblr. It will also allow us to increase investing our time and energy into the future of the open source WordPress and Gutenberg.
The Salesforce funding is also a vote of confidence for the future of work. Automattic has grown to more than 950 employees working from 71 countries, with no central office for several years now. Distributed work is going to reshape how we spread opportunity more equitably around the world. There continue to be new heights shown of what can be achieved in a distributed fashion, with Gitlab announcing a round at $2.75B earlier this week.
Next year Automattic celebrates 15 years as a company! The timing is fortuitous as we’ve all just returned from Automattic’s annual Grand Meetup, where more than 800 of us got together in person to share our experiences, explore new ideas, and have some fun. I am giddy to work alongside these wonderful people for another 15 years and beyond.
If you’re curious my previous posts on our fundraising, here’s our 2006 Series A, 2008 Series B, 2013 secondary, and 2014 Series C. As before, happy to answer questions in the comments here. I also did an exclusive interview with Romain Dillet on (WP-powered) Techcrunch.