The last year of my thirties! WordPress turns twenty this year. Automattic is now ~2,000 people across 98 countries. There’s so much that has happened in the past decade yet it feels very much like we’re on the cusp of something even more exciting.
This morning started well; I pulled the hammock out of the garage (it had been hiding from the rain) and read for a bit, trying to get my 5-10 minutes of sun in the first 30 minutes like Huberman suggests.
Candidly, the last year was a really challenging one for me personally. There were some beautiful moments, and I consider myself the most lucky in my family, friends, and colleagues, yet among that same group there was a lot of loss, existential health challenges, and that weighed heavily on me. It’s also my last year to get on 40 under 40 lists! 😂
Usually when people ask me what I want for my birthday I don’t have a good answer, but this year I do! As Heather Knight wrote about in the SF Chronicle, the beloved Bay Lights are coming down in March. This has to happen — the vibrations and corrosive environment of the Bay Bridge is taking lights out strand by strand. Fortunately it’s now been a decade since the lights first went up, and there’s much better technology both for the lights and how they’re mounted and attached to the suspension cables. Finally, the lights were not visible from Treasure Island or the East Bay before, but this new version 3.0 will be, which is why the artist behind the lights, Leo Villereal, is calling it Bay Lights 360.
Like the Foundation series, we can’t stop the coming period of darkness from happening, but if we raise $11M we can bring the lights back. If we raise it soon we can shorten the time they’re down to just a few months, so I’m working with the 501c3 non-profit Illuminate to help fundraise. The idea is to find ten people or organizations to put one million each, and raise the final million in a broader crowdfunding campaign, to re-light the Bay Bridge and give an incredible gift to the people from every walk of life that see the bridge, and hopefully have their spirits lifted by the art. I’ve heard 25 million people see the Bay Lights every year.
It’s a lot to raise, but every little bit helps so please donate here, and if you are interested to do a larger gift please get in touch. I’m committing a million dollars to the fundraise, and myself, Illuminate director Ben Davis, and the artist Leo Villereal are happy to personally connect with anyone considering a larger donation.
Because of some family health reasons I’m back in lockdown, so going to try and throw an online party tonight in the “Matterverse.” We’re going to party like it’s late 2020. 🎉
A few weeks ago, but what feels like a lifetime ago, I was in New York City with a few dozen extra special people from around the WordPress world. Alongside Josepha and the community we presented this review of how WordPress did in 2022, and vision for what’s coming:
This is a big deal. There are a lot of big deals happening right now, it’s honestly a very exciting time to be in tech. I feel like a sailor in a tumultuous sea, and they should have sent a poet. T. S. Eliot was actually the inspiration for WordPress’ tagline “Code is Poetry” and I’m reminded of this from The Dry Salvages:
O voyagers, O seamen,
You who came to port, and you whose bodies
Will suffer the trial and judgement of the sea,
Or whatever event, this is your real destination.”
So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna
On the field of battle.
Not fare well,
But fare forward, voyagers.
Automattic acquired Pocket Casts last July, and since we’ve been tapping away trying to make the best podcast client for people who love listening to podcasts.
The team has been working really hard to make those clients totally open source and available to the world, and it’s now happened. You can see all the code behind the iOS app and the Android app, and modify it, make it your own, suggest a change, fix a bug, add a feature, fork it and make your own client, anything!
If your code gets merged into core, it’ll go out to users listening to literally millions of hours of podcasts a week. It’s also unusual to be able to peek under the hood of a consumer mobile app that is this widely used and see how it works.
Audio publishing and consumption is a beautiful complement to the web publishing that WordPress is already so good at, and that Automattic tries to nurture an ecosystem around. I love Spotify and Apple, and I hope that Pocket Casts can do for podcast clients what Firefox in the early days and Chromium now does for browsers — push the state of the art, be manically focused on user control, and grow a more decentralized and open web.
If you haven’t tried Pocket Casts yet, install for iOS or Android, and here’s how to import your subscriptions using a format called OPML. (And wouldn’t it be nice if trying out a new social network was that easy?)
Tumblr launched Community Labels yesterday, which allows consistent tagging of addiction, violent, and adult content, and for people to hide, blur, or show that content. It’s gone pretty well so far. We’ve still been getting a lot of questions if it’s going to be free-for-all with adult content again, and the short answer is no, but the longer answer is covered in Why “Go Nuts, Show Nuts” Doesn’t Work in 2022.
If you haven’t tried out Tumblr in a while, check it out. Lots of improvements the past few months, and it can be a refreshing alternative or add-on to your online social life. And get your friends on it too!
WordCamp United States was in San Diego this year, a really lovely town. It felt like a throwback because of the venue we had to limit tickets quite a bit, so it felt like a WCUS from a decade ago.
I’ll probably do this year’s State of the Word in December again with a livestream and small live audience, so for WCUS we did a brief introduction to the upcoming WordPress 6.1 release, and focused on audience Q&A. Those are always fun for me because you never know what question will come next. Here’s the video if you’d like to catch up on it:
If I had to pick one reason why I’d suggest every person should attend Burning Man at least once, it would be the art. (Second reason would be seeing the principles in action.) This year I am particularly excited to support two pieces, the first being the Sonic Sphere which has this great video introducing it:
I got a chance to try out a smaller prototype of this and it was a great experience. You can read a bit about the history of the Kugel Auditorium that this is based on on Ed Cooke’s blog post Which is more memorable, a Bitcoin or a Spherical Concert Hall? The Sphere will be in Deep Playa (what3words).
Another exciting new project is the Empyrean Gate at the Entheos camp, which will be at 3 and Esplanade. Here are some renderings but I can’t wait to see how it turns out in person.
From a nice new Polygon article, Our favorite Neil Gaiman books, comics, and more:
Before I elaborate — yes, people still use Tumblr and it’s far more popular than most people think. Neil Gaiman has been an active Tumblr user since 2011, and he still actively uses the microblogging platform to this day. This is notable, because celebrities have notoriously been bullied off of Tumblr. Yet somehow, Neil Gaiman has outlived them all, watching from the shadows of his own dashboard.
He keeps his ask box open and answers questions from fans. He gives life and writing advice. He talks about the various adaptations of his works, giving information he is able to give and answering with a signature “wait and see” when he cannot. He plays along with dumb jokes and reblogs additions. He helps fans track down obscure lines he’s written. And as is the reality of the internet, he deals with his share of haters and trolls, but he’s always remarkably graceful toward them.
He also reblogs posts, adding on new information, providing funny commentary, or giving helpful tips (this usually causes some surprise from people who organically stumble upon a comment from Neil Gaiman in the wild, and it’s always really amusing to see).
He’s just a good presence on the internet, which is exceedingly rare to see these days.
I’m seeing more and more people use Tumblr in this way, and it’s nice to be part of making the web a more interesting place. If you haven’t tried Tumblr recently, download the app and start with Neil’s blog as a subscription. Hat tip: Matthew Ryan.
Today is the 19th anniversary since WordPress’ first release, which is especially exciting for a number of reasons:
- The community put together an awesome site celebrating the occasion at wp19.day.
- We just had an awesome 6.0 “Arturo” release.
- Next week June 2-4 WordCamp Europe returns in-person in Porto, Portugal, and I’ll be there and so excited to connect with the community! Tickets are still available.
- Nineteen seems like an in-between number, but actually it’s very salient for me because now WordPress is the same age I was when the first release came out.
- Which means I’ve now been working on WordPress half my life!
Cheers and here’s to many more years together. 🥂
I spoke with Guy Raz about the early days of WordPress and Automattic on the latest episode of “How I Built This (listen on Pocket Casts).” We ended up talking for over four hours and the show has skillfully edited this down to just over an hour. We discussed my time at CNET, how I accidentally invented a new way to spam, why we didn’t sell Automattic, my feelings on Wix and competitors like Shopify (sponsor of this episode, hah, in which I speak about how their dashboard looks just like WordPress’s). Guy pivoted the conversation to grief that came with the loss of my father and challenges we faced during the pandemic. He kept the conversation going effortlessly and I had a great time taping the episode. Thanks to Guy and his team for a great experience.
In a podcast interview they’ve titled How WordPress and Tumblr Are Keeping the Internet Weird (listen on audio here), I spoke with Nilay Patel on economics of abundance vs scarcity, Amitabh Bachchan, the future of Tumblr and adult content, Gutenberg, Promethean app design, web3, NFTs, and more. A nice follow-up to our conversation in 2019.
I usually wouldn’t do a post about this, but I was so surprised I had to share. I picked up a Jabra Evolve2 30 UC wired headset, with USB-C, because my friend Hugo loves the wireless Jabra and I’ve been using an older USB-A headset and thought it would be nice to not need an adapter. I also thought for $89 it must be good. The reviews were also really solid (4.3 on Amazon right now).
Do not buy this headset. There was a constant buzz/hum in the speaker, people sounded lower quality, and the mic also was lower quality. On the plus side, it was a nice build quality and comfort.
For $29 cheaper ($60) the Sennheiser SC 135 USB-C had better speaker, way better mic quality, very nice build and comfort. Get that one instead.
One of my favorite magazines, that I have issues going back to the 40s and 50s, has relaunched and redesigned their site on WordPress and it’s gorgeous. Speaking of great redesigns, the new Grist is pretty great too.
Since Frontity launched their open source framework, they have been making the integration between React and WordPress easier. Their proven drive and experience with clean technological solutions will benefit our efforts as we continue to make the block and theme APIs a joy to use and WordPress the best development platform on the web.
I believe there’s still a lot that we can learn from decoupled systems and we can incorporate those learnings into WordPress itself as we emphasize performance, flexibility, and ease of development. I look forward to Frontity joining WordPress and channeling their efforts into the WordPress APIs, documentation, and Gutenberg’s full-site editing tools.
I’m not sure when I first came across the critically acclaimed Day One product, which is the best private blogging and journaling app out there, but I began seriously using it daily in 2016 when my father was in the ICU and later passed. Having a private, safe place to write what I was going through kept me sane and helped me process everything.
Writing has always been a salve for me, and I’ve had local or private WordPress installations pretty much since 2003 to capture and archive writing that wasn’t fit for the public web.
Day One not only nails the experience of a local blog (or journal as they call it) in an app, but also has (built) a great technical infrastructure — it works fantastic (when) offline and has a fully encrypted sync mechanism, so the data that’s in the cloud is secured in a way that even someone with access to their database couldn’t decode your entries, it’s only decrypted on your local device. Combining encryption and sync in a truly secure way is tricky, but they’ve done it.
This is a long intro to say, as you can read from Day One’s founder and CEO Paul Mayne, from Eli at WordPress.com, and on Tumblr, that Paul and the team are joining the team at Automattic. For many years I’ve talked to anyone who will listen about my vision of making Automattic the Berkshire Hathaway of the internet, and Paul’s decision to continue to grow his amazing business as part of Automattic is a great validation of the way we’ve been building our culture and long-term orientation in our business. Day One is a beloved product, and bringing it into the fold is a responsibility I take very seriously and comes from a deep respect for what’s been built and a belief that working together we can create something for users better than we could working apart.
Great software takes time, and the Day One team has been at it for about a decade now, I can’t wait to see what they accomplish in the coming decade and beyond. If you haven’t tried out Day One yet, please check it out in the Apple or Google’s app store.
So this is an open thread, if you have any question from the talk please drop it in the comments here, and myself or someone in the community will respond! We’ll keep this open for a day or so.
Today marks eighteen years since the very first release of WordPress. I consider myself so lucky to have co-founded the project alongside Mike Little. Who could have imagined that our nights and weekends hacking on blogging software, a fork of b2/cafelog, could turn into something powering over 40% of the web? Or that nearly twenty years in, it would be getting better faster than it ever has been?
I blogged these anniversaries when WordPress was five, ten, fifteen, and last year at seventeen, but as the project reaches an age that, if it were a child, it would be heading off to college, I’m uncharacteristically at a loss for words.
The overwhelming feeling is one of gratitude, so I want to say thank you to every person who has ever been involved with making WordPress as a contributor, a community organizer, or as an end-user of the software. It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we work together.
Squarespace filed their S-1 last month, and went a direct listing route for their stock today under the ticker SQSP, so I’ve been getting lots of questions on my thoughts on their business. It’s easier to share here in a blog than individually.
Squarespace’s CEO Anthony Casalena is a thoughtful, creative leader. It’s amazing what he’s built since 2003, and he obviously has many decades ahead of him. From our conversations I know how seriously he takes the craft not just of designing great products, but designing great organizations that will stand the test of time.
Squarespace is a customer-centric company, that has reliable, well-designed services, great support, and puts their customers first by allowing things like standards-based export. I’ve always observed them to behave and compete with the highest of ethics.
Their products work well, and they’ve been strategic in their acquisitions, including recently Tock which I’m a big fan of.
Their metrics are great, and there’s huge opportunity still. If you add up all the companies (including Automattic) in the independent web space it’s still only tens of millions of subscribers. I truly believe the eventual audience is every business in the world, and a good chunk of the 7 billion individuals, so there is so much room for everyone to grow.
How about the stock? Some of my favorite investing advice comes from Charlie Munger:
“I could improve your ultimate financial welfare by giving you a ticket with only twenty slots in it so that you had twenty punches representing all the investments that you got to make in a lifetime. And once you’d punched through the card, you couldn’t make any more investments at all. Under those rules, you’d really think carefully about what you did and you’d be forced to load up on what you’d really thought about.”
If I had to pick between Squarespace or Wix, I’d pick Squarespace every time. They’re a company you could punch the card with. They’ve built a great brand through their marketing and rightly earned trust with their customers and within the community as a good business, and they have a founder-led path to success for many years to come. I’m wishing them the best in their next chapter as a public company.