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.
The WordPress community has long advocated for a repository with GPL-compatible images, and it’s time to listen to that need. CC Search, a CC0 (Creative Commons Zero) image search engine, is joining the WordPress project with over 500 million openly licensed and public domain images discoverable from over 50 sources, audio and video soon to come.
I am a long-time supporter of Creative Commons and their influential work on open content licenses, and when we heard they were considering shutting down their CC Search engine we immediately started exploring ways we could keep it going. I am eager to give a new home to their open search product on WordPress.org in continued commitment to open source freedoms, and providing this community resource for decades to come. This is an important first step to provide a long-term, sustainable challenger to proprietary libraries like Unsplash.
Automattic has hired key members of the CC Search team and will sponsor their contributions as part of our Five for the Future commitment. I look forward to seeing the project grow and welcome them to the WordPress community! Will share in a few weeks when everything is live and running on the site.
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.
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.”