The story has completely broken now (TechCrunch, GigaOM, NY Times) that Six Apart is being is being acquired by VideoEgg, and the combined entities are going to be called Say Media and focus on advertising. This is bittersweet news as Six Apart, with their platforms, has always been Automattic’s and WordPress’s most direct competitor, with Movable Type equivalent to WordPress.org, Typepad (and Livejournal and Vox) to WordPress.com, Typepad anti-spam to Akismet, Typepad Connect to IntenseDebate. I’ve always thought of them like our big brother — they created the marketplace and introduced the concept of blogs to countless people, and still to this day employ 2-3x the number of people at Automattic. (And, it follows, probably do more revenue than us.) I remember many aspects of Six Apart’s history vividly: Anil joining Six Apart in 2003. The 3.0 licensing change and Mark Pilgrim’s Freedom 0 essay, a few weeks later when I first met Ben and Mena on my first trip to San Francisco, visiting Six Apart’s old old digs in an office park somewhere. They had clocks on their walls where their different employees were and I thought that was the coolest thing. Jay Allen joining MT. Typekey launch! The Salon feature. The acquisition of Livejournal. Yadis née OpenID. Their big series B. Mena’s TED Talk. Project Comet which launched as Vox and frankly had me freak out. Acquisition of Rojo (with Chris Alden later becomeing 6A’s CEO). Typepad introducing Pages. Livejournal sold to SUP. The tift we got into around WordPress 2.5. On stage with Steve Jobs at launch of app store. Buying Pownce. (Some of this is out of order.) About a year ago something changed and the Typepad (and Blogger) team really started to hit a groove and seemed to be launching significant, well thought out, and social features on a near-weekly basis. On a feature-for-feature basis the Big Three are closer than they’ve ever been. The tech press is fickle and these launches get almost no coverage, but for each platform’s respective users they’ve been really meaningful. The new company is not getting out of the platform business. Their position is incredibly strong in Japan and I get the sense that’s where the center of gravity for Movable Type development has been for a while. But their primary focus (and revenue) is shifting, and I think that is great for the market as a whole. I would be really sad if Adsense continues to be the best best the world can come up with with regards to advertising on blogs, and now in Say you have the quiet execution monster of Videoegg combined with some of the folks who understand blogging better than anyone else in the world, and my hope is that Automattic’s work with dovetail with Say’s more than ever. VideoEgg, for now, is actually a great example of a site using WordPress as a CMS. (View its source.)
As I write this, I’m on my way to Seaside, Florida to see 60+ Automatticians at our yearly meetup. More than sixty… that number astounds me! Automattic has grown so far beyond what I originally imagined and every day I’m amazed by my colleagues and the things they create. Today we’re growing in another way: Automattic has transferred the WordPress trademark to the WordPress Foundation, the non-profit dedicated to promoting and ensuring access to WordPress and related open source projects in perpetuity. This means that the most central piece of WordPress’s identity, its name, is now fully independent from any company.
This is a really big deal.
I want to recognize and applaud the courage and foresight of Automattic’s board, investors, and legal counsel who made this possible: Mike Hirshland, Phil Black, Tony Conrad, Toni Schneider, Gunderson Dettmer. I’d also like to thank Matt Bartus of Dorsey & Whitney for their counsel on the Foundation side. The WordPress brand has grown immeasurably in the past 5 years and it’s not often you see a for-profit company donate one of their most valuable core assets and give up control. However, I know in my heart that this is the right thing for the entire WordPress community, and they followed me on that. It wasn’t easy, but things worth doing seldom are.
When Automattic registered the WordPress trademark back in 2006, we were a small startup of a few people: a business founded largely to enable us to work on WordPress full-time instead of hacking around our day jobs. A lot has changed since then — somehow along the way we ended up with an audience of a quarter billion people — but a lot has stayed the same. We’re still a group of people in love with WordPress and free/open source software and we’re lucky to have figured out a way to contribute to the world and flourish as a business while doing it.
Automattic might not always be under my influence, so from the beginning I envisioned a structure where for-profit, non-profit, and not-just-for-profit could coexist and balance each other out. It’s important for me to know that WordPress will be protected and that the brand will continue to be a beacon of open source freedom regardless of whether any company is as benevolent as Automattic has been thus far. It’s important to me to know that we’ve done the right thing. Hopefully, it’s important to you, too, and you’ll continue your support of WordPress, the WordPress Foundation, and Automattic’s products and services. We couldn’t do it without you!
When planning and designing Twenty Ten, the new default theme in WordPress 3.0, we knew that the header would be a really prominent feature, a focal point, and wanted some good defaults to excite people about the theme. Some of the most popular themes on WP.com like Misty Look, Chaotic Soul, Ocean Mist, and Cutline all feature prominent photo headers.
It can be a pain to find appropriately licensed imagery for Open Source projects, so I asked MT to explore a bit from the random photos page on Ma.tt and see what he could find. Here are each of the images he chose, in header form and linked to the original, with the location and story behind each photo.
In December 2005 Automattic had just gotten started and I planned a Europe trip to raise awareness and also meet some of the community there. It started with Les Blogs in Paris, then to London where I met Mike Little (co-founder of WordPress), Mark Riley (then known as Podz), and Khaled for at a WP meetup. Finally I went to Ireland, specifically Blarney, where I met the first employee of Automattic Donncha O Caoimh in person and learned how to pronounce his name. We went on a photowalk together and I caught this lonely figure walking up a private road to Blarney Castle.
Just like they say youth is wasted on the young, I think I squandered school when I was in it. The idea of having no responsibilities except general edification seems like such a luxury now. When I had it all I wanted to do was hack around on the web. Now that the vast majority of my hours are hacking around on the web, it’s a huge luxury to just sit and read for a bit.
Part of that, for me, has been learning how much I don’t know. My search for learning in the past few years is why I’ve attended so many conferences. Events are usually a terrible medium for communicating information, at least how most of them are run, and most of their value is human connections. In the past years I’ve been to a few TED-style ones that were entertaining in their fast-paced format (15-20 minutes per presentation, musical or theatrical fluff to break dense ones up) and the curiosity they sparked by nature of being short and incomplete: TEDMED and EG. The format does become tiresome and exhausting after a while though, too short, and like pizza I appreciate the talks more once they’re on TED.com. (TED has one of the best post-conference experiences, and a big inspiration for WordPress.tv. Also check out FORA.tv which also has amazing content.)
So while events are a brief hit, most of my pleasure from learning comes these days from books and highly interlinked websites. Wikipedia is the canonical example, it can be so blissful to be lost in a web of great content, like a choose-your-own-adventure of information, stumbling from link to link and always ending up someplace you didn’t expect.
I wonder if there could be some sort of metric for writing that told you the ratio of time-to-create versus time-to-consume. On Twitter it’s basically 1:1, you can craft and consume a tweet in a time measured in seconds. For this blog post, it may take me an hour to write it and 5 minutes to read (not skim) it. You can work your way all the way up through 8-10,000 word essays, and books that may take years and years (or a lifetime) to create. The higher the ratio, the more potential for learning and self-improvement. (I wonder how you would measure the Wikipedia which has taken lots of people a little time.) I could easily spend four hours a day surfing hundreds of posts in Google Reader, most of them that took a few minutes to create. It’s a sugar-rush of content that crashes after an hour or two and leaves me empty and hungry. A great novel or book feeds my soul. That’s why I love the Kindle — it has helped me read again.
There are a hundred million blogs in the world, and it’s part of my job as the co-founder of WordPress to help as many people start blogging as possible. I think we’re doing pretty well on that front, but it does mean that sometimes it feels overwhelming to wade through them all and find the blogs that will be informative, entertaining, or whatever it is you’re looking for. Sometimes you might feel it’s like TV — you have a thousand channels but nothing good is on. If you want to take a dip into the blogosphere, here are ten eclectic blog picks that, if nothing else, will make you think (or at least, they make me think):
1. Scripting News is the blog of Dave Winer, the father of many technologies that are crucial to the web. Dave writes every day and you’re as likely to read about something intensely personal he’s going through, like the passing of his father, as you are to read about the real-time web.
2. Open… by Glyn Moody covers the application of Open Source thinking to fields as wide-ranging as politics, genomics, content, and of course, software.
3. Scott Berkun is a former Microsoftie who has graduated to being one of most erudite authors on innovation, creativity, management, and now public speaking. He’s like a modern-day Peter Drucker.
4. Raw Thought from Aaron Swartz is a diverse blog from a deep thinker and troublemaker. The former is evidenced by his New Yorker-length treatise on John Maynard Keynes’ General Theory, while the latter is shown in his posted FBI file (you can request yours).
5. Philip Greenspun posts “every day; an interesting idea every three months.” See how a successful startup founder and engineer thinks about his post-startup life, taxes, helicopters, and photography.
6. Tim Ferriss is best known for his best-seller The Four Hour Workweek, but I’m most impressed by his blog on “lifestyle design,” or basically taking an analytical approach to your health and happiness.
7. Paul Graham, also a successful startup founder, has transformed into a philosophical leader of entrepreneurs. He espouses his view through thoughtful essays (linked) and invests in aspiring entrepeneurs through Y Combinator.
8. The Official Dreamhost Weblog is probably the most interesting blog from a company, ever. Each entry floats and wanders through vaguely inappropriate language and visual non-sequiturs before finally bringing you back home in a way you couldn’t have predicted; it’s more crazy than corporate.
9. Signals vs. Noise is another company blog, this one from 37 Signals, but at its core is an ongoing argument for simplicity in all things: design, code, and culture.
10. XKCD is daily comic that you’ll never find in a newspaper — it’s too smart, too honest, too web. For an extra bonus, hover your mouse over the image and see a hidden caption.
11. And though it’s not a blog, check out Werner Vogel’s Twitter to get insight into the mind of the CTO of one of the most innovative technology companies in the world, Amazon.
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?
There have been a number of new platforms popping up recently that claim to increase your user engagement, get you more comments, increase your traffic, and more, through means that I consider short-sighted and harmful. Since people seem not to mind, I thought I’d write a guide for how to increase the number of comments you get by 400-1,000% and ruin whatever shred of community you had on your site.
- Don’t Moderate. Allow anybody to post anything regardless of whether it contributes to the conversation or not. Stupidity, libel, hate, curse words are all okay because in the comments you have plausible deniability. Make sure people know that whatever they post will live forever, and anything goes. The few smart people you did have in your comments will enjoy responding to these folks. Advertisers love being next to a good fight, too.
- Allow Spam Through. I don’t mean the obvious viagra mortgage stuff, but the human-written and surface-thoughtful comment that “Florida Real Estate” or “Poll Widgets” decided to leave on your entry. Or the guy who comments on every post and has a 3-link signature. Or the lame startup that mentions itself at every possible opportunity, however tangentially related it is. Once spammers catch a sniff of this stuff getting through, they’ll descend on your site like locusts and instantly double or treble your “community.”
- Force Signup. You’re not a blog, you’re a social network cum media empire and even to leave the smallest comment you should make me fill out a profile, preferably with demographic information you can use in advertiser pitches later. (*cough* CNET) Please ignore useful services like Gravatar and try to get me to upload yet another profile picture because you think that makes your site more “sticky.” (In a sense of the word, it does.)
- Don’t Participate in Comments. Make it clear that your post itself is for annointed authors who don’t mix with the hoi polloi in the comments ghetto. Don’t link or highlight anything good from the comment section; those people silly enough to contribute content to your site for free should feel ignored. If an author does happen to drop in and make a comment, make sure it doesn’t stand out from the rest so it’s lost amid the sea of…
- Random Crap from Around the Web. Make sure any comments you have are buried by every random piece of “conversation” from around the web, especially retweets, Delicious links, Digg and Slashdot comments, pretty much anything will work here. Bonus points for unmoderated pingbacks, so every scraper spam blog copying the content of the post gets a free link in the comments.
- Design Like NASCAR. The more buttons, widgets, stickers, and visual clutter the better. I want to see every possible login system including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, OpenID, Google Friend Connect, and that Myspace thing. Because of their respective crappy terms of service, use the giant buttons they insist on. Also include a megabyte of “share this” icons for every obscure service in every language. People love options! Complexity is for closers.
As a bonus, here are a few extra that don’t make any sense to me, but seem to be popular:
- Be Famous! You’ll get thousands of comments on almost everything you post and make sure only to let through the most sycophantic and saccharine, don’t tolerate real conversation or debate. To spice it up every now and then opine on a known controversial subject like abortion and let your audience loose on each other like gladiators while you watch from the stands.
- Put the Comment Form at Top. This ensures everyone making a comment hasn’t read any of the discussion so they’ll leave a comment anyway even if the exact same thing has been said already or a question has already been answered.
- No Subscriptions. Don’t allow me to get email notifications of new stuff, make me visit your site and reload the page constantly to see if there’s anything new.
- Make People Click Click Click. Ideally do 1-comment-per-page CNET-style and your pageviews will go through the roof, but if you can’t stomach that just make comments-per-page setting low or have some sort of complicated nesting scheme.
- Treat Everyone the Same. If I’ve left hundreds of great comments over many years on your site, please make me wait in the moderation queue like some random stranger off Digg. Don’t let anyone know I’m a regular, or talk to me, or invite me to test out beta stuff, or pretty much anything that acknowledges my existence or shows any degree of trust.
- Don’t Ask Anything of Your Audience. No polls, surveys, or open-ended blog entries. What do those plebes know anyway?
Shameless: IntenseDebate does all of the software stuff right, or will shortly. Core WordPress threading, moderation, and whitelists are already built in but also check out Subscribe to Comments and of course Akismet.
What are your pet peeves and rules?
My friend Jon Callaghan asked me what I recommended in terms of audiophile headphones, so I thought I’d share my answer with the world here under the Ask Matt category. I use three headphones on a regular basis, and they fall pretty nicely into low, mid, a high-end. There’s a super-high end I’m not going to cover here, because once you get into the world of headphones requiring amps you might as well just build a good open air system. I’ve tried probably two dozen headphones ranging from $50 to $1,200.
When I’m walking around on the street with my iPhone, my everyday buds are the step-up Apple In-Ear headphones, which come in around $80. They have a sweet triangle carrying case which makes them compact in my bag, and as a bonus the mic/volume remote thing works great with the 3GS, so I seldom take my phone out of my pocket. It’s also handy if you get a call, people have told me the voice quality is significantly better than calls I do on the cheapie included iPhone headphones, which always fell out of my ears too. They’re also easy to share with someone. So that’s my everyday pick.
If I’m listening to headphones at home or for a long period, I’m not a fan of in-ears because they aren’t as comfortable and my ears get “waxy” after more than about an hour. The most comfortable, best sounding, and least hassle headphones I’ve found for everyday use are the Sennheiser HD-595s, which I believe I discovered through Jeremy Zawodny. They’re big and bulky, and the cord is really long, but they’re just so darn comfortable. You can wear these all day and not mind at all. The price point is around $185–$220 on Amazon, which I linked above and I feel is an excellent value.
My final category of usage is travel, particularly on airplanes, where I want the highest fidelity, comfort, and sound isolation. Honestly in price point there’s a dead zone between around $250–$900, including all the Shures which I’ve tried and would not recommend anymore. (I used to be a Shure fan and have used their entire range.) This was the hardest category for me to crack, I tried various sound-cancellation models, but ultimately felt like they distorted the sound.
I finally ended up going with Ultimate Ear Custom line, first the UE-10 and later the UE-11. Now these are a bit of an experience, so let me walk you through what happens when you buy them. First you choose your options on the website, I’d recommend going all-clear for cord and buds, otherwise they look a bit weird. I’ve had both the 64 inch and 48 inch cord — the 48 is about exactly enough to go under a jacket and from your waist to your ears, but doesn’t give you a lot of room otherwise. I have the 64 inch now and the extra inches give me more flexibility and don’t get in the way.
So you go to the website, take out a second mortgage, and plop down $900 for the UE-10 or $1,150 for the UE-11. They then point you to a local ear specialist, which basically means someplace that does hearing aids, where they will make a mold of your ear. (Though the second time I did this it was at a cool rock and roll place in San Francisco. UE keep your molds on file, but apparently the shape changes and if it’s been more than a year you should get new ones made.) This is usually pretty cheap, and they’ll mail the molds directly to Ultimate Ears with your information. A few weeks later, your headphones show up in a fancy metal box, which now I think they put your name on.
I first got the UE-10s probably 5 years ago and the cost was really prohibitive, but then I realized that I had spent almost that much on a series of crappy headphones that kept breaking. They are also like a first-class upgrade on every flight — I’ve literally been sitting next to a crying baby in the back seat of economy and these headphones blocked the entire thing out. Close your eyes and let the music take you someplace else. They work so well because they fit your ear perfectly, so create a seal that blocks external noise, rather than having to juggle the sound to compensate like noise-canceling headphones do.
The Ultimate Ears have a feature where the cord pulls out of the buds if they get yanked really hard, presumably to prevent damage to your ear. Because I had gotten the shorter cord I kept doing this, and eventually (4 years in) I had done this so many times they didn’t really stay together properly and I kept dropping them. They also got a lot of abuse in my bag. Their ultimate demise was after I had dropped them the hundredth time and actually stepped on them, shattering the hard plastic mold. I probably could have gotten them repaired, but they were pretty far gone and decided to go for an upgrade instead for just a bit more, the UE-11s.
In the 4 years or so between my two purchases, UE definitely made some improvements to the line. The cord was thinner, didn’t have a wrap, and didn’t seem to tangle as much. The new ones came with a nice carrying case that if I had before I might not have broken the old ones so much. I’ve also never had a problem with the cord coming out like I did before. I talked Toni into the UE-10s and his new ones had all the same fit and finish. Unfortunately, don’t think the audio quality difference between the two warranted the $250 price difference. I’ve been using them about 8 months, and they’ve travelled with me hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe. Overall the UE-11s just feel a bit heavier on the bass, but not really noticeably better than the UE-10s. If in 5 years I’m buying another pair I’ll go back to the UE-10s. A downside, or upside, of the Ultimate Ear Customs is no one else can use them.
My last bit of advice is to avoid everything Bose.
I’m curious what other people have tried, and what has been the best.
Daniel Jalkut of Red Sweater Software wrote a blog post called Getting Pretty Lonely and and says, among other things, “Whenever I am reminded that WordPress is GPL, my passion for it takes a bit of a dive. I’m more comfortable with the true freedom of liberally-licensed products.” More importantly, he says that “GPL stifles participation,” and implies the same for adoption. The article was linked by John Gruber at Daring Fireball saying, “Smart essay from Daniel Jalkut on how the GPL discourages participation from many (if not most) developers.”
For what it’s worth, from my practical experience in the WordPress world:
- I’ve never encountered a serious client who chose not to use WordPress because it was GPL-licensed, and I think it’s hard to argue that WordPress’s license has had a dampening effect on its adoption, given its success over competitors with widely varying licenses.
- I think we have an incredibly strong third-party extension, plugin, and theme community that has flourished, not in spite of the GPL license, but because of it.
- I’ve seen the absence of GPL in practice; there have been times in the WordPress world when parts of the community have “gone dark” and claimed their code was under more restrictive licenses, like used to be common with themes. Every time this cycle starts it basically kills innovation in that part of the WordPress world until people start opening up their code again or until a GPL equivalent is available. I’ve seen this firsthand several times now.
WordPress first used the GPL because it was built on an existing GPL project (b2). Later I began to really understand the philosophical underpinnings of the GPL and understood it to be the most moral of the open source licenses. Now, in addition to that, my experience over the past 6 years has made me believe it to be the best license for practical purposes as well.
GPL was a license written for a different time and on the web it’s possible to find a thousand loopholes and ways around it (see: software as a service) but if you keep in mind the core freedoms and principles — share and share alike — they provide excellent guidelines for building a rich community and ecosystem: the two things that ultimately have far more to do with product success than the license. (Competitors to WP have switched to the GPL from proprietary licenses with basically no effect. License does not equal community, it’s a lot harder than that.)
Ultimately Daniel’s article falls apart on two levels, the first illustrated in a comment I left on the post:
Your biggest fallacy is “the liberal-license communities are attractive to developers from all 3 camps.”
I’m a GPL-friendly developer that is hesitant to be involved with a non-GPL project the same way your “passion for it takes a bit of a dive” when coming into contact with the GPL.
You could also make a fairly good argument that the majority of Open Source developers are GPL-friendly simply because the vast majority of Open Source projects are licensed under the GPL.
The common-knowledge number seems to be about 70% of open source projects are under the GPL and (more importantly) many of the most crucial and successful ones are. If Gruber’s “many (if not most) developers” avoid the GPL, maybe those folks aren’t that important. (In reality I think the majority of developers aren’t strongly influenced by licenses as long as they’re open source, something Daniel seems to agree with, saying “the vast majority of developers will participate in any project that is advantageous to them.”)
But more importantly, Mr Jalkut conflates what he perceives as his freedom as a developer with freedom from a user’s point of view. The things the GPL “takes away” from him, like being able to license his derivatives under a more restrictive license, are in fact protecting the freedoms of the users of his code. That’s who the GPL was written for. From the Free Software Definition:
Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software […]
It’s user freedom that the GPL was created to protect, just like the Bill of Rights was created to protect the people, not the President. The GPL introduces checks and balances into an incredibly imbalanced power dynamic, that between a developer and his/her product’s users. The only thing the GPL says you can’t do is take away the rights of your users in your work or something derived from a GPL project, that the user rights are unalienable. You are free to do pretty much whatever you want as long as it does not infringe on the freedoms of others. (Sound familiar?)
That’s what software freedom means to me, and it’s something I believe in strongly enough to fight for and defend even when it’s not the easy or popular thing to do. (Especially this weekend as we celebrate the original “fork” of the US from England.)
See also: Alex King — Breaking News WordPress is GPL.
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.
If you haven’t heard of P2 yet, check out this quick video:
Almost everyone at Automattic is a blogger, but for the first couple of years of the company we didn’t blog much internally. Everything happened over IRC, Skype, and email. (In that order.) Eventually we started a blog that worked like a traditional blog did with long posts and comments, but everyone forgot to visit it until I wrote a quick script on cron job that would email everybody summaries of new posts and comments.
There was a disconnect we couldn’t reconcile: even though our internal blogs didn’t work out most of the company was active on Twitter every day. (WordPress users are some of the most passionate adopters of micro-blogging.)
We found a solution in Prologue which added a posting box to the home page and gave it a Twitter-like feel. Now Automattic had a pulse, a place where the incredible amount of activity was chronicled and captured. It was low-friction and hassle-free, we all started using it more.
But there was still a problem, Prologue was great for status updates but terribly awkward for conversation. P2 solves all this by moving the conversation inline on the homepage. Conversations can be fully threaded using 2.7’s new comment features. Finally the blog started to get so busy we made it real time so you can just leave the page open and new stuff will come in. (It’s hard to describe, so watch the video above.) Seemingly simple changes have increased engagement many-fold: our main P2 now has over 4,700 posts in it with 1,100 of those in the past 60 days.
It completely transformed how Automattic works internally and I think is one of the most valuable things we’ve adopted in the past year. I’m on the road a lot, and sometimes my only connection is checking the mobile-optimized P2 on my iPhone.
I’m excited about P2 partly because blogs provide an incredibly robust infrastructure on which to build more advanced apps and this is a good example of that. I’d love to see more themes that transform what WordPress can do top-to-bottom.
You can get P2 for your WordPress.org blog here, and it’s available for all of WordPress.com too.
Some exciting news today: Yahoo! is transferring blo.gs to Automattic for safekeeping and further development. I’ve been a long-time fan of the service, and it even inspired the early WordPress feature which reordered your blogroll based on update times.
We’re looking forward to beefing up the service and giving it a refresh, while continuing its reputation for reliability. It makes me nostalgic to hear the name “blo.gs” again, I even still have the t-shirt they made for a Feedmesh meetup years ago. (For a big blast from the past, check out the discussion around feedmesh and real-time, distributed updates. Everything old is new again.) Major kudos to Yahoo! for giving us the chance to do so — I think most companies would have just shuttered it.
It’s magically beautiful outside in San Francisco today, but instead everyone is talking about the $7.4 billion acquisition of Sun Microsystems by Oracle. (More on Techmeme.) A number of people have contacted me with questions to the effect of “Oracle is evil, they now own MySQL, WordPress runs on MySQL, OMG! What’s next?” In addition to the millions of WordPress blogs all using MySQL, all of the projects Automattic contributes to are MySQL-based and we run more than 250 servers dedicated to MySQL.
Last Thursday at The Next Web I talked about how we need an Internet Bill of Rights to protect our data and the countless hours we pour into complex online services, such as Facebook and Last.fm, and that the foundations for this were laid down 20 years ago by Richard Stallman and the GPL.
Today our servers are running various versions of MySQL, tomorrow they’ll be running the same thing, and if need be ten years from now they can run the exact some software. Because of the GPL every WordPress user in the world is protected — we’re not beholden to any one company, only to what works best for us. Today that’s MySQL, tomorrow that’s MySQL, a year from now we’ll see.
Most importantly whatever happens will happen on our timeline. That’s the definition of Freedom.
Here are few other reasons not to be worried, and a bonus at the end.
- Oracle bought Innobase, makers of the InnoDB engine that most large users deploy as their main storage engine, in October 2005. The sky has not yet fallen.
- As a company Automattic has never really needed the support services that MySQL provides and even if we did there are plenty of third parties also providing support.
- Most of the useful updates for MySQL have been coming from outside, to quote Jeremy Zawodny:
The single most interesting and surprising thing to me is both the number and necessity of third-party patches for enhancing various aspects of MySQL and InnoDB. Companies like Percona, Google, Proven Scaling, Prime Base Technologies, and Open Query are all doing so in one way or another.
On the one hand, it’s excellent validation of the Open Source model. Thanks to reasonable licensing, companies other than Sun/MySQL are able to enhance and fix the software and give their changes back to the world.
- In terms of innovation, the most interesting developments have been from outside as well, in projects like Drizzle. (I would not be surprised if this moment is for Drizzle what Movable Type changing their licensing was for WordPress, even though in this case they’re both Open Source.)
- I’ve met a number of people at Sun who are incredibly smart, and if they stick around I expect cool things to continue to come out.
- There are some new developments in the WordPress world, namely that I think it would be possible to add support for databases other than MySQL without changing every $wpdb call or breaking any plugins or themes. It won’t be easy, but the coolest stuff seldom is.
Anyway, I now really wish I had agreed to keynote at the MySQL User Conference starting today. 🙂
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.
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.
This month there were three WordCamps around the world: WordCamp Las Vegas, WordCamp Indonesia, and WordCamp Whistler. Here’s what’s coming up in the next two months. Asterisks indicate WordCamps I’ll be attending:
- WordCamp Higher Ed NorthEast – February 2, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA
- WordCamp Paris * – February 7, Paris, France
- WordCamp Germany * – February 14, Jena, Germany
- WordCamp Education Vancouver – February 19, Vancouver, Canada
- WordCamp India * – February 21-22, New Delhi, India
- WordCamp Miami – February 22, Miami, Florida, USA
- WordCamp Denver * – February 28, Denver, Colorado, USA
- WordCamp NOLA – March 18-19, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
A month or so ago I got a tilt-shift lens (Nikon PC-E Micro Nikkor 45mm f/2.8D ED) and one of the first things I wanted to try was interval shooting to make a stop-motion like tilt-shifted video like these awesome ones from Australia photographer Keith Loutit. Haven’t quite figured out how to make them look that cool yet but here’s one of the first efforts, taken from the Burj Al Arab looking down at its car entrance at night. Watch how the lights come in and out of focus, and how fast the cars are at the intersection. The video is available in full HD if your computer can handle it just toggle it in the top-right and go full-screen.
We’ve also aggregated and organized all that awesome WordCamp footage from around the web, on WordCampTV. There you’ll find videos and slideshows of presentations made by Automattic employees and other WordPress gurus, plus interviews I’ve done with the media and fellow bloggers.
Tune in regularly for fresh content and updates to the WordPress.tv blog.
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.
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.
I’ve always found the Wishlist concept to be cool, especially as Amazon implements it. I love it when the developer of a plugin or software I use links to their Wishlist because then I can buy them something personal, it seems less crude than a Paypal donate link where you’re putting an explicit price on things.
If you click that link, you’ll see in red letters: “To shop from this wishlist, please add items to your cart using this form only! Otherwise, your gifts will not be removed from this wishlist, and the recipient may get duplicates.”
Okay — a little weird, but ThinkGeek’s home-grown shopping cart has always been a little odd, I’ll run with it. I add it to my cart from that form, go to the checkout form and sign in (I’ve spent lots of money with ThinkGeek over the years), and complete the order. (How to Survive a Robot Uprising, for the record.)
So I send an email to their customer support: “I ordered something off someone’s wishlist, order e5886bb4. Everything in the order looks like it’s being shipped to me, not the recipient. Could you confirm it’s going to this guy’s wishlist and not me?” I then linked to the wishlist. Next morning, a response:
This order is being shipped to [my address redacted]
That was the address entered when the order was placed.
Not helpful at all… my reply: “Why would I buy something off someone else’s wishlist and then ship it to me? If it can’t be shipped to the person who made the wishlist, then please cancel it.”
No response, and two days later the order ships, to me. This morning, a final response from Tracy:
When the order is placed the order you had the option of entering an alternate ship to address.
Since your order has already shipped we can not change or cancel the order.
Given the next-day shipping I paid extra for, the book should be arriving any day now. The whole point of a wishlist is that I don’t know Kent’s address, nor should I need to. Also the big red sentence on the wishlist page implied to me that Kent would get anything I order from that specific form/page, otherwise why would I need to add it to my cart specifically from that spot?
To Kent, my apologies. If the robot uprising comes before I’m able to get you this book and we both die in the aftermath I’ll buy you a drink.
To ThinkGeek, you’re cooler and smarter than this. Please fix your wishlist functionality.
To everyone else, set up a wishlist on Amazon. It works, and if you link to it from your blog and do nice things people may order from it for you, and there’s nothing nicer than a surprise Amazon box showing up at the door.
The only thing why (at least) I encode the footer is to prevent people from removing my designer link. I usually spend around 6 hours designing the graphics and coding the theme and some people simply take my link off and some of them even dare to write that the theme was designed and coded by them! How would you feel if someone took your WordPress script (since it’s free) and said they made it? Wouldn’t you like to bite their head off?
The response became too long for a comment, so here it is:
Kate, thousands of people every day remove the WordPress link, or my link, or search and replace the WP logo with their own and redistribute it, use it to spam, distribute hate speech, or any number of awful things you can imagine. So why have hundreds of people spent thousands of hours working on it?
Though the freedom intrinsic in the GPL that has allowed people to abuse WordPress it has allowed even more people to do amazing things and over time the good far, far outweighs the bad. Most importantly I feel like WordPress would have never gotten off the ground if it hadn’t been open from the beginning. (In fact there were several more functional blogging programs started around the same time that have since withered away.)
Ultimately I know our software isn’t going to change anyone’s spots. Good people will do good things with it, and bad people will do bad things with it — regardless of any protections I put in place. Windows Vista, a multi-billion dollar enterprise, was cracked within days. Does any piddling encoding I can do in PHP really matter? If protection like that isn’t broken it’s a statement of popularity, not security. I suppose could harass the bad guys, shut down their host, send them scary letters, but it’s just going to stress me out and like cockroaches they’ll pop up someplace else. I also know that most projects, software, and ideas die from obscurity, not piracy.
If you accept that bad people are going to be bad then the real question becomes how do you maximize the effect of the good instead of treating them just like the bad. (No one likes to be treated like a criminal.) In my brief experience here’s three things that work:
- Give people the tools they need to succeed. This can be interpreted on a lot of levels, but personally I’ve found at the most base the freedoms provided by the GPL and other open source licenses are incredibly empowering.
- Celebrate the successes. Talk, connect, promote, and embrace the people who are creating things on top of your creation. (The best revenge against someone doing something bad is helping create something awesome.)
- Provide a way for people to choose to help you, and try to remove as much friction from that process as possible. Now that you’ve ignored the bad people and delighted the good, by their very nature they’ll want to give something back.
The success stories around this model are numerous and growing every day. People can and do rip-off the entire Wikipedia, but it’s still become one of the top ten sites on the internet and a marvel of what can happen when you let go. (Not to mention it is run entirely on open source software.) WordPress itself was built on top of a pre-existing GPL product called b2/cafelog. Anyone can run the software behind our hosted service WordPress.com and create competitive sites, and many have, but it hasn’t hurt us one bit. Linux, GNU, and the thousands of related desktop projects haven’t taken a bit longer than folks had hoped, but the impact they’re having, especially on emerging economies, is dramatic. The list goes on and on. It’s not hard to join the movement, but first you have to figure out who you’re fighting, who you’re trying to help, and if the price of freedom is something you’re willing to embrace.