Writing novels is hard, and requires vast, unbroken slabs of time. Four quiet hours is a resource that I can put to good use. Two slabs of time, each two hours long, might add up to the same four hours, but are not nearly as productive as an unbroken four.Neil Stephenson on Why I’m a Bad Correspondent
WordPress is about democratizing publishing, removing barriers to getting your words on the web. There’s a cool effort underway right now to remove some barriers that people from groups underrepresented in tech might face when becoming a WordCamp speaker. Automattic is supporting this by sponsoring Jill Binder’s work on the WordPress Diverse Speakers Training Group.
I would love to see the WordPress contributor base become more diverse, and training people from marginalized communities to speak at WordCamps is a great way to help that along. Check out that effort if you’d like to get involved.
Every year for my Mom’s birthday lunch she has a Doberge cake from Gambino’s in New Orleans, but this year there was a Fedex snafu and it arrived spoiled. We found a last-minute replacement, but it piqued my curiosity as to better alternatives and I commissioned this survey of eight bakeries to answer the question: What’s the best Doberge cake in Houston or New Orleans? The article and pictures that follow are from food critic, travel journalist, and medical science writer Alice Levitt. I hope you enjoy the history, reviews, and surprise winner.
1885, Budapest. Franz Josef I and his wife, Elizabeth, rulers of Austro-Hungary, are attending the National General Exhibition of Budapest. There is much to see, but the emperor’s sweet tooth is pulling him toward one particular display. He simply must taste this new cake he’s been hearing about. He must find the Dobos torte.
As you may have read on the WooCommerce blog, Prospress blog, WP Tavern, Post Status, or Techcrunch, the team at Prospress is joining forces with WooCommerce at Automattic to help accelerate the adoption and democratization of ecommerce across the web. Whew that’s a lot of links! Prospress was best known for their extension that allowed many types of Subscriptions on top of WooCommerce, but also has some cool marketing automation and automated testing tools as well. I love that Prospress was already a Five for the Future company, which aligns really well with Automattic’s long-term goals and contributions to the wider community.
I’ve been meeting with some brilliant people for Distributed, my new podcast dedicated to exploring the future of work. The first episode is a conversation with Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork, about how they built a distributed culture, and how flexible work will shape the future of the global economy.
Unlike Automattic, Upwork does have an office in Silicon Valley (albeit one with a remote receptionist!). It was interesting to hear how Stephane’s teams balance in-person culture with inclusiveness for all employees, no matter where they live. Read more about Stephane’s work at Distributed.blog, and subscribe at Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Distributed work is becoming a reality for more companies. Automattic has been operating in a distributed-first fashion for more than 13 years now — we’re now up to more than 850 employees in 68 countries. But even in companies with physical offices, more employees are distributed around the globe and working together. Google just shared some fascinating stats about its work culture, with 100,000 employees working across 150 cities. Two out of five work groups have employees working from more than one location:
We’re a more connected world, so it makes sense that global business wouldn’t be confined to just one physical space. I often use Google as an example because I’ve been in meetings there where people were one building away from each other but still using video chat because of the time required to walk between meetings on their campus.
Our first product is Happy Schedule, which helps teams manage flexible schedules across time zones. Right now we’re rolling it out in a consultative way with just a few early customers to make sure the team can be totally responsive to their needs. We’re excited about this and other upcoming tools, because we believe that this is the future of work. We’re excited to have other companies give it a try.
Keep an eye on this space: There’s an entire suite of tools that make up the operating system of what has helped Automattic scale so effectively over the years. I’ve always believed it’s important to invest in your internal tools, and I’m excited to release more of them. If there’s something better in the market, we won’t release a tool for it—I’d rather use something external than have to build things ourselves—but where the industry still has a gap after such a long time, we’ll throw our hat into the ring.
“Vague, but exciting.” Thirty years ago yesterday, Sir Tim Berners-Lee submitted his original proposal for an information management system to his boss at CERN — what would later become the World Wide Web (and, it turns out, a huge influence on my life and career).
To help celebrate, I tweeted WordPress’s contribution to the web’s grand timeline (above), and I got to participate in The Economist’s Babbage podcast looking back at the pioneers of the early web. Listen to the whole episode below:
Here’s what I read in 2018, in chronological order of when I finished it, as promised in my birthday post. I’ve highlighted a few in bold but in general I was pretty satisfied with almost all of my book choices this year. I’ve put a lot more time into the “deciding what to read” phase of things, and have also had some great help from friends there, and have been trying to balance and alternate titles that have stood the test of time and newer au courant books.
- Hot Seat: The Startup CEO Guidebook by Dan Shapiro
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (audio)
- A Higher Standard by Ann E. Dunwoody
- Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin (audio)
- The Boat by Nam Le
- Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
- Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg
- How to Say Goodbye by Wendy Macnaughton
- When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön
- Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery
- Poor Charlie’s Almanack by Charlie Munger and Peter Kaufman
- Sam the Cat by Matthew Klam
- The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
- The Vegetarian by Han Kang
- The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu
- After On: A Novel of Silicon Valley by Rob Reid
- The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell
- How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee
- Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
- Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed
- Darkness Visible by William Styron
- Tin Man by Sarah Winman
- Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
- Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard
- Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (Update: On Obama’s 2019 book list.)
- Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari
- The Lessons of History by Will & Ariel Durant
- Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
- So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
- Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
- How to Fix a Broken Heart by Guy Winch
- Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman
- Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
- Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
- Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most by Steven Johnson
- Severance: A Novel by Ling Ma
- On the Shortness of Life by Seneca
- It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
- Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
Julie Sugar has a beautiful piece in Lilith Magazine about miscarriage and faith.
Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.— Thich Nhat Hanh in The Miracle of Mindfulness
It has over 130,000 views already! What I really love about this video in particular is that we get into the specifics of how a company can start to embrace a culture of letting employees work from anywhere, even if it started out as a traditional office with everyone in the same place. Automattic never started that way, so even as we’ve scaled up to more than 840 people in 68 countries, there’s never been a question — it’s now built in to our entire culture.
For distributed work to scale up, it’s going to require more CEOs, workers, and managers to test the waters. Any company can experiment with distributed work — just pick a day or two of the week in which everyone works from home, I suggest Tuesdays and Thursdays, then build the tools and systems to support it. Yes, that may require some shuffling of meetings, or more written documentation versus verbal real-time discussion. But I think companies will be surprised how quickly it will “just work.”
If the companies don’t experiment, workers may force them to do it anyway:
WordPress.com is partnering with Google and news industry leaders on a new platform for small- and medium-sized publishers, called Newspack. The team has raised $2.4 million in first-year funding from the Google News Initiative, Lenfest Journalism Institute, Civil funder ConsenSys, and the Knight Foundation, among others. We’re also still happy to talk to and engage other funders who want to get involved — I’d love to put even more resources into this.
It’s been a difficult climate for the news business, particularly at the local level. It also breaks my heart how much of their limited resources these organizations still sink into closed-source or dead-end technology. Open source is clearly the future, and if we do this right Newspack can be the technology choice that lasts with them through the decades, and hopefully our 15 years of growth lends some credibility to our orientation to build things for the long term.
Here’s Kinsey in Nieman Lab:
The goal is to both make sure that the catalog of publishing tools as well as business tools they need to be able to run what one hopes is a sustainable news operation are addressed simultaneously. It’s not simply a CMS for a newsroom, but a full business system that enables publishing and monetization at the same time.–Nieman Lab interview
As you have come to expect from Automattic, everything will be open source and developed to the same standards WordPress itself is. We’re working with Spirited Media and the News Revenue Hub on the platform, and we will likely look for even more partnership opportunities from across the WordPress ecosystem. If you’d like to invest or get involved, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What a year.
First, it feels amazing to write this inside of the new Gutenberg block editor in WordPress 5.0. It was a labor of love for so many and the next chapters are going to be even more exciting.
The best part of the last year was growing closer to my friends and loved ones — I don’t know if it’s externally perceptible but my heart feels a lot more open.
I’ve found a good balance with meditation, work, sleep, fasting, eating, and reading that gives me a lot of joy, energy, and feels like a combination I could sustain the rest of my life.
Reading in particular was a highlight as I finished 38 books, which is the most in a year since I started tracking, and so many of them were truly excellent I’m going to do another post just on books. I will give a special call out to The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu. Leaving my Kindle Oasis at an airport ended up being a blessing in disguise as I started using the Kindle app on my iPhone a lot more and that’s become my new favorite habit. (And the physical Kindle was returned!)
It was a strong travel year, covering 126 cities, 20 countries, and 377k miles. I especially enjoyed visits to Tulum, Iceland, Bodrum, Tonga, Kauai, Lanai, and Courchevel. I finally checked off my bucket list item to become scuba certified and had an amazing opportunity to swim with humpback whales.
I also had lots of opportunities to practice patience, weathered a torrent of personally-directed criticism across every medium, and had a few months that were the hardest I’ve worked in my career. With the benefit of a little distance, though, those things don’t loom as large. I learned a ton — often the hard way but often that’s what it takes — and discovered I had some additional gears that can kick in when needed.
As I pass solidly into my mid-thirties, I don’t have any drastic shifts on the horizon but I am looking forward to continuing to strengthen the habits I’ve been able to develop this past year.
During my State of the Word Q&A I received some blogging homework from Toru Miki, a WordPress contributor based in Tokyo. He asked me to revisit the WordPress mission, “Democratize Publishing,” and reflect on what that mission means to me today. So here you go, Toru:
For many years, my definition of “Democratize Publishing” has been simply to help make the web a more open place. That foundation begins with the software itself, as outlined by the Four Freedoms:
0. The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
1. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish.
2. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
3. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions, giving the community a chance to benefit from your changes.
In 2018, the mission of “Democratize Publishing” to me means that people of all backgrounds, interests, and abilities should be able to access Free-as-in-speech software that empowers them to express themselves on the open web and to own their content.
But as Toru noted in the original question, “Democratize Publishing” has come to mean many things to many people in the WordPress community. That’s one reason I like it. The WordPress mission is not just for one person to define.
So I’d like to ask everyone: What does “Democratize Publishing” mean to you?
But nothing delights the mind so much as fond and loyal friendship. What a blessing it is to have hearts that are ready and willing to receive all your secrets in safety, with whom you are less afraid to share knowledge of something than keep it to yourself, whose conversation soothes your distress, whose advice helps you make up your mind, whose cheerfulness dissolves your sorrow, whose very appearance cheers you up!
Over the weekend I was in Nashville with over a thousand other WordPress enthusiasts. I met a ton of people, learned a lot, and was able to share the annual State of the Word address with the audience, which is a big summary of what WordPress has been up to and where it’s going. This year we covered user testing, Gutenberg, 5.0, the future phases of Gutenberg, all the latest and greatest blocks, new minimum PHP requirements, the adoption of 5.0, and some event and community updates. You can also see just the slides. The Q&A is here in a separate video.
Yesterday I was able to have a great conversation with Adam from WP Crafter, a popular Youtube channel with over five million views. Adam said it was his first interview but you can’t tell, we had an excellent conversation that covered Gutenberg, the 5.0 release, why WordPress has done well so far, and what’s coming in the future. If you’d like more context than text or tweets can give for what’s happening in WordPress today, check it out.
Of course Friday and Saturday are WordCamp US, which returns to Nashville this year. Everything will be live-streamed for free, including my State of the Word presentation on Saturday, you just need to pick up a free streaming ticket.
Update: On December 6th we released WordPress 5.0. It was definitely the most controversial release in a while, but the usage and adoption metrics are looking similar to previous releases. I’m looking forward to continuing to iterate on the new block editor!
We are nearing the release date for WordPress 5.0 and Gutenberg, one of the most important and exciting projects I’ve worked on in my 15 years with this community.
I knew we would be taking a big leap. But it’s a leap we need to take, and I think the end result is going to open up many new opportunities for everyone in the ecosystem, and for those being introduced to WordPress for the first time. It brings us closer to our mission of democratizing publishing for everyone.
I recently visited WordCamp Portland to talk about Gutenberg and WordPress 5.0, which will also include the new default theme Twenty Nineteen, which you’re seeing me test out on this very site. There were some great questions and testimonials about Gutenberg, so I’d urge you to watch the full video and read the WP Tavern recap. I’ve also visited meetups, responded to review threads, kept an eye on support, and I’m in the middle of office hours with the core community.
As we head toward the release date and WordCamp US, I’ve put many questions and answers into a Gutenberg FAQ below. For those who have other questions, I will be checking the comments here.
It’s an exciting time, and I’m thrilled to be working with y’all on this project.
What is Gutenberg?
Gutenberg, for those who aren’t actively following along, is a brand new Editor for WordPress — contributors have been working on it since January 2017 and it’s one of the most significant changes to WordPress in years. It’s built on the idea of using “blocks” to write and design posts and pages.
This will serve as the foundation for future improvements to WordPress, including blocks as a way not just to design posts and pages, but also entire sites.
The overall goal is to simplify the first-time user experience of WordPress — for those who are writing, editing, publishing, and designing web pages. The editing experience is intended to give users a better visual representation of what their post or page will look like when they hit publish. As I wrote in my post last year, “Users will finally be able to build the sites they see in their imaginations.”
Matías Ventura, team lead for Gutenberg, wrote an excellent post about the vision for Gutenberg, saying, “It’s an attempt to improve how users interact with their content in a fundamentally visual way, while at the same time giving developers the tools to create more fulfilling experiences for the people they are helping.”
Why do we need Gutenberg at all?
For many of us already in the WordPress community, it can be easy to forget the learning curve that exists for people being introduced to WordPress for the first time. Customizing themes, adding shortcodes, editing widgets and menus — there’s an entire language that one must learn behind the scenes in order to make a site or a post look like you want it to look.
The idea with blocks was to create a new common language across WordPress, a new way to connect users to plugins, and replace a number of older content types — things like shortcodes and widgets — that one had to be well-versed in the idiosyncrasies of WordPress to understand.
The block paradigm is not a new one — in fact many great plugins have already shown the promise of blocks with page design in WordPress. Elementor, one of the pioneers in this space, has now introduced a new collection of Gutenberg blocks to showcase what’s possible:
Why change the Editor?
The Editor is where most of the action happens in WordPress’s daily use, and it was a place where we could polish and perfect the block experience in a contained environment.
Additionally, the classic Editor was built primarily for text — articles have become increasingly multimedia, with social media embeds, maps, contact forms, photo collages, videos, and GIFs. It was time for a design paradigm that allowed us to move past the messy patchwork of shortcodes and text.
The Editor is just the start. In upcoming phases blocks will become a fundamental part of entire site templates and designs. It’s currently a struggle to use the Customizer and figure out how to edit sections like menus, headers, and footers. With blocks, people will be able to edit and manipulate everything on their site without having to understand where WordPress hides everything behind the scenes.
What does Automattic get out of this?
There have been posts recently asking questions about Automattic’s involvement in Gutenberg compared to other contributors and companies. There is no secret conspiracy here — as project lead I was able to enlist the help of dozens of my colleagues to contribute to this project, and I knew that a project of this size would require it. Automattic aims to have 5% of its people dedicated to WordPress community projects, which at its current size would be about 42 people full-time. The company is a bit behind that now (~35 full-time), and the company is growing a lot next year, so look for 10-15 additional people working on core and community projects.
In the end, Gutenberg is similar to many other open source projects — Automattic will benefit from it, but so will everyone else in the WordPress community (and even the Drupal community). It’s available for everyone under the GPL. If the goal was purely to benefit Automattic it would have been faster, easier, and created an advantage for Automattic to have Gutenberg just on WP.com. That wasn’t, and isn’t, the point.
Is Gutenberg ready?
Absolutely. Our original goal with Gutenberg was to get it on 100,000 sites to begin testing — it’s now already on more than 1 million sites, and it’s the fastest-growing plugin in WordPress history. There is a lot of user demand.
The goal was to both test Gutenberg on as many sites as possible before the 5.0 release, and also to encourage plugin developers to make sure their plugins and services will be ready. With everyone pitching in, we can make this the most anti-climactic release in WordPress history.
In the recent debate over Gutenberg readiness, I think it’s important to understand the difference between Gutenberg being ready code-wise (it is now), and whether the entire community is ready for Gutenberg.
It will take some time — we’ve had 15 years to polish and perfect core, after all — but the global WordPress community has some of the world’s most talented contributors and we can make it as good as we want to make it.
Someone described Gutenberg to me as “WordPress in 3D.” I like the sound of that. Blocks are like layers you can zoom in and out of. The question now is: What are we going to build with this new dimension?
Do I have to switch to Gutenberg when WordPress 5.0 is released?
Not at all. When it’s released, you get to choose what happens. You can install the Classic Editor plugin today and when 5.0 is released, nothing will change. We’ve commited to supporting and updating Classic Editor until 2022. If you’d like to install Gutenberg early, you can do that now too. The Classic Editor plugin has been available for 13 months now, and Gutenberg has been available for 18 months. Both have been heavily promoted since August 2018, and more than 1.3 million .org sites have opted-in already to either experience, so nothing will change for them when they update to 5.0.
How can I make sure I’m ready?
Before updating to 5.0, try out the Gutenberg plugin with your site to ensure it works with your existing plugins, and also to get comfortable with the new experience. Developers across the entire ecosystem are working hard to update their plugins, but your mileage and plugins may vary. And you can always use the Classic Editor to address any gaps.
As with every new thing, things might feel strange and new for a bit, but I’m confident once you start using it you’ll get comfy quickly and you won’t want to go back.
The release candidate of 5.0 is stable and fine to develop against and test.
When will 5.0 be released?
We have had a stable RC1, which stands for first release candidate, and about to do our second one. There is only currently one known blocker and it’s cosmetic. The stability and open issues in the release candidates thus far makes me optimistic we can release soon, but as before the primary driver will be the stability and quality of the underlying software. We made the mistake prior of announcing dates when lots of code was still changing, and had to delay because of regressions and bugs. Now that things aren’t changing, we’re approaching a time we can commit to a date soon.
Is it terrible to do a release in December?
Some people think so, some don’t. There have been 9 major WordPress releases in previous Decembers. December releases actually comprise 34% of our major releases in the past decade.
Can I set it up so only certain users get to use Gutenberg?
Yes, and soon. We’re going to be doing another update to the Classic Editor before the 5.0 release to give it a bit more fine-grained user control — we’ve heard requests for options that allow certain users or certain roles and post types to have Gutenberg while others have Classic Editor.
What happens after 5.0?
We’ve been doing a release of Gutenberg every two weeks, and 5.0 isn’t going to stop that. We’ll do minor release to 5.0 (5.0.1, 5.0.2) fortnightly, with occasional breaks, so if there’s feedback that comes in, we can address it quickly. Many of the previous bugs in updates were from juggling between updates in the plugin and core, now that Gutenberg is in core it’s much easier and safer to incrementally update.
What about Gutenberg and accessibility?
We’ve had some important discussions about accessibility over the past few weeks and I am grateful for those who have helped raise these questions in the community.
Accessibility has been core to WordPress from the very beginning. It’s part of why we started – the adoption of web standards and accessibility.
But where I think we fell down was with project management — specifically, we had a team of volunteers that felt like they were disconnected from the rapid development that was happening with Gutenberg. We need to improve that. In the future I don’t know if it makes sense to have accessibility as a separate kind of process from the core development. It needs to be integrated at every single stage.
Still, we’ve accomplished a lot, as Matías has written about. There have been more than 200 closed issues related to accessibility since the very beginning.
We’re also taking the opportunity to fix some things that have had poor accessibility in WordPress from the beginning. CodeMirror, which is a code editor for templates, is not accessible, so we have some parts of WordPress that we really need to work on to make better.
Speaking of which, CodeMirror was seeking funding for their next version — Automattic has now sponsored that funding and in return it will be made available under the GPL, and that the next version of CodeMirror will be fully accessible.
Finally, Automattic will be funding an accessibility study of WordPress, Gutenberg, and an evaluation of best practices across the web, to ensure WordPress is fully accessible and setting new standards for the web overall.
After WordPress 5.0, is the Gutenberg name going to stick around?
Sometimes code names can take on a life of their own. I think Gutenberg is still what we’ll call this project — it’s called that on GitHub, and you’re also seeing it adopted by other CMSes beyond WordPress — but for those outside the community I can see it simply being known as “the new WordPress editor.”
With the adoption of React for Gutenberg, what do you see as the future for React and WordPress?
The other beautiful thing is that because Gutenberg essentially allows for translation into many different formats — it can publish to your web page, it can publish your RSS feed, AMP, it can publish blocks that can be translated into email for newsletters — there’s so much in the structured nature of Gutenberg and the semantic HTML that it creates and the grammar that’s used to parse it, can enable for other applications.
And WordPress 5.0 is just the starting line. We want to get it to that place where it’s not just better than what we have today, but a world-class, web-defining experience. It’s what we want to create and what everyone deserves.
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