Jazzy Claire de Lune

I love this version from Kamasi Washington of Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune, or “light of the moon.” Here’s the Paul Verlaine poem that inspired the original composition:

Your soul is a chosen landscape
Where charming masqueraders and bergamaskers go
Playing the lute and dancing and almost
Sad beneath their fanciful disguises.

All sing in a minor key
Of victorious love and the opportune life,
They do not seem to believe in their happiness
And their song mingles with the moonlight,

With the still moonlight, sad and beautiful,
That sets the birds dreaming in the trees
And the fountains sobbing in ecstasy,
The tall slender fountains among marble statues.

For small business owners, WordPress is a well-trusted company, Yelp is a brand in trouble, and Facebook is on a downward path. Those are some of the findings out today from a survey of 6,000 small business owners from the second half of 2015 conducted by Alignable.

You can see the whole thing here. WordPress came in with a NPS of 73, Shopify at 29, Godaddy at 26, Squarespace at 11, Wix at -7, Weebly at -13, Web.com at -61, and Yelp at -66. Here’s how a Net Promoter Score works.

One of my favorite movies is Thank You for Smoking, the Jason Reitman’s film that looks at the world through the lens of a tobacco lobbyist. It’s fiction, though. This real-life Rolling Stone look at what is going on with rooftop solar in Florida and the big utilities has quotes that could have easily been in the movie.

Facing an amendment that would open up one of the sunniest states to solar power, the utilities created a competing amendment called “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice,” which, as you might imagine, is extraordinarily unfriendly to anyone who wants solar panels on their home. Why the confusing title?

Bascom insisted there was no intention to mislead. “It would defy all logic,” she tells Rolling Stone. “Why would we confuse ours with one that does not have public support?”

 

Lent This Year: Buying Things

Today is Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent, when typically Catholics give something up, or try to form a new habit, for about six weeks. Many of my friends who aren’t Catholic do the same, it’s a good practice to try to go without something in your life you take for granted. It can make you reexamine assumptions, take you out of your comfort zone, or make you appreciate the thing you gave up much more when you return to it. Also it’s just a bit more fun when you do it with friends. 😀

Last few years I’ve given up:

  • 2013: Meat.
  • 2014: Smartphones. (This was hard!)
  • 2015: I meditated every day using Calm.

This year I’ve been thinking about what I take for granted, and surveyed friends for what their suggestions would be. One of the things that I’m pretty bad at is buying too many things, especially gadgets. I’m pretty good at clearing out old ones so it doesn’t get too cluttered, but I definitely have a habit of getting the latest USB gadgets on Amazon, shirts from Kit & Ace, workout stuff from Lululemon, shoes I don’t need, etc.

So the thing I’m going to give up this year is shopping or buying any material things. I’m also going to take the opportunity to try and reduce the stuff I do have in my life to things that spark joy.

The Atlantic does an in-depth look on why it’s much less pleasant to have phone calls than it used to be. It’s true, but there are also some great alternatives that I’ve been having luck with recently. Facebook Messenger has a built-in audio (and video!) calling system that is okay. Facetime isn’t just for video, you can also make audio calls with it and they sound amazing (something I learned from Kanye, true story). Many times I’ll try a phone number in Facetime first just in case the person uses an iPhone. And finally Skype still works pretty well even if its clients are a bit heavy. If I’m able to be at a computer (all of these work on computer as well as apps), this Sennheiser USB headset sounds great, blocks background noise, and people say that I sound clear.

Chicken and Eggs

mometablues.jpegI’ve been reading Questlove’s Mo’ Meta Blues, and it’s an incredible education. The book is helping me appreciate an era of music that inspired the era that inspires me — the music that drove the Roots, J Dilla, Fugees, D’Angelo, Common, Erykah Badu, Kendrick Lamar, and so many more to create what they have.

Chronologically, I’m in a chapter covering mid-90s hip-hop, which is full of conflict. There’s a tension alluded to in the book of the musicians that made it and those that didn’t: does increased radio play make songs popular? There’s some science that suggests yes. Or is there something intrinsic to the record that puts it in that virtous loop of requests and airplay, the equivalent of usage and virality in a web product?

There’s a great ancedote in the book that I think is useful when thinking about products. All of the links are my addition, not in the original text.

There was one moment during the recording of Voodoo that really brought this home. We were recording DJ Premier’s scratches for “Devil’s Pie,” and Q-Tip had just let the room to go work on something else, so there were four of us left there: Premier, Dilla, D’Angelo, and myself. During the break, Premier asked if anyone had any new shit to play for the group, and D’Angelo went for a cassette and played a bit of a new song, and the whole room just erupted in hooting. Then Dilla put on some new Slum Village shit and it was the same thing: an explosion of excitement. Then Premier, who had started the whole thing, played an M.O.P. song and some new Gang Starr material that he was working on for The Ownerz.

I was last at bat. All I had on me was a work tape for what would eventually become “Double Trouble” on Things Fall Apart. It didn’t have finished vocals yet, didn’t have Mos Def’s verse. It was just a skeleton. I played it, and I will never forget the feeling that came over the room, including me. It wasn’t that they didn’t hoot and holler like they had for the other songs. They did. But they didn’t mean it. I know the move people resort to when they’re not quite into a song: they keep a straight stare on their face and bob their head a bit, not saying anything, not making eye contact. That’s the sign of death. That’s what they all did to me, and I felt humiliated. I was like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction: I will not be ignored! I went back into the studio that same night and gave that song a radical, extended facelift. I refused to sleep until I had that thing up and running.

I love the idea of Questlove realizing the song was missing something, and going back to the booth to keep working on it until it resonated with his target audience. A song that doesn’t stand up on its own wouldn’t be any better when bundled as part of an album. (Or Samsung would have the most popular apps on Android.) Fans hear the care and quality of each track, and they become super-fans. The bands that break out weren’t bludgeoned into fan’s ears by radio play, they were pulled by these passionate few into a wider audience.

I love the mixtape culture that so many of today’s successful artists have come up through, and it is amplified online. Drake had three ever-improving mixtapes before his first album. It harkens to a line from PG’s startup canon (in 2009!): Better to make a few users love you than a lot ambivalent.

There’s this tension in everything we produce. Where’s the line to tread between 1.0 is the loneliest and a minimum viable product? Or is it about a minimum lovable product? Are we building a car with no air conditioning or a car with no wheels?

minimal-viable-product-henrik-kniberg.png

“Pivot” has become passé, but it’s much worse to assume that distribution will solve something core to your product that isn’t working.

Getting a Job After Coding Bootcamp

The past 6-8 months I’ve been seeing a new type of person applying for Automattic’s engineering positions that I hadn’t seen before, and I think it’s very interesting and promising but missing one key component.

These applications usually have great cover letters and well-put-together resumes, which is a good sign that people put some thought into it and had someone spot-check it before sending it in. But where most people list prior jobs, these applications (and LinkedIn profiles) list projects. When you dig into prior jobs listed, if there are any, they’re typically in a completely unrelated field like medicine or finance, and under education they list one of these new bootcamps, like Hack Reactor or App Acedemy.

Here I’m going to offer a key 🔑piece of advice to these folks to help their applications stand out, and can 100% compensate for their lack of professional experience: contribute to open source. “Projects” done in a coding bootcamp, even when they’re spelled out in great bullet-point technical detail, don’t really tell me anything about your engineering ability. Open source contributions show me a passion for a given area, ability to work with others to have a contribution reviewed and accepted, and most importantly show actual code. Even better than one-off contributions, if you can grow into a recognized position in an open source project, that puts you ten steps ahead of applications even from folks with 20 years experience in the field, at least to an Open Source-biased company like Automattic.

Though I don’t know any of these boot camps well enough to suggest them, I love the idea in general. Even before the more formal bootcamps I’ve seen hundreds of examples of people who used free information and technology to rise to a very high level of technical contribution. In fact that’s very much my own story from the early days of WordPress. So in summary: it’s okay to learn to code through class projects, but show your value by getting involved in something bigger.

One of the areas where Automattic and its products like WordPress.com have the most room for growth is in the area of marketing. It’s also an area our competitors are spending heavily in, with Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, Web.com, and to a lesser extent EIG and Godaddy, spending over $350M this year in advertising. (Of course marketing is much more than just advertising, but their spend is still significant.) We’re hiring for a number of positions in this area to build up our team, including a CMO, a performance marketing specialist, marketing-oriented designer, and a role focused on events. If you know of anyone who would be ideal for these roles, or if that person is you, please read about Automattic on that page and follow the guidelines for the role to apply.

One area that’s been unloved for a bit on WordPress.org is the testimonials page, it was almost funny because they were so old they talked about things people don’t even know what they are any more. Well today is a new day, on the new page we’ll be embedding snippets from WordPress, Twitter, and Facebook of people saying what WordPress has meant for them. Post with the tag #ilovewp and it might show up there. 🙂 Think of something that you love about WP that would make someone who hasn’t heard of it or is on the fence about using it compelled to try it out.

Thirty-Two

My thirty-second birthday has arrived after a whirlwind year, probably my most challenging and rewarding. It went faster than any year I can remember, absolutely flew by. Luckily it was capped at the holidays with a precious few weeks of downtime in Houston. Now I’m back to work in Cape Town and just finished a lovely day of great food, wine, and conversation with colleagues who are here for a meetup starting tomorrow.

Since I started tracking, 2015 was the first year that I traveled fewer miles than the year before, clocking in at 398k, down 27k. (398,553 miles, 111 cities, 20 countries.) In 2016 I’m going to try and get that even lower. It was also one of my best years for blogging on this site, with the most posts (252) I’ve made since 2008, and the most words (24,605) since 2005. (If anyone is curious, I wrote about 60k words over the same time period in Automattic’s internal P2s.) In a weird omission, though, it’s the first year since this site started in 2002 that I didn’t post a single gallery of photos. I’ve developed a mental block around processing and posting the fancier pictures, even as I carry hundreds of gigabytes of them around the planet several times over. Hopefully this is something I can get past in 2016.

I ran 163 miles in 2015, more than I did the year before, and I think that trend will continue. Last year I talked about habits and small actions, and a daily todo list with some small items to nourish the mind, soul, and body has become central to my routine. I dyed my hair (grey) just for fun and also to show the rest of Automattic they could too, how you look doesn’t matter one iota. My restaurant quest has continued, and I’ve now been to 38% of the current top 50 list.

More so than before, I really don’t know what’s around the corner. While there is a lot in motion, there is even more still being defined and started. There’s freedom in the groove, to reference Joshua Redman’s great album, and I’m getting a lot more comfortable with ambiguity and the faster pace of life in general. More than ever, I consider myself incredibly lucky, so it’s exciting to make the most of the opportunity that the volatility, love, loss, glory, failure, inspirations, and setbacks that 2016 will bring.

Previously: 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, and 31.

Hossein Derakhshan was a key blogger in Iran who was jailed for his writing, and recently released. He has entered a new world:

I miss when people took time to be exposed to opinions other than their own, and bothered to read more than a paragraph or 140 characters. I miss the days when I could write something on my own blog, publish on my own domain, without taking an equal time to promote it on numerous social networks; when nobody cared about likes and reshares, and best time to post.

That’s the web I remember before jail. That’s the web we have to save.

You should read the entire article (it’s long) on the Guardian. Hat tip: Kevin O’Keefe.