I spent the entire weekend trying to sort out why changing my WordPress theme brought down my site. There was this error and I just couldn’t figure out what was happening. I exported my data, moved to a temporary free WordPress.com account as a backup, and re-installed WordPress on my self hosted site.
Before we get to far into it, to clarify, WordPress is a technology that lets you create blogs. You can either run WordPress on your own server (in the cloud) or let a company manage your installation. WordPress.com is a company that manages WordPress installations, so you can blog away and let WordPress.com handle the technical details of running the site.
Getting back to it, I reinstalled three more times because each time I ran into a different problem. I think the issue came down to a database incompatibility, but it was just one in a series of problems I’ve encountered over the last few years while running my own site. My site was “defaced” via an exploit in an out of date version of WordPress, was unable to connect to Jetpack services, and needed to be re-installed one too many times. This iteration was the last straw. I needed to switch from site maintenance mode and get back to blogging.
There’s a lot you need to keep up with when running your own WordPress install. I enjoyed learning all the details over the years of running my site. Finding the pieces and putting them all together was fun and made for fulfilling work when the site decided to play along. Although, when something went wrong, managing this workflow and disjoint accounts brought my progress writing posts to a complete halt.
Here are many of the pieces required to run a WordPress site (all of which WordPress.com will handle for you):
Your site needs to live somewhere (search for “WordPress hosting” to find a few options)
A site needs a url, so you have to ensure your domain name registration is up to date every year, AND linked to the WordPress install. The latter is a constant source of struggle. (Namecheap, Google, GoDaddy, Hover, etc)
Want that green lock on your site? You’ll need an SSL certificate. Site certificates let people connect securely and communicate privately with your blog, so it’s important that your has the correct certs. (Let’s Encrypt, Comodo, Namecheap, etc)
Site backups are crucial in case anything every goes wrong (which through my experience seems common), but they are costly, unintuitive, and require manual configuration.
WordPress must be kept up to date, with a self-hosted site, you need check for updates. It requires active engagement. I try to write posts on a weekly cadence, but sometimes there would be long stretches of time I didn’t go on the site. You can configure auto-updates to the WordPress core, but there are many caveats. In either case, it’s another task you need to keep in the back of your mind, using up resources I could allocate elsewhere.
Do you spend way too much time setting up your video game character, even before starting the game? You’ll do the same with WordPress site customization. While seemingly a differentiator, a site’s look is not nearly as important as it’s content. (Ironically, switching from a highly customized theme to the default Twenty Seventeen theme kicked off this whole ordeal)
In then end, all this mental overhead was cutting into my time and creativity. Running the technology distracted from what I wanted to do with my site. And with that, I handed over the keys to WordPress.com.
Going Forward with WordPress.com
Note, this is not a review of WordPress.com. I’ve only used the service a couple days, so I’m still deciding if it’s the right fit. However, I had five accounts to manage everything related to my website, and now I have one.
WordPress.com sits in the middle of the blogging platform spectrum of user control and one experience fits all. I can still modify my the site to make it feel like my own, but I don’t have the same level of configuration as a self-hosted site. It’s a good first step to building a focus on writing, because I don’t want bells and whistles anymore. I want to write and develop something new.
Technology works best when it’s invisible. I am optimistic that getting the site administration work out of the way will free up headspace to think and give me time to create more.
My site has a history on WordPress, so there is some lock in to the technology. As I searched for a platform that just lets me write, switching to WordPress.com was an easy first option to explore. Since it’s easy to transfer WordPress data from one hosting service to the next, I brought all my posts with me to WordPress.com.
With that said, I am going to keep iterating, with new formats, platforms, and mediums. I am now a customer of WordPress.com. If I decide their services improve my ability to create, I will stick with them. Otherwise, as WordPress.com says in their own words “You own your data – take it anywhere”.
Medium.com leans further towards the one experience fits all side of the blogging platform spectrum. On Medium, you get a title, and a story. That’s it, but it’s amazing. The focus is on the content of the words on the page, not the theme of the website.
I have a Medium account with zero posts (until know). Starting today I will be cross posting longer form thoughts like this under the Medium Partner Program (and I checked, this is allowed by the Medium Content Guidelines). All my posts will still be on my site, but I want to experiment with Medium to learn how the different communities interact.
So let’s see how this goes. The content of my blog has changed over the years from small ideas (Seth Godin-style), to connecting things I read/hear/watch, weekly reviews, back to connections, and now a news feed. I can already tell this latest iteration is working well. It’s easier to get back to writing and integration with email updates, social media, and reader feedback is better overall. There’s less in the way of getting things done, and I’m hopeful this new format will keep my momentum going strong.
Be on the lookout for a future post explaining “Why I’m Staying with WordPress.com” or perhaps “Why I Switched to Medium”.
Would it be easier if we carried around devices devoted solely to one function instead of our multifaceted gadgets? There’s no reason we couldn’t go back to pocket calendars, contact lists, photos, wallets, and pens, other than that it wouldn’t be quite as convenient. Video game consoles are great at just playing video games, and we still put up with them. You wouldn’t be distracted by mail delivered to your door when writing down the date of your next dentist appointment, so why should you settle for that experience in a phone?
My smartphone obviously helped me with a great number of cognitive tasks. It communicated with my friends. It managed my finances. It delivered work emails. It alerted me to emergencies in the area. It reminded me of appointments. It captured and stored memories. But this sudden and overwhelming awareness of its physical absence indicated that it had become just as important to my body as it had to my mind. If I’m honest, much of what I did on my phone could be characterized as mindless. I can’t count the number of times I pulled out my phone just for the feeling of unlocking the screen and swiping through applications, whether out of comfort—like a baby sucking her thumb—or boredom—like a teenager at school, tapping his fingers on a desk. In those cases, I sought not mental stimulation, but physical release.
Dear iPhone—It Was Just Physical, and Now It’s Over by Katie Reid
It can be fun to mindlessly watch YouTube videos for hours or scroll endlessly through your friends’ Instagram feeds, but when the action becomes habitual and reactive, it can be problematic. Reading the New York Times is a similar experience online and in print, but did anyone ever self distract themselves by picking up a newspaper and scanning the headlines for 30 seconds? There’s a more intentional decision making process to read the physical paper. It’s a single task you mindfully opt into for the course of reading a few articles (or cover to cover).
What happened is that the internet stopped being something you went to in order to separate from the real world — from your job and your work and your obligations and responsibilities. It’s not the place you seek to waste time, but the place you go to so that you’ll someday have time to waste. The internet is a utility world for me now. It is efficient and all-encompassing. It is not very much fun.
I Don’t Know How to Waste Time on the Internet Anymore by Dan Nosowitz
Maybe it’s time to stop wasting time on the internet and start using the tool to accomplish what we want to do. In their own ways, people are beginning to realize the many of the most popular services online have been designed to keep us amused rather than help us develop.
Here’s the reality:
– there are more interesting independent blogs now than there were pre-Facebook/Twitter. Maybe less “per-capita” of total online usage, but there’s still a higher volume
– every single person is capable of making an online community using cheap tech, and using corporate social media to promote it; way easier than it was in the past
– developers are still “allowed” to make sites in plain HTML/CSS that look great and load fast
Comment from Hacker News
It ironic how engrained these services are in our lives that companies trying to help us be more mindful are leveraging the same platforms they warn us about.
The addictive qualities of these platforms make them the best place to reach potential new customers or fans. Kindred notes that she’s proud of Mindful Technology’s Instagram account. “It’s blowing up,” she says. “I think a lot of people like me are fed up and over it.”
Tech Addiction and the Business of Mindfulness by Erin Griffith
But they still provide some overly simplistic tips for dealing with tech overload.
Conveniently, they have five tips for mindful sharing on social media. For starters, don’t just suddenly drop into phone-mode around other people. Tell your companions, “I’m going to do a social post right now,” and step aside. Next, tap into your inspiration, asking yourself, “What about this feels special to me that I want to build up as part of my world?” Don’t forget to check yourself. So much of posting on Instagram can be an exercise in vanity and proving one’s self-worth; instead, pause and “find the place where you’re inspired.” The fourth tip – “have fun with it”—seemed obvious, but Instagram can be an anxiety-inducing place for many. And lastly, let it go. “There is a nice moment where you can say, ‘I kinda don’t care if anyone likes it … I’m just gonna I hit send and then move on,” Pettit says.
In your mind, will telling your companions you are going to do a social post right now really fix your social media concerns? What about following another account on Instagram. I don’t think so. We need steps to remember how to leverage technology as a tool. It’s meant to help us be more productive, connect with people and build new things. Perhaps the internet really is just a utility that isn’t so much fun anymore, but we need to be intentional about our use of technology instead of slipping into mindless habits. We can use the internet to create and not just consume.
My team is moving back from open to private offices, so it’s an opportune time to find inspiration for the new space. There are all sorts of studies about collaboration and productivity level in open space vs closed offices, but Joel Spolsky and Anil Dash from Stack Overflow and Fog Creek have perspectives from the lens of software engineers that still hold nearly fifteen years later.
Office space seems to be the one thing that nobody can get right and nobody can do anything about. There’s a ten year lease, and whenever the company moves the last person anybody asks about how to design the space is the manager of the software team, who finds out what his new veal-fattening pens, uh, cubicle farm is going to be like for the first time on the Monday after the move-in.
Well, it’s my own damn company and I can do something about it, so I did.
Bionic Office by Joel Spolsky
Building great office space for software developers serves two purposes: increased productivity, and increased recruiting pull. Private offices with doors that close prevent programmers from interruptions allowing them to concentrate on code without being forced to stop and listen to every interesting conversation in the room. And the nice offices wow our job candidates, making it easier for us to attract, hire, and retain the great developers we need to make software profitably. It’s worth it, especially in a world where so many software jobs provide only the most rudimentary and depressing cubicle farms.
The New Fog Creek Office by Joel Spolsky
Just take a look at the long list of requirements for the office space:
- Gobs of well-lit perimeter offices
- Desks designed for programming
- Glass whiteboards
- Coffee bar and lunchroom
- A huge salt water aquarium
- Plenty of meeting space
- A library
- A shower
- Wood floors, carpet, concrete
The link to photos of the space is broken, but not because the space didn’t work out; Joel’s ideas on workplace design outlasted Picasa. Luckily the NYTimes article on the Fog Creek office still has a few thumbnail sized images. Plus street view is still a thing.
They used bold, playful colors and bright common areas to foster in-the-trenches camaraderie and created private soundproof offices where the programmers can go to get their jobs done.
A Software Designer Knows His Office Space, Too via NYTimes
Spolsky wanted a space designed intentionally for deep work and collaboration, and he put a considerable amount of thought to ensure he built a productive environment for the people at Fog Creek. It paid off.
Spolsky has a treasure trove of knowledge on his blog that spills out amongst others on his team. The rich history is pervasive across those he influences.
With a private office, you’re in control of your space and attention: you can choose when to close the door and avoid interruptions, and when to go play ping-pong, talk with coworkers or work out of the coffee bar. In an open office you’re at the mercy of the people around you: if they’re talking, the best you can do is crank up your headphones and hope to drown them out, and if they’re playing foosball then good luck.
Everybody has their own rhythm. People come in at different times, take breaks at different times, need to socialize at different times, and have their most productive hours at different times. Management’s job is to accommodate that and create a space where all those conflicting needs don’t congeal into a persistent hum of distraction — not to enforce some top-down ideal of openness and creativity. Private offices put the people who do the actual work in control.
Why We (Still) Believe in Private Offices by David Fullerton
Fullerton’s post shows how teams can create a “magnificent culture of non-distraction” by using technology to keep people in control of how they work. At first, the idea typing out a chat, going back and forth seems less efficient than tapping someone on the shoulder for help, but leveraging technology as a tool to help people stay in the flow actually makes sense.
Whenever we get a new hire in the office, I make it a point to sit down with them in their first week and explain that they should not go to someone’s office when they have a question. Instead, ping them in chat and then jump on a hangout. The result is exactly the sort of culture that open offices are supposed to promote but better:
- If someone else sees the message, they can chime in with the answer
- If someone else is interested in the discussion, they can jump onto the hangout
- And, crucially, if someone is working heads-down and doesn’t want to be distracted, all they have to do is close the chat window.
But what about marketing and design? And how about expanding teams?
We don’t actually even give everyone private offices: some people are doubled up in offices, and the sales and marketing teams sit in larger open spaces because they feel that’s an important part of how they work.
Putting employees first is always at the heart of how we create great places to work.
In 2017 Fog Creek moved to it’s fourth headquarters (1, 2, 3, 4). They could have recreated a bigger version of their office 3.0, but instead they reflected on their team dynamic and arrived at a design that allows people to work in a variety of ways. With a largely remote workforce and a larger percentage of people in non-technical roles, Anil Dash (Fog Creek CEO as of December 2016) understood the existing office design could be enhanced.
The new office also includes a variety of work spaces that accommodate different work modes. Anil mentioned personal offices for standalone work, but they also work well for collaborative work like pair programming. There are workstations for independent or individual co-working, and phone booths for external communication such as sales calls or podcast appearances. There’s also our conference room — known as the “quiet car” — which can be used across a number of different work modes. And true to the nature of our office being flexible and experimental, we are already re-configuring some of these spaces based on how we use them.
Beyond Open Offices: The New Fog Creek Headquarters by Maurice Cherry
Fog Creek treats their office like any other product they produce. With Spolsky at the helm, the company researched best designs, planned with it’s people in mind, built it’s ideal vision, and iterated on the product, improving with each new update.
As the company has grown and changed over the years, so has our office space. Joel’s grand visions for what a work environment should do for employees have been part of Fog Creek from the very beginning, and we have tried to honor that legacy. We also have plenty of plans for the future, and look forward to continuing our tradition of incubating new teams and ideas from within our company and beyond.
For those of you looking to revitalize your open space or bring the aesthetics of open plan spaces to a private office from Design Milk 2017 Where I Work Year in Review. Since these aren’t Fog Creek offices, the productivity may not be at the same level, but they look cool.
All the links
- Bionic Office by Joel Spolsky
- Private Offices Redux by Joel Spolsky
- A Field Guide to Developers by Joel Spolsky
- The new Fog Creek office by Joel Spolsky
- A Software Designer Knows His Office Space, Too by Clair Wilson
- Why We (Still) Believe in Private Offices by David Fullerton
- Beyond Open Offices: The New Fog Creek Headquarters by Maurice Cherry
- 2017 Year in Review: Where I Work via Design Milk
Self-driving cars are, as far as I’m aware, the ultimate example of edge computing. Due to latency, privacy, and bandwidth, you can’t feed all the numerous sensors of a self-driving car up to the cloud and wait for a response. Your trip can’t survive that kind of latency, and even if it could, the cellular network is too inconsistent to rely on it for this kind of work.
But cars also represent a full shift away from user responsibility for the software they run on their devices. A self-driving car almost has to be managed centrally. It needs to get updates from the manufacturer automatically, it needs to send processed data back to the cloud to improve the algorithm
What is edge computing? via The Verge
The decision to avoid an obstacle or slam on the brakes needs to happen instantaneously. A self driving car does not have the luxury of time to wait for a decision to beam down from the cloud. A car must have the latest decision-making ability available on board, so it can react to inputs using it’s current understanding and update the model in the cloud to enhance the driving capabilities of the entire fleet cars.
The End of Cloud Computing by Peter Levine
breaking up a formerly integrated system — commoditizing and modularizing it — destroys incumbent value while simultaneously allowing a new entrant to integrate a different part of the value chain and thus capture new value.
Why aggregation matters is that it is the means by which new integrations are achieved:
- Netflix leveraged its position as an aggregator of video content into the integration of the customer relationship and content creation, undoing the integration of linear channels and content creation
- Airbnb/Uber and other similar services integrate the customer relationship with the driver/homeowner relationship, undoing the integration of cars/property with payment
- Google and Facebook integrated content discovery with advertising, undoing the integration of editorial and advertising
Zillow is embracing a model that, should it be successful, tears down the status quo: this will not only enrage Zillow’s customers, but also endanger Zillow’s primary revenue stream.
Thompson outlines evolving his method of explaining trends in technology. While his initial thoughts on aggregation theory captured most of the story, Zillow’s recent news expanded his thinking such that aggregation must leverage integration to transform value chains. This pivot does not discount his previous mindset but gives an opportunity to reflect on older insights and use the new frame of reference going forward.
Zillow, Aggregation, and Integration via Stratechery
Most stressful reading of the week award goes to…
A complete guide to how Elon Musk has raised, and then spent, billions of dollars.
— Read on www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2018-tesla-burns-cash/
On team culture (at Microsoft and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)
But the competitive culture I didn’t really like, it felt like the arguments weren’t just about that intellectual thing, but they were personal … I felt like we could do it differently
At the foundation, the culture that we have created there has just as much innovation, amazing scientists, best in class, [and] we have tough intellectual debates but they’re not personal, and they’re supportive of people and their careers. You get the best out of people and all the best ideas on the table. If you don’t do that you leave innovative ideas on the table. People get afraid and they don’t put their idea out there because they might be criticized.
On diversity in tech
The way you treat a young child versus an 18-year-old, 22-year-old, 30-year-old, versus an elderly person, is pretty different. You use a lot of empathy when you’re trying to bring a child up and teach them, and it’s tricky because you have to use a lot of positivity even when what you’re trying to do is correct behavior. But [it’s] the same thing with an elderly person. It’s a horrible thing when you start to lose a little bit of your sight, or you can’t drive anymore, and that was your rite of passage when you were younger. I think if you have these products that are created by white guys in their 20s, you’re just gonna miss the mark on both empathy and the actual needs of the elderly and what they’re facing.
If you don’t have diversity at the table, there’s no chance you’re gonna see it. You’re just not. If you’re a VC and you’re about deal flow, you’re missing all kind of deals, because the deals you’re investing in are what you’ve known before.
It’s interesting to think how all generations of people are experiencing digital technology for the first time in human history. There are opportunities for everyone, young and old, and we are only a few years into understanding how global connectivity will affect structures that took tens and hundreds of years to develop. Whether a high school student or an elderly person who can’t drive anymore, these new tools are available and ready to be applied to their current way of life. As an individual, you can only see so far outside your current frame of reference. Different perspectives can generate value for so many people.
On future breakthroughs
Bill and I often have this kind of fun debate of, “If you were entering any field now and you had your choice of going into any field, what field would you go in?” He and I both would go into the cross between biology and computer science. What is gonna happen in those fields, we’re only beginning.