Changes

Today I turn 41. It’s also the end of my quasi-leave of absence, and on Monday I’ll be returning to full-time work at Automattic on the Dot Org Team. When I do so, it will be in a new role; I’m posting about it here so that all concerned will know what I’m doing, why, and that yes, it’s intentional.

For 4+ years, I was the UX/Design lead for core. At some point in the first year or so, I also started project managing the core team/core development. Then I started doing some community work, events, and general contributor community management. There were also other things here and there, like trademark for a while, being the team lead of the Dot Org Team at Automattic, and various design forays. You might remember that this was too much. I’m not ashamed to admit that I burned out, and needed a break.

It’s my birthday, so it’s a natural time to reflect on where I’ve come from, where I’m at, and where I’m going. When Matt convinced me to take the job at Automattic, one of the things that got me in was that he said I could work on programs to bring women and girls into the WordPress community, especially around programming. In that lunch on a San Francisco sidewalk, I laid out a vision including mentoring programs, school projects, summer camps, trips to the moon… okay, not trips to the moon, but just about everything under it. And then I never did any of those things because I didn’t prioritize it over my work on core.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think core is mega-important. Core *is* WordPress. Without it there would be no community. That said, core doesn’t need me to pour my life into it; my offering feedback, some sketching, and advice occasionally can be as much of a help as my doing research, creating wireframes, reviewing every trac ticket, and testing every ui patch.

In 3.5, I was meant to be on leave (aside from the summit planning), so I  answered some questions and gave some feedback early in the cycle to Dave/Helen/Chelsea/Koop, but otherwise stayed out of it. (P.S. Kudos to Nacin on the project management of 3.5!) My only real involvement was at the end of the community summit, when I spent several hours the last morning sitting with Koop going though the media uploader screen by screen, asking questions (“What about _____?” “What problem does that solve?”), sketching alternate approaches, and generally dumping every reaction and idea I had about it into Koop’s head before he left for the airport. Then I didn’t think about it again. From Skype a few weeks later:

Andrew Nacin 11/27/12 12:28 PM
feeling good about 3.5?

Jane Wells 11/27/12 12:31 PM
i wasn’t really involved with it aside from media morning with koop before he left tybee

Andrew Nacin 11/27/12 12:31 PM
that morning was huge. completely re-shaped a lot of our thinking.

That has me thinking that 4 hours here and there will do just fine instead of ALL THE HOURS.

So! Where does that leave me, if I don’t need to do core design or project management anymore? I keep going back to that sidewalk lunch and how exciting it was to talk about possibilities around using WordPress as a gateway for women, girls, low-income kids, and minorities of all stripes who are under-represented in our community to get into the web industry (see also #2 in this post).

My first week back at Automattic (starting Monday) I will be doing a week’s rotation on wordpress.com support with my team, but will then be jumping into a new role focused on our contributor community. It will involve a lot of projects, but one of the first will be aimed at increasing diversity in the contributor groups, starting with the gender gap. These efforts will all happen under the aegis of the new Community Outreach contributor group, so if you are interested in working on this with me (and Andrea Rennick, and Amy Hendrix, and Cátia Kitahara, etc), please join us! I’ve got a giant list of projects that I’d like us to tackle in the new year, and we’ll need people to help make things happen.

But what about core? And other stuff? I’m reserving Wednesdays to do design so I don’t get rusty. These “office hours” can be used by the core team to have me look at something, or by an Automattic team. Otherwise, I’ll use that day to work on designs to improve areas of the WordPress.org site to help with our goals, and/or tools to help us get things done.

So that’s the plan.

What do you think?

Well Said, Elizabeth

A few months old. but extremely well said.

If we don’t stop bashing and abusing each other for not writing code the way we think it should be written, or for it not being perfect and polished, or for not responding to us in a way that we think we should be responded to, then we will effectively kill off Open Source. We will kill all the flowers we’ve worked so hard to grow. We will have nobody to blame but ourselves when there’s no one left to tend the gardens.

- Elizabeth Naramore

A Bakery? Also, OMGOMGOMG!

This post has the potential to be as long as the scarf I made Matt for his birthday. Knowing that, I’ll try to keep it short and to the point. Opportunity knocked last week and I decided to answer. No, I’m not leaving WordPress or Automattic; get your mind out of the gutter. The owner of a small restaurant here on Tybee (Charly’s) is retiring and selling his place, and $10,000 was plunked down as a deposit to buy it so that it could house:
Jitterbug: eat. drink. blog.
I want to turn it into a bakery/internet cafe/WordPressy community gathering space. Bake in the morning to force some non-computer time, then do my usual WP stuff in the lulls. I wrote a 20-page business plan full of stats and projections, and some smart money types tell me it looks good. But wait! I’ve spent all my money in the last few years on things like raising my brother’s kids, buying braces for same, helping my mom buy her house down here, and stuff like that. I am broke! I can’t afford to turn this place into the vision of awesomeness I see in my head, despite the below-market price and my plan to take a loan out against my 401k. So: crowdfunding!

The project — the Jitterbug Bakery — was accepted to Kickstarter yesterday, and on Monday once I finish their project setup, I’ll launch a fundraising campaign there. I also set up a WordPress site with a paypal plugin for the non-Kickstarter types, which would mean less lost to fees. If you want to help me make this thing a reality, I’d love it if you’d pitch in (rewards range from my brownies and Jitterbug swag to website setups and reviews), but will in no way hold it against you if you don’t.

small green house with a deck with seating

The building in question: the future Jitterbug

Did you know a decent refurbished espresso setup costs up to $15k? And I don’t even drink coffee!

So if you ever thought to yourself, “I wish I could buy Jane a [drink, dinner, iPad, car] to show her how much I appreciate all she does,” here’s your chance! I’ll provide the drinks and dinner if you come visit the Jitterbug, I don’t like iPads, and I have a car I like. I put up a site at BuyJaneABakery.com that is pretty much just what it sounds like. It has all the info on what I (we, if you include my mom and Morgan!) want to create for my local community. The Contribute page has a donation widget at the bottom. Yes, a bit hidden. The Personal Fundraising plugin I wanted to use was pretty and awesome but more trouble than it was worth. If you’re a Kickstarter type of person, I’ll update this post by Monday when the project goes live there.

If you ever really loved me, help me buy a bakery!

Starting a Local Meetup – Status Update 1/29-2012

I posted here on January 5 that I was going to start two local meetups and document the process. Time for an update! Warning: it’s a little long, but it goes fast. :)

Tybee Island

I started with the Tybee Island WordPress Meetup Group in the sleepy vacation community where I live. There are a lot of WordPress sites among local businesses, but most have traditionally been managed by a firm and I would consider the WP community here to be more on the beginner end of the spectrum. That said, it’s as enthusiastic as any of the most insidery cliques at the big WordCamps, and I have high hopes for its progression.

Venue

For a venue, I picked the Tybee Island Social Club, a restaurant/bar in the middle of the island that’s good for groups and has free wifi. The meetup was planned to be a social get-together where whoever showed up could meet the others and we could find out what everyone’s interests and skill levels were, so there wasn’t any need for a venue with a projector or private area.

Publicizing

I scheduled the first meetup for January 11, a little less than a week after I created the group and announced it. I figured I’d be lucky if even one or two people showed up, since I knew I didn’t have time to really publicize it though local channels, and Meetup.com sends a note about new meetups to people in the area 3 days after you create your group, so there wouldn’t be much notice.

On the day of the meetup, I posted to the Facebook wall of the venue that we’d be meeting there that night and anyone was welcome to join in. I also posted to the wall of the Tybee Times, an online-only collection of local happenings. In the meetup description on meetup.com I posted that I would be wearing a WordPress shirt (sometimes it seems those are all I have) and would have my laptop covered with WordPress stickers open on the table. I sat at a table right by the front door and got there extra early so I could feed Morgan dinner there before the meetup.

Getting Members

To my surprise, a person joined the group every day or so, having heard about it from someone or found it via search. I emailed two people I know in Tybee that are new to WordPress to encourage them to join. By the day of the meetup there were 9 members; I couldn’t believe it!

The First Meetup

Around 7, meetup time, I noticed a group forming in the back of the restaurant. It was the group! They hadn’t seen me sitting to the left of the door and had just gone and pushed some tables together. A total of 12 people showed up!

Lesson: Set up shop in forward-facing gazepath from the door if possible. Have sign or table tent to catch the eye.

What followed was a combination of mini-group chats, roundtable introductions, showing each other on laptops what currents sites were and talking about the changes people want to make, and talking about local and regional events. I helped one member download the WordPress iPhone app and make a mobile post using Quick Photo. About half the group had bought tickets to WordCamp Atlanta, and everyone was excited by the idea of putting together a small WordCamp in Tybee sometime right before tourist season hit in full force.

The people who came weren’t all beginners, as I’d expected. About half were beginners, mostly small business owners using or hoping to use WordPress to power their business site. Another couple were advanced users and/or developers who came over from Savannah, and there were a few intermediate users.

Interestingly, it was the beginners who’d all signed up for WCATL (Diane had been waiting for one to happen since we moved her site to WordPress last year in exchange for core meetup cottage rentals), and some expressed concern that they might not know enough to follow the WC presentations. I agreed to do a beginners’ tutorial before WCATL  to get the vocabulary down and be comfortable with the posting process.

We discussed what kind of format our meetups should take. People were interested in running free classes at some point, possibly through the library, and having our meetups be a mix of social (read: drinking, Tybee’s pastime), coworking, and mini-presentations sometimes. We agreed that once a month was the right timing for regular meetups, and that we could do separate events for things like classes.

Everyone paid their own tab for food/drink, and I handed out WordPress buttons to anyone who wanted one. Unfortunately the wifi died near the end, which also meant no one could pay with credit cards, so we stuck around and chatted while we waited for the manual charge slips to be created.

The meetup was given good ratings on meetup.com (only about half of attendees had been members ahead of time).

Success!

The Second Meetup

The second meetup was the beginners’ session we planned at the first meetup. For venue we met at Diane’s house, where it would be quieter. We did it as a potluck — I was busy working on 3.4 scope/schedule and dev chat, so I brought a bottle of prosecco I had at home and a box of chocolate-covered Krispy Kremes that Morgan had decided she didn’t like. Diane made chili and people brought appetizers. My MOM joined this meetup. Not an acronym. My actual mother.

After we ate, we started with the basic intro to WP stuff. Got everyone posting and uploading an image, understanding the difference between posts and pages (it may just be time for us to rename Posts in the main nav to Blog, and have Posts be the subitem — though I know Jaquith hates that idea and will fight it to the death, it would save 15 minutes of instruction that happens with almost every new user), knowing the difference between categories and tags and how to use each, and using the mobile apps for iPhone and Android (except Diane, whose seemed to be hitting a weird bug).

Belinda was also able to help people get things going, so the two of us made sure everyone was keeping up. The evening eventually devolved into more of a social gathering with occasional meandering back to WordPress, but everyone had a great time and learned at least a couple of things.

Next

As mentioned earlier, 5 or 6 people are heading to WC Atlanta next week, and our meetup group members are going to try and meet up there for coffee or lunch or something one day. We’ll return to regular meetups later in February and will pick a regular recurring day of the month. At that point I was thinking of taking out a small ad in the Tybee Breeze to get the word out, putting up flyers at the library and whatnot.

Savannah

I started later with the Savannah WordPress Meetup Group. When I was at WordCamp Birmingham I decided it was time to get Savannah started. I initially planned the first meetup for Feb 1, thinking having a couple of weeks of lead time would mean a bigger turnout, but then I thought of the WP philosophies: Shipping is a feature. Don’t wait for perfection, launch and iterate. With that in mind, I went ahead and set the 1st meetup for January 24, about a week and a half from the group’s formation.

Venue

I wanted to use ThincSavannah, the co-working space I belong to. I have a low-level membership that allows me to work there up to 40 hours per month during normal business hours of 9-5 during the week. In addition I get 8 hours per month of conference room rental time. The space has two large open co-working spaces as well as a couple of conference rooms, and is located in a great location right downtown overlooking Ellis Square and near the Whitaker Street Parking Garage.

I approached the owners to ask if it could be made to work, since technically I wasn’t supposed to be accessing the space at all hours, but our meetups would be in the evening. They wanted to host us (they host several tech-related events), but their offer was a reduced rate on conference room rentals. I told them I appreciated the offer, but since I didn’t want to incur expenses for the meetup, I would just see if I could get free space from SCAD (they hosted WordCamp Savannah 2010 as a venue sponsor) even though I thought ThincSavannah was the better venue philosophically. They said they’d discuss it further. The offer they came back with was to let me use my hours for the actual space rentals, but for me to put down a deposit (about the same price as a month’s membership) against any potential problems. I thought this was super reasonable, and happily paid the deposit. (Why do I have the cheapest membership that limits me to business hours? Because I want to have contact with the vibrant tech community in Savannah, but don’t want to commute 20 minutes each way every day, so twice a week is the max I can handle.)

Publicizing

Again I didn’t really publicize. I sent a tweet to Creative Coast, and ThincSavannah tweeted it, but that’s about it. I tweeted once from the old WordCamp Savannah account, and I tweeted from my personal account that I would be bringing tootsie rolls. :)

Getting Members

Join rate was slower than on Tybee. 6 or 7 had joined (including me) by the first meetup, and 5 showed up. Kevin Lawver, organizer of Refresh Savannah, told me via Twitter that it’s impossible to get people in Savannah to RSVP for things.

The First Meetup

We took the brand new ThincStudio room (the venue recently expanded), and all fit around one of the big (sustainable wood) tables. There was me, two pro WP consultants/devs, one advanced user/freelancer, and one newish blogger. I had a clipboard on the table to get people to sign in. This was good, because I could send an email to the two people who’d heard about it via Twitter and hadn’t joined the meetup.com group yet. My sign-in list had columns for name, member of group on meetup.com (y/n), and if not, email.

It was pretty great. If we’d had beer it would have been perfect. We went around and told each other how we use WordPress and what we were hoping to get out of the group. We discussed different types of meetups we could have and agreed on casual work-on-stuff/social meetups for now, with occasional special events (every 3 months or so) involving presentations or speakers, rather than that being the default. Savannah is meetup-heavy, and it took us a while to itemize all the other events we’d want to work around (Refresh, cSpot, LunchTank, Free Advice Fridays, Social Media Club, etc). We eventually picked the second Wednesday for regular evening meetups at 6pm (vs 7pm in Tybee, b/c there we need to give people to get home from work, while in Savannah we figure people will come while they are still downtown), and a lunch meetup the 4th Wednesday (so people with evening commitments could still participate).

WordCamp?

We also discussed bringing WordCamp back to Savannah, with a focus on local speakers and possible unconference portions. The plan would be to decide the general program as a group, and to assign meetup group members topics to learn enough about to be able to do a session. If needed, I’ll connect people with some of the higher-profile WP community experts to ask/answer questions. We’d like to bring in one featured speaker per track from outside of town.

We talked about venues. The River Club, donated last time by SCAD, is no longer a SCAD property, so we thought about alternatives. WCSAV 2010 had about 185 attendees, and now that there are a bunch of people in Savannah using WP to make a living, we know it would be even more this time around. Caila thought she could hook us up with the Telfair theater since she works at the museum. We also thought we could do a fun, lo-fi WC right there at ThincSavannah. It would be crowded, people would have to scrounge for chairs, etc, but the old-time BarCamp vibe is something we all thought would be a positive thing. We agreed to keep talking about possibilities at future meetups. The possibility of doing something the same weekend as Tybee was seen as a good idea (one day in Tybee for blogger and beginning users, one day in Savannah for more experienced users and makers), but wasn’t gone into in detail.

Next

Our next evening meetup (WordPress Workalong) is scheduled for February 8 (4 people said yes so far), and the lunch meetup (WordPress Brown Bag) is scheduled for February 22 (2 people so far). After I’m back from WCATL, I might put up flyers at a couple of coffeeshops, but a small meetup of people who know what they are doing is such a nice thing I’m not in any big rush to draw in all and sundry. I will probably do more outreach to the other tech groups, though.

So that’s it for the first round. I’ll post another update next month with the progress.

If you currently run a WordPress meetup or would like te start one in your city, please fill in the WordPress Meetup Group Survey and check out the post about our new meetups program. Catch you later!

Blackout

The blackout on WordPress.org is active. It is an interstitial, but you have to scroll all the way to the bottom to get the clickthrough link. It will go away if you click that link and be replaced by the Stop Censorship ribbon for 1 hour, at which point the cookie expires and you have to do it again. We’ll run the blackout for 24 hours. Yes, it will annoy you. I wanted to shut everything down, so count your blessings.

The reason we did this instead of a full shut-down is that there are many businesses and people who help drive the independent web that need access to the WordPress Codex, forums, plugin/theme repos, and APIs. We wouldn’t want to penalize them in our protest, so we just made it impossible to ignore instead.

The action on WordPress.com has also started. The primary home page of WordPress.com has blacked out all of its normal “Freshly Pressed” content. The WordPress.com official blog is sporting a ribbon — if we blacked out the blog, then WordPress.com bloggers would lose access to the post telling them how they can black out their sites using the option we deployed this evening. We launched on option tonight for all blogs on WordPress.com to either blackout (8am-8pm EST) or add a ribbon. In the couple of hours since we launched it, it looks like more than 10k have chosen full blackout, and around 3k have added the ribbon. People who chose blackout will have a ribbon before and after the blackout. Ribbons will remain until January 24, when PIPA comes up for vote in the Senate.

Both the WordPress.org and the WordPress.com blackout pages include a short message that includes a text link to the sopastrike.com site, the Fight for the Future video, the email form, the call form, and the non-U.S. petition form.

These things are what I spent the last consecutive 18 hours working on.

For more information, check out americancensorship.org.

WordCamps Galore

I know I sort of disappeared from WordCamps last year. The whole #fakemom thing seemed like the more important responsibility. Now that my mom has moved down to Savannah and Morgan is doing well, though, it’s been okay to ramp up the travel again. I’ll once again be roving from WordCamp to WordCamp, meeting WordPress users, taking suggestions/complaints/bribes, and making sure things are running smoothly on the organizational front.  I’ll be hitting Birmingham, Atlanta, Miami, and Phoenix between now and the end of February.

If you are planning a WordCamp and want me to come to yours, let me know (or ask Zé/Andrea while you’re going through the approval process). Since we usually wind up with multiple WordCamps per weekend during the summer and fall especially, I usually try to make commitments based on who asks first. If two ask at the same time, the one I haven’t been to before will win. If I haven’t been to either, then I choose the one where there’s not someone else from core and/or Automattic already going. The one with better weather and less-annoying travel may also have a very slight edge.

And yes, once I’ve got my local meetups up and running for a couple of months, I’m thinking WordCamp Savannah/Tybee, maybe before the summer season really makes things crazy (and hot).

Starting a WordPress Meetup

2012 is going to be the year of the WordPress Meetup.

WordCamps are more or less running pretty well under the guidelines and policy changes of the past year. We have a few smaller pain points that we’re still working out like dealing with petty cash, some international shipping stuff, and the like, but by and large WordCamp Central is going great. But what about meetups? One of the adjustments to WC policy was the idea of a WC being tied to a local meetup or meetups — the pinnacle of the local community’s year, rather than a one-off event that is cool but doesn’t do much to build an ongoing community.

There are some great meetups out there, and obviously there are millions of WordPress users that are potential meetup participants all over the world, but how do you get one going? It can be intimidating, I know! To show that it can be done — that YOU can do it — I’m going to start two meetups this month and document the process of how I did it, which I can then turn into a Field Guide to Organizing a WordPress Meetup.

Meetup #1: I live in Tybee Island, a tiny little town on the ocean, about 20 blocks long and 5 blocks deep. There are 3 or 4 thousand residents, plus a booming summer tourist trade. There are no tech companies based here, there aren’t a bunch of other meetups, there’s not a great local community website… in short, this is a small town, where I’ll have to actively go out and find people to join this meetup, and there aren’t that many people to choose from. It will be work. It may not, er, work. But this situation is similar to that faced by people in other small towns, so it will be a good example.

Meetup #2: The nearest city is Savannah, GA, about 20 miles away. As it happens, I now belong to a co-working space there and I go work from there once or twice a week (to be around other people vs working from home, alone, 24/7). Savannah has a burgeoning tech community, a handful of freelancers building WordPress sites, a lively downtown, lots of meetups and a very social culture, and a population of just under 140,000 people. There are groovy coffeeshops with wifi, an art college (SCAD), and pretty much everyone has a website. Getting this meetup going will hopefully take a little less effort if I’m smart about where I do the early publicity.

At the same time I’m acting locally, I’ll be thinking globally. I’ve wanted to do more to encourage, support, and facilitate local WordPress meetups via the Foundation for a while, but until we had the WordCamp program running smoothly there just wasn’t time. We’re now looking into a number of options (talking to meetup.com, looking at rolling our own plugin, thinking about working with schools/universities, etc), and I’ll be reaching out to current WP meetup organizers over the coming weeks to find out their pain points and the things that have worked or not worked for them.

The goals is meetups, meetups, meetups. Whether you call it a meetup, a wordup, a hackfest, a dev day, whatever… if you’re bringing together local WordPress users and/or developers on a regular basis, we want to support that.

Wish me luck, and watch this space to see how it goes. I’m scheduling the first Tybee WordPress Meetup for next Wednesday — if I get even one other person to show up and work on their wp site, that means it’s working.

 

Savannah WordPress Happy Hour on Friday

The WordPress core team will be working together from downtown Savannah tomorrow afternoon as part of the annual get-together, and we’d love to meet local WordPress users, developers, designers, consultants, etc. after we call it a day. Come meet us!

We’ll meet up at Jazz’d at 6pm and will be the group wearing an assortment of WP shirts. If for some reason Jazz’d turns out to be a poor choice, the backup plan will be to mosey over to The Jinx.

So please, come out and say hello! If no one comes we’ll be forced to come to the conclusion that no one in Savannah likes WordPress very much, and we’ll just give up and take up miniature golf instead. And I really suck at miniature golf, so please come  have a drink after work tomorrow.

See you there? See you there!

In Praise of the Forums

Forum thread moderator resolution menuI go to a lot of WordCamps and meet WordPress users in person, I get a lot of email, and I monitor several official WordPress twitter accounts in addition to my personal one. Through all these channels, the most common question is not, “How do I become a contributor,” or, “How do I get more traffic to my site,” it’s “Where do I go for help with WordPress?” Little do they know that the answer to the latter is the answer to all: the WordPress.org Support Forums.

When I tell people (in person, via email, over Twitter) to head to the support forums, they often reply with annoyance. They want immediate one-on one assistance, phone help, me to rebuild their site and get them more traffic….. oops, tangent. The point is, people who don’t come from an old school web background mistrust the forum format. Their concerns:

  • No one will answer my question
  • How do I know they know what they are talking about
  • I will look dumb asking my question in public
  • Someone is going to scam me

This morning there was an example that made me think about how much better public support is than private.

  1. Bill asked his question in the forums about a Publicize notice appearing in his self-hosted dashboard.
  2. esmi (volunteer forum moderator) saw the forum post and replied within an hour.
  3. Bill clarified something in a reply, also within an hour.
  4. Nighttime. Sleep.
  5. In morning, esmi sees the reply and says she will ask around to find an answer.
  6. esmi emails the wp-forums list at 7:12am to see if other moderators have seen the bug/have any idea what’s causing it.
  7. I reply to list at 7:21am suggesting it may be Jetpack-related, and comment on the forum thread asking Bill for his URL (because then we could View Source) and whether he uses Jetpack.
  8. I post to an internal blog (7:31am) at Automattic for the team that makes Jetpack, noting the behavior and asking if they know what’s up.
  9. Westi (lead WP dev) sees my internal blog post and pings me in IRC at 7:33am to ask for more info, agrees it’s likely a Jetpack bug.
  10. Westi and I both leave additional comments on the internal blog (7:36am and 7:38 am, respectively) for Greg, the lone Jetpack team member who’s not en route to Lisbon for a WordCamp/team meetup.
  11. Greg replies to us at 9:34am (he’s in a time zone an hour behind me) and gets to work on fixing the bug.
  12. At 10:36am Greg posts to the internal blog with a link to the changeset that has his bugfix.
  13. Greg then posts to Bill’s original thread apologizing for the bug and notifying him that it is fixed.

Granted, this doesn’t happen with every thread, or even most of them. Most of the time the volunteer moderators are able to answer things on their own. But when they can’t, the moderators know exactly how to get the attention of the right people, and those people give them that attention because the moderators have earned trust — their requests for help are not seen as noise, but as a valuable community resource.

Little did Mr. Bill realize that when he asked his question he would get the attention of an experienced moderator, the UX lead, a lead developer, and one of the Jetpack developers all at once. And thanks to him asking that question in the public .org forums, the right people were pulled in, and the bug was fixed right away.

So, back to those concerns.

  • No one will answer my question. Well, first you should use the search box and see if they’ve already answered it for someone (or some hundred) before you. Then you don’t have to wait at all. If you do post a thread, it will most likely get an answer pretty quickly (or at least a request for more information to allow volunteers to troubleshoot).
  • How do I know they know what they are talking about? If someone is labeled as a moderator, keymaster, core team member, etc., they know what they are talking about. Other volunteers may also offer help. Usually additional people will weigh in to say if their advice is correct or not.
  • I will look dumb asking my question in public. No, you won’t. We all start somewhere, and the first question you ask in the forums should be a mark of pride: you’re learning how to do something new! And while I encourage this bravery, some people are just too shy to ask. With almost 60 million WordPress installs worldwide, I guarantee you are not the only one with your issue/bug. Asking in the public forums means other people can benefit from the answer as well.
  • Someone is going to scam me. No one who is official in the forums will ever ask for your admin password, for money, or for sketchy personal details. If someone does, please add the modlook tag to your thread so we can check them out and correct the behavior (if they just didn’t understand the rules) or ban them (if they are scammers/spammers).

Oh, and as for those other questions people tend to ask me that also can be answered with the forums…..

How do I become a contributor? You can start by helping people in the forums! This is a great way to give back even if you’re not an expert yet, because there’s almost always something you’ve learned already that someone else hasn’t. If you’re a developer, it will also help you find bugs to fix. Helping people in the forums with consistency and accuracy builds your reputation with the core team, and gives you an “in” with the powers that be. Having a close connection to WordPress users via volunteering in the forums gives you insight into the way people use the product and what bugs or workflow issues need the most help, which will help you focus on the most important things to improve in core.

How do I get more traffic to my site? Well, you can specify your site URL in your forums profile, and it will be linked from your name in your forum replies. If you give helpful answers in the forums, people will tend to click that link to learn more about your awesomeness.

And a bonus tip if you are a WP freelancer or run a WP-based business: Paying one or more of your employees to spend some time helping in the forums (and/or contributing to core with patches) is a smart idea for several reasons:

  1. Your company will suddenly know a lot more about the needs of the WordPress community and can address them better with your products/services.
  2. You’re investing in the platform that powers your business.
  3. You gain reputation — both bragging rights and core team appreciation and respect.
  4. Clients like to hire people/companies that have their hands in the actual project, because they feel more secure knowing that you will always be ahead of the curve and know the codebase better than your non-contributing competition.

So! Asking questions in the forums? Win-win. Answering questions in the forums? Win-win-win. All hail the forums, and the amazing efforts of volunteer moderators like esmi, Ipstenu, alchymythandrea_r, samboll, and zoonini,  and active volunteers like kmessinger, Rev Voodoocgrymala, crondeau, and danhgilmore.* The next time I write a post like this, I hope your name will be listed here!

*This list is based on activity I see on the wp-forums list, a tweet asking for recommendations, and a quick query on posting activity. We really need to start gathering stats on forum activity. What kind of activity levels do these guys have? Here are the top five posters and how many posts they’ve made to the forums in the past 3 months:

  • esmi: 8514
  • Ipstenu: 4432
  • alchymyth: 2018
  • andrea_r: 1385
  • kmessinger: 1074

Remember, you don’t need to put in this much time to make a difference. Having a goal of helping one person a day, or even per week would make a big impact if everyone did it. Happy helping!

DevPress, WPCandy, and Why I’m Now 80% Blonde: Part the First

Every morning I wake up at 5:42am so that I can make lunch for my niece (11th grade! I remember her emergency birth — weighing 2 lbs 13 oz — back when I was in Okinawa to take care of her as a newborn. They grow up so fast!) and send her off with a wish for a good day before she goes to school. After that, I start work. By the time most people are getting to their coffee I’ve already put in a few hours (per trend), so it wouldn’t be accurate to say that I woke up on September 9th to find out I’d been accused publicly of starting a war; I was already awake. That said, it was a sucky way to continue the morning, the day, the week. Especially because I was not accused directly, nor did the person who printed the accusation bother to contact me about it; I found out because I get the pingback notifications from WordCamp.org, and Ryan’s article linked to the fundraising page on the planning site.

I don’t even know where to start. Here’s the list of the things that I feel obligated to do now, in written form, in public:

  1. Set the record straight regarding my communication with Justin, which in no way resembles starting a war.
  2. Explain why giving away memberships is not the same as underwriting an event.
  3. Explain why the guideline exists in the first place, the long-term reasons why they’re important, and the plans for their evolution.
  4. Ask why someone (I’m looking at you, Ryan Imel) would publish something so inflammatory without even checking with the person being accused of something first to see if it’s a) true, b) something that could be worked out without animosity somewhere other than in the comments of WPCandy.
  5. Defend myself against the slur of needing an English degree.

Well! I guess I won’t be spending the morning working on the uploader UI. Because — let’s face it — there’s no way I, the wordiest of the wordy, can address all of these things in one succinct post, I’m going do a series of three. A trilogy, as some English majors might say. And the posts probably won’t be succinct, because this brouhaha has brought up a lot of issues, and though people are claiming their questions are simple, generally there is a simple answer, but then a long drawn-out answer is required if someone doesn’t feel the simple answer was adequate, so might as well just put it all out there.

In this post, Part the First, I’ll largely be providing an account of what went down from my point of view, reacting to the way this thing blew up, and talking about how it affected me personally. In Part the Second, I will address the sponsors vs. giveaways issue. In Part the Third, I will give an overview of why the guidelines exist, how they are decided and evolve, and possibly give some examples of things that have happened but not been publicized that have contributed to certain guidelines (if I can figure out how to do so without violating anyone’s privacy — when you start talking about stalking, financial malfeasance, or lawsuits, it gets very tricky). So if you don’t care that I feel unfairly attacked and you just want to know about guidelines, come back in a few days, because Part the First is apparently 4,325 words.

Guess I’ll just jump right in.

Here’s how it went down, from my point of view.

  • I saw Justin tweet re giving free memberships to WC Philly attendees.
  • I touched base with Andrea (who does all the WC approvals and works with organizers to keep things cool re guidelines). She was already contacting WC Philly organizers, but didn’t know Justin, so I offered to contact him since we’d exchanged a few emails in the past and it would be more casual.
  • Opened a new email, but due to new laptop and no autocomplete for Justin’s address (as it had been awhile since I’d been in touch about anything — the last time was when he declined to lead a .org theme developers’ handbook because he’d landed a gig with a publisher) and Thunderbird search sucking, figured I’d just ping him on Twitter.
  • 9/2 – DM to Justin. Normally I would never post DMs, but since a chunk of this controversy stems from me “starting a war” per Justin’s published statement, the actual exchange is relevant. I will note that a 140-character limit is terrible for this kind of exchange, and I wish I’d looked up his email instead.

Sept 2, 9:34 AM DM
Sept 2, 10:33 AM DM

Side note on how I work:
I usually work about 15-18 hours per day, mostly including weekends, though fewer hours if I have any obligations in my #fakemom role. I’m working on getting this number lower, but for now it means continually flipping through Skype (usually 6-12 ongoing, active chats plus an average of about 20 specific pings/chats per day, IRC (usually 6 channels), Thunderbird (too many emails), Chrome (usually 4-6 windows with about 20 tabs each), Preview (viewing attachments from said Skype pings, emails, etc), and TextEdit (usually about 8 active documents). Some days you can also add in Coda and Terminal, and/or Inkscape and Gimp. And if I really want to be inclusive, System Preferences a few times a day to deal with my wifi being capricious. When someone pings me in Skype or IRC, I bring that window into focus and they have my attention until more than a minute passes without them saying anything. Then I go back to my other stuff and wait for them to ping again.

With Twitter, I don’t have notifications on, because they were too disruptive. I use the Twitter website, not a desktop client, and use it as a casual dip-in-between-other-things form of interaction. One major drawback to the Twitter website design (hey, ex-boyfriend Doug!) is that there is no visual indicator when you have new @replies or DMs if you are on your main stream view, so I often miss these until I remember to check for them. If I send someone a DM, I wait around and leave the screen open for a few minutes, but then go back to the main screen or the @replies screen before leaving so I can see the number of new updates in the tab. It was an hour later when Justin replied, and I no longer had the DM view open, so I didn’t see his reply until the next time I clicked on Messages, which was a couple of days later because of the timing.

Back to the recounting of how events unfolded.

  • 9/3 – My brother’s wedding 3 hours away. I left the laptop behind and hung out with the family, getting back home around 4am on 9/4.
  • 9/4 – 9/6 – Labor Day weekend. Slept a day to make up for previous night, later made a bunch of plans with my mother for her big move.*
  • 9/7 morning to afternoon – Holiday weekend over. Giant email scrub and general catchup that takes forever (the reason I don’t normally take weekends off is that coming back means so much backlog).
  • 9/7 around 3:45 pm – Take doctor call telling me I need to come to office first thing next morning to discuss bad test results. Tell #fakekid I might not be there when she gets home from school next day because of appointment. She asks if she should be worried about appt. I say I’m not sure yet, but that I promise to stop working for the night at 7 for a change and take her dinner and we can talk about it then.
  • 9/7 4:20 pm – Return to DM with Justin.

Sept 7, 4:20 PM
Sept 7, 5:29 PM
Sept 7, 6:23 PM
Sept 7, 6:24 PM
Sept 7, 6:30 PM
Sept 7, 6:30 PM #2
Sept 7, 6:32 PM

  • 9/7 6:48 pm – Seeing that we’ve gotten to a point where we are needing to do multiple tweets per minute to finish a thought, I suggest moving to email or Skype for easier communication.

Sept 7, 6:48 pm

  • 9/7 7:00 pm – I close the laptop and take my #fakekid to dinner as promised.
  • 9/7 7:01 pm – Justin replies but does not take me up on the offer to switch to a non-140-character-limit mode of communication.
    Sept 7, 7:01 PM
    I don’t see this reply because I’ve closed the laptop. If you look at my profile, I was not on Twitter again until the following morning (though I will admit I forgot to check the DM view then, as referenced earlier re UI) when I was headed to the doctor’s office.
  • 9/8 – Spend morning at doctor’s office, being told I may have cervical cancer and getting a biopsy scheduled. Before I even get home, tweet to all women following me to please get a pap smear because I don’t want any of them dying from undiagnosed cervical cancer.
  • 9/8 – Once home, start throwing up from fear/stress thinking about what will happen to my niece and my mother — both of whom will be relying on me for support as of next month — if something happens to me, and go to bed with a big metal bowl at my side in the afternoon. Fall asleep and stay there until following morning.
  • 9/9 – Wake up, make the kid’s lunch, get her off to school, get back to work, start email scrub that will take hours as result of being offline after getting sick the day before. See email with ping notice from WPCandy on the plan.wordcamp.org site’s fundraising page, with a headline that sounds dramatic and confrontational: DevPress Deal Is Against WordCamp Guidelines. This seems to require immediate attention and I do not finish normal catch-up scrub, so do not get to Twitter or see Justin’s last DM yet.
  • Read article. See that Justin has vilified me and accused me of starting a war, among other things. Am astounded that Ryan Imel would print such an inflammatory email without even contacting me for a response or to warn me.
  • Ping Andrea. Turns out Ryan did exchange a couple of emails with her the afternoon before to make sure he understood the WC guidelines, but did not mention Justin’s email. Andrea had requested he hold off on publishing until she could check with me to make sure she hadn’t said anything incorrect. He did not.
  • WPCandy comments turning into another freakin’ dramarama. Some people get the point of the guidelines. Some people get the point but disagree with the policy. Some people don’t get the point.
  • Succumb to feelings about being attacked after being out of conversation for one day, open Twitter for first time that morning, and send a tweet I immediately regret because suddenly everyone I know is pinging to ask me about the state of my junk, which is a) uncomfortable, and b) not helping me get it off my mind.
    Sept 9, 5:59 am
    More nausea ensues.
  • Realize I am getting really tense. Go for a walk on the beach. Luckily, it is 3 blocks away. 15 minutes of wading in surf calms me down.
  • WPCandy comments turn to finger pointing against me, the Foundation, Automattic. Unsurprisingly, most of the nastiest ones are from the same people that make these kinds of accusatory comments every time there’s some kind of drama.
  • I get really upset. I think it is not cool that I was trying to be casual and friendly and get things ironed out privately so that everyone could be on the same page without creating a bunch of drama, and now suddenly I’m the villain in a very public crapfest that was completely unnecessary. If we had told WC Philly they needed to back out of the DevPress thing and had publicly blamed DevPress of not being aboveboard or something, I could see it, but that’s not what happened. We said fine, it’s done, let’s just make sure people know the score moving forward, which is how we’ve handled every guideline slip by an organizing team and/or a business that wants to get involved with a WordCamp. We assume the best: that people didn’t know, misunderstood, or forgot, and that we all want things to be cool. In this case, Justin and his very vocal backers assumed the worst of me, and decamped from direct communication in favor of publicly attacking me.
  • I get back to work on getting 3.3 ready for feature freeze. I’ve let this kind of stuff distract from the job of making WordPress too many times, and I decide to wait to write a response post until a) I’m less upset, and b) I get caught up on some 3.3 ticket review, as freeze is looming and I got really behind during WCSF organizing time.
  • Despite theoretical therapeutic value of immersing myself in work, I’m still upset. I decide that the only way to burn off my feelings and keep myself from writing comments or posts while in this mood is to make an appointment to bleach the crap out of my hair, which will take hours. I figure the burning scalp will distract me, and being limited to typing on my phone will restrain me. I call and they agree I can come in at noon. I write an intro paragraph and an outline so I’ll remember the things that stood out for me during the morning (because all this happened before the west coast even woke up), then head to Savannah to obtain the new ‘do.
  • 9/9 5:30 pm – Leave salon with a modern-day cruella de ville two-toned head.

That’s the end of my version of how this all unfolded. Taking a long weekend for a family wedding and holiday weekend and then taking a day off because of the doctor stuff did mean there were two times that I didn’t continue the DMs immediately. However, I was not under the impression that it was an issue of urgency. I hadn’t said it was, and if Justin thought it was, I’d think he would have pinged again. I’m the first to admit that I’m not always timely in following up on things — hell, it’s the entire reason Andrea got hired, so WordCamp organizers wouldn’t have me as a bottleneck — but in this case I don’t think I was guilty of inordinate delay.

Things that pissed me off (why sugarcoat it now):

  • People saying they were taking “the side of the community.” Dudes, if you are taking sides at all, you are not acting in the best interests of the community, regardless of which “side” you’re on. We shouldn’t be dividing ourselves into sides at all. Everyone should be working together to create common understanding and acknowledge the multiple goals and desires at play in this multi-stakeholder community. If you just want to complain about “the man” (or in this case, the woman) without making any effort to resolve the issues in a professional, collaborative manner, then I’m sorry, but you do NOT have the best interests of the community in mind. The phrase “haters gotta hate” comes to mind.
  • Justin accusing me of starting a war. If I wanted to start a “war,” I’d have posted publicly that they were not adhering to the guidelines and said nasty things about them. Oh, but I didn’t. Granted, at 140 characters, my Twitter DMs were to the point, but they weren’t rude, and I did ask if we could switch to email or Skype.
  • Justin accusing me of going to Ryan to blow up a story instead of talking directly with Justin. I was talking directly to Justin, and I would never choose a public scandal over a quiet conversation and resolution. If the quiet conversation had failed, I still would not have gone to WPCandy and asked them to post about it. When have I *ever* done that? If anything, I sometimes ask for things not to be posted right away so people can have more time to work things out privately. In this case, I didn’t ask for anything, because I was not contacted.
  • Justin saying that if I’d been willing to sit down and talk a week ago, things wouldn’t be out of hand now. They didn’t contact me beforehand, and the week-ago response to my DM did not ask for a conversation, just stated they thought they were within the guidelines. See timeline above to judge for yourself if I was refusing to sit down and talk to him a week earlier.
  • Justin’s snotty remark about my needing an English degree. The definition of guideline is a rule or policy by which one is guided, so saying over and over that we have guidelines-not-rules is not logical. The choice of the synonym for the plan site was very intentional: the word “rules” implies there will be a smackdown if you “break” them; the word “guidelines” implies that we’ll guide you back on track if a rule is broken. We don’t want to slam doors, we want to help guide people through the ones that are outlined on the planners’ site. Except in one or two notable extreme cases, anyone stepping on the wrong side of a guideline just gets pinged for a chat, and it’s resolved easily.
  • Ryan Imel posting that nasty email. It was, very simply, a personal attack and downright nasty. When even Carl Hancock, one of my most vocal detractors, agrees that it’s over the top, you know it’s crossed a line.
    Sept 10, 8:42 am
    His reply above did make me wonder how many people actually read the email that Ryan published.
  • Who prints that kind of stuff? Just the other day I told my 11th grade #fakekid to remove a snotty post (on which there were dozens of comments) from Facebook about a girl in her class who hadn’t done what Morgan wanted with their English project. Here’s what I told her: “Honey, you need to take that down. You don’t post mean things about people on the internet. It makes them feel bad and stirs up trouble that there’s no need for. It makes you a mean, nasty troll. If you have a problem with what she did, you tell her privately in person at school, in a Facebook chat or private message, or you call her. You’re almost 18, and you can’t solve problems anymore like you’re still in junior high. If you can’t work it out with her and you think your Facebook friends need to know, then fine, it’s your call, but even then keep your tone appropriate, watch your language, and focus on facts, not your emotions about her. Be fair.” Huh.
  • Ryan Imel saying in one breath, “It’s news! I have to report it!” (paraphrase) and then in another claiming that he’s just a fan/blogger and should not be held to journalistic standards like fact-checking and providing balanced coverage. Maybe WPCandy should change, “Keep up with WordPress news!” to, “Keep up with WordPress blog posts!” Without all this pot-stirring, maybe Justin and I could have talked and come to an understanding without creating a divisive community uproar. Maybe he’d have convinced us that the guidelines should be changed. We’ll never know now, will we?
  • Jeffr0 jumping in and stirring things even more. The “news site or fan blogging?” issue used to come up with Jeffr0 back before WPCandy totally eclipsed WPTavern. What’s funny is that when this WPCandy story came up, I totally starting thinking about how Jeff had really tried to take that balancing act seriously back in the day once it was pointed out to him that people were treating WPTavern like a news source. Then, the revived WP Weekly podcast of 9/9 did the same thing Ryan had done and stirred the pot without bothering to ask for a counterpoint to Justin’s version of events/the situation, and pretty much threw me under the bus. In that podcast, Jeff also got mixed up and referred to Andrea’s comment as Amanda’s. Since Andrea is from WordCamp Central and is the policy communicator/enforcer with WC organizers, and Amanda is a former WC organizer but not affiliated with WC Central, this was a notable error. When I talked to Jeff on Skype on 9/12 and pointed this out, he acknowledged not being clear on who was who, yet he’d sounded pretty confident when he was talking about [her] in the podcast. That’s just plain irreponsible.
  • People who have traditionally acted like my friends running with the accusations in this story and adding fuel to the fire. These people all have me on Skype, have my phone number, etc., and could have picked this bone with me directly, and possibly helped make the situation better instead of more dramatically in conflict. I am pretty sad to realize that these people are probably not really my friends, but have just acted that way because it was useful or expedient. In the past, when negative gossip about me reached my ears and was labeled as having originated with them, I had chalked it up to miscommunications, lack of context, and all the other things that go into assuming the best about people rather than the worst. In this case, that tendency has apparently led me to think that some people are nicer and/or more professional than they really are. That bums me out like crazy.

So thanks, Justin, Ryan, Jeff, and the rest of the people who publicly hung me out to dry without talking to me directly first. Your efforts in creating a kinder, gentler, more friendly WordPress community… er, not so much this time.

Things that didn’t piss me off:

  • People thinking the guideline about giveaways was not a good one. We won’t all have the same ideas about what makes a good guideline. Most people are basing their opinions on their own WordCamp experiences and those of their friends. We (Matt, me, Andrea) base it on experience with all the WordCamps, interacting with all the organizers, and getting feedback from attendees all over the world. When we disagree with people, it’s usually because we have different starting points. If we have a conversation and you at least listen to where we’re coming from and you still disagree, fine. But if you’re just posting about what biased control-freak idiots we are without even asking why we made certain rules and what kind of situations engendered them, that’s just lame. As a former boss of mine would have said, “You’re a mixer.” (Because you like to stir things up.) If you want to be a community leader, act like one, and get all the facts before rallying people to a conflict/cause. It’s like we have our own WordPress Tea Party or something. The guidelines will continually evolve to make the WordCamp name ever more trustworthy, and making constructive suggestions on ways to improve them is very welcome. Making accusations about how we/I just want to ruin everyone else’s fun/business/life … not so much.
  • People using “Jane” and “the Foundation” interchangeably. Though the people who said it wasn’t accurate had a point, I can see why it made sense to others. I have been pretty much the only person doing stuff under the Foundation name, and whether the direction is coming from Matt or me is generally not stated. If anyone would bother to ask before making a federal case out of things, I’d be more than happy to explain the genesis of each decision and action. Now that Andrea is in the mix, and when we get a little further with some of the Foundation-based initiatives I have planned, there will be more people involved in things, but if all you have to go on is the (rarely-updated) WPF blog, yeah, why wouldn’t someone think it’s all me? I should update that blog more often, it just hasn’t been a priority compared to other stuff. At any time, any of the people who are now clamoring about lack of Foundation transparency could have pinged me to ask a question or suggest I post an update. As it happens I had 3 half-written WPF blog post drafts with news and updates I’d just never gotten around to finishing, and a prompt would have reminded me to get them up there.

So, yeah. This whole thing has made me feel personally attacked, has made me feel deceived by people I thought were friends (or least something akin to friendly colleagues), made me bleach half my head and now I look like a crazy person (though that one is on me), and caused serious distraction from what should have been my top priority, which is getting the new features and UI ready for 3.3 freeze.**

Next post will focus on why the guidelines for sponsorships are what they are and where they come from, and will reply to some of the comments, accusations, and suggestions raised in the WPCandy thread comments. It may be a couple of days, though, because I’m at WordCamp Portland and I’ve got the kid with me and Daryl and I have to finish 3 new features and then test them with WCPDX attendees and I have to stay on top of this weekend’s pre-freeze trac marathon and I need be helpful and friendly to all the people I meet at WCPDX and I still need to stay on top of email and WP help requests and everything else that doesn’t stop happening when a handful of people decide it’s been too long since they made a festival of declaring me the root of all evil. Have a nice weekend!

* I’ll be paying the mortgage on the townhouse she just bought so that she can afford to move closer to the family (esp. the grandkids) now that she’s retiring in early October.

** I notice that the people having such a good time proclaiming their concern for the community on WPCandy are not helping get WordPress 3.3 ready, despite the fact that surely the community’s greatest concern is the improvement of the software they all have in common?