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?

Collaboration: Walkman vs. iPod

I get this email every day with an excerpt of something interesting from delanceyplace.com. Usually I delete them without reading because however interesting it doesn’t seem worth the few minutes it would take that I would be stealing from something else that requires my time (story of my life). Today, though, I read the email, which was delanceyplace.com 10/5/12 – sony’s walkman vs. apple’s ipod. Give it a look. It’s an excerpt from a book on collaboration and shows how poor collaboration skills caused Sony to totally lose in a space they should have dominated.

I’ve been thinking a lot about WordPress on my leave (Yes, I know I started leave a month and a half late and am supposed to be thinking about other stuff. Shut up.), and a lot about perceptions of .org vs. .com, and about why there’s a “vs.” in that phrase in the first place. It’s not helping users of WordPress, and it’s not even helping those of us who make such a big deal about the differences. It’s just creating factions.* Going to try to get my thoughts on this in a more coherent format in time for the summit, so hopefully one of the topics we look at can be how to move forward collaboratively instead of competitively.

* – If I can work in any analogies with the factions from the Jane True series that Ryan, Andrea, and I all love, I totally will. If I lived in Jane True’s universe, I think I would turn into either a dolphin or a sea turtle. Halflings rule!

Wishlist: P2 Template Plugin

I have been wanting this plugin to exist for something like 2 years now. If someone would be so awesome as to make it, that would be fantastic.

P2: A theme! A theme with a bunch of functionality in post/comment display that has nothing special going on in the layout or branding areas. It’s all about the content area (and an associated sidebar widget or two).

Other Theme(s): A theme! A bunch of stuff going on in the layout and branding department areas, but no great auto-display functionality in the posts/comments area.

The Dream: Make a plugin that will take the P2 functions and post/comments display within the content/loop area and create a template within your existing theme that keeps your header/footer/sidebar bits but subs out the P2 stuff for your default content area, and applies the stylesheet from your own theme but creates whatever additional classes are needed for the P2 display.

Why: Because P2 is good for conversations and planning, but not for marketing or straight information display. Other themes do that better. But what about when you have a business website (total custom theme usually), but would like the blog you have on one of the pages to be P2 style? What about event sites, that need specialized templates for schedules, attendee listings, and the like, but have planning blogs that would be best served up P2 style?

I would install this plugin on every single site I set up, and would use it as the Blog page template when there’s a static front page.

This is an idea that is long overdue. Would someone please make it a reality? Thanks ever so!

A Tale of Two Brothers: Plans, Construction, and Dev Styles

When we first moved into the Jitterbug building, my two brothers came to help fix it up. I wanted to get rid of the bar that had been in place before, and build a little bakery counter that would be a comfortable height for me to work behind (I’m short) and use some old windows I’d bought off craigslist to showcase the baked goods.

Brother #1′s Approach:

We can definitely build it. First I need you to figure out exactly what size you want it to be, where the windows should go, and draw me up a plan — a basic blueprint to work from. Then we can look it over and figure out what exactly we’ll need and then we can put it together.

Brother #2′s Approach:

Counter about this high, stretching across this space, and using as many of those windows as we can fit in, with a shelf inside and some kind of back covering to keep dirt away? Yeah, I can do that. I’ll do it right after I finish this other thing.

Jane: But, Brother #2, don’t you need a plan, a blueprint?

Nah, I know what you want. If it’s not exactly what you were thinking as we go along, we’ll just check in along the way and we can always redo a bit if I don’t do it how you pictured it. It’s not rocket science, you’ll be happy with the end result one way or another.

Guess which brother was in charge of building the counter? Brother #2. Brother #1 worked on it as well, and so did I, but Brother #2 was ready to jump in and rough it out to move things along quickly. He had no compunction about ripping something out if it didn’t work the way we intended, and embodied the idea of prototyping into iterative improvement/development so completely that I couldn’t help compare this experience to working on WordPress.

There are two schools of thought among WordPress core developers, it seems — the coding equivalents of Brother #1 and Brother #2.  Brother #1 in core terms would be asking for wireframes before writing a line of code, and for everything to be completely figured out in advance. Brother #2 would be more of a jump in and get something started kind of dev, who prototypes using his best judgment and solicits feedback on design aspects as the build itself comes together and can be experienced as a prototype.

When I started working on WordPress, it was mostly Brother #2s. If I said an idea in skype or IRC, someone had it roughly coded to look at before the rest of us were even done talking. Lately, it has felt like we’ve shifted more toward Brother #1s. Statements like, “We need wireframes,” or “You have to decide exactly how you want it to work,” come at me in IRC and Skype, making me a bottleneck and a gatekeeper to development. Yuck!

I don’t want to make any more wireframes. Period. 10+ years is too much. I don’t mind doing up a sketch now and then and putting it on Trac, but I’d like to see more of a return to Brother #2 style development. (There are definitely some in core who do work this way currently.) Just start prototyping. Better UX decisions will almost always come from playing with a prototype vs just imagining with pen and paper (or computer and mouse/wacom). That’s not to say there isn’t a place for specs — when there are a lot of developers working on something, a spec is really useful for keeping people on the same page. But that spec could be as simple as a written description of the feature or change that’s archived and updated as the project evolves.

I did a lot of wireframes in the beginning with WP. In 2.7 we had the Crazyhorse wireframes, which Liz and I did to communicate something totally different to developers I’d never worked with before. In 2.8 with widgets, I did them because we were radically changing the UI, but even more because the underlying widgets code was so sucky that experimentation would have taken forever in a live situation and I didn’t want to put Andrew through that.

Since then, I’ve avoided doing many wireframes. I like it when the dev takes the first stab. Not only does it remove me as a bottleneck, it puts more UI/UX ideas into play before things get finalized. If I do wireframes, then the devs are basically just builders. Which some like, I know, but many want to do product design thinking as well. And really, even for devs that don’t want input into design, having a conversation with a whiteboard or doing a rough sketch is just about always enough for a dev to rough it in as a 1st pass/prototype.

Think about how fast we could go. In this example, we’re talking about doing an update to the way Gallery tab works.

Brother #1 Style: I (and/or some other UI people and devs with a UI bent) review what we have, look at what else is out there right now, get some community feedback, throw around some interaction model ideas, core group debates, pick one, wireframe/write spec, start the build.

Brother #2 Style: “Hey, let’s make the Gallery tab better! Here are the 3 things we want to solve in this iteration. Core people: if you have an idea of how to improve 1-3 of these things, we want you!” Core people discuss their ideas, those deemed of interest make a rough prototype, I/core team/Matt/whoever reviews proposals (in prototype and/or mockup form depending on skillsets), picks one to use as base, makes list (for reference) of what to change in next round to better address the goals, someone starts development.

In the Brother #2 scenario, there’s no initial ux bottleneck, more people have a chance to propose ideas, proposals are focused on solving specific issues (vs being everything cool we can think of), and the real development begins with something to look at/refer to already in place. In Brother #1 scenario, it could be up to several weeks before anything gets coded… the same amount of time it would take to do several rounds of prototypes in the Brother #2 scenario!

I forgot to mention: my counter came out awesome. Not exactly as I’d first imagined it, true, but it served all my goals, was attractive — I’d never even thought of using beadboard until Brother #2 told me to start putting it on the front panel — and I was really happy with the end result:

Jitterbug counter

The counter whose construction was led by Brother #2.

So: no more wireframes for me. Brother #2s, I’m at your disposal for ux feedback!

Proposing Navigation Changes

I just made a ticket on Trac with a proposal to address navigation in the WordPress dashboard. Here is the description.

  1. Explaining the difference between Posts and Pages to new users is time consuming and often frustrating. We’ve all done it, have our best/fastest version of the talk down pat, but it still takes longer than it should to get many new users to the point of understanding the difference.
  1. Back in 2.7, when we set up the left navigation we put Pages at the bottom of the content nav section because in testing 2.5/2.6 so many people complained about accidentally clicking Posts/Pages by accident because they were close together in the old UI and both started with P (blame it on capital_p). Because of this, Pages falls below the less-frequently accessed areas of Media and Links, and people don’t necessarily see it right away because they expect it to be higher up.

I’ve been testing out two changes to the left navigation aimed at reducing these two issues on my test blog for some time now, and have been using it during demos with both new and existing users to great success, so I think it’s time to propose it for core.

Change 1: Change the Posts label to Blog. All Posts can remain as is, or could be reduced to just Posts, since the reason we added the All in the first place was that Matt thought it looked weird to have the same word shown twice.

This change reduces the amount of time it takes me to get a new user really understanding the difference between posts and pages by about 75% (very informal testing, have kept track with about 30 new users by just keeping an eye on the computer clock to see how long it is before we move on). The dynamic blog/static site difference is much easier to grasp when they see that familiar word Blog instead of Posts because “posting” is an action that applies even to static content, and even posts are displayed in web pages (vs Pages).

Change 2: move Pages up the menu to sit below Blog, so the two most important content types are at the top. Since they wouldn’t look similar (ha ha capital_p) there would be much less risk of accidental misclick based on letter shape (poor manual dexterity would not be affected, but in that case those people are already clicking the wrong things, right?)

I’ve attached a screenshot showing what the navigation would look like with these changes.

screenshot of proposed navigation changes

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.