Trying out a public revision process

"revision/procrastination" by Flickr user wenday

“revision/procrastination” by Flickr user wenday

With the launch of this latest version of my site (roughly my fifth iteration since 2006), I’m experimenting with two new features I’d love to see on other blogs: a changelog and a roadmap.

Yes, it might seem strange to have these two software and/or enterprise-oriented features on a tiny personal site, but why not? If a changelog can show users the progress of software, why not a website? And the same with a roadmap: It might not matter what’s ahead for this particular blog, but what if bigger sites like ESPN or Zeldman.com published public roadmaps, giving visitors a peek into their plans and their processes?

As a developer, and as a reader, I’d love to see more of these types of transparent peeks into the past and future of websites – both large and small.

Update: Nice! The Verge publishes a Version History.

Why the gdgt+AOL union is a rallying cry for the WordPress community

In my latest article on WP Daily, I talk about why the recent acquisition of tech site gdgt by AOL’s tech publishing arm might be bad news for WordPress in the enterprise:

I’m suggesting that old, tired, and unfair “WordPress is for traditionally-formatted blogs” trope may still be a factor when online media properties choose their technology platforms.

If that misconception is a factor when enterprises choose platforms, it can be particularly troubling as media companies (such as AOL, Vox, and Buzzfeed before them) choose and promote in-house platforms.

If it’s true – that WordPress is passed over, at least in part, because of the outdated and incorrect notion that it’s too generic and not customizable enough for enterprise – what can we do as developers?

Read the whole thing, and share your take in the comments! Thank you to WP Daily for publishing the article – check them out for all kinds of great news and commentary on WordPress.

 

Local banks should hire a “startup advocate”

Photo "Vault" by Flickr user ostrograd

Photo by Flickr user ostrograd

A recent crowdsource-driven funding contest promoted by a local bank in my area got me thinking about how banks in particular can find themselves on the sidelines of the entrepreneurship/startup movement as the costs to starting a business drop and as new and creative fundraising options become available.

One way that banks can become more active participants in the startup communities in their area is by hiring a startup advocate.

What would a startup advocate do?

A startup advocate would provide the bank with a personal, human presence within the startup community, including:

  • Attending local startup meetups;
  • Speaking at local incubators and other programs (similar to the TopGun Maine program I participated in last year) – not as a pitch for the bank, but as a resource for info about the complicated world of funding;
  • Blogging/posting videos/podcasting with an eye on the local startup scene;
  • Be available for “office hours”, where entrepreneurs can call, Skype, or meet for Q&A or just talking;
  • Connect entrepreneurs with other people in their network where appropriate.

Who would make the best startup advocate?

Loosely defined, the role of a startup advocate would be filled by an entrepreneur at heart: Somebody with personal, hands-on experience inside a startup, ideally having co-founded or led one. That person would work for and represent the bank, but they should be known within the community and/or trusted as a personality unto themselves, not just as a mouthpiece for the bank.

It’s about adding value, not advertising.

Besides the obvious resource of capital (short and longer term), banks have other intangibles to offer startups: Advice and connections on the money side of the game can be immensely helpful to people who are more focused on bringing their ideas to life than learning the intricacies of funding.

Hiring a startup advocate whose mission is to actually know, understand, and help startups could be more effective and less costly for banks than simply dumping more money into traditional advertising or transparent gimmicks.

New article on ideas for WordPress themes

Thank you to WP Daily for publishing my article on the scope of WordPress themes: Should we think about new and better ways to make themes fit into the larger site development process? Here’s a snippet:

Traditionally, themes don’t have opinions about the admin area; don’t acknowledge the presence of frequently-used tools (such as default CPT files); and certainly don’t include files that won’t end up living in the theme’s folder. Themes establish a design philosophy for 40% of a live site – what about the other aspects of building a functional, customized site?

Read the full article and share your thoughts!

Angus King for US Senate

Maine is lucky to have six five people running for our open US Senate seat. While Olympia Snowe will be extremely difficult to replace in terms of her stature and impact, two people running have the best chance to follow in her principled footsteps.

Former Governor Angus King has been the front-runner in the race since announcing his candidacy in March, both in terms of poll numbers and contributions. While Mr. King is running as an independent, he’s been consistently coy and curiously vague when asked whether he’ll caucus with Democrats if elected. Ironically, if that worst-case scenario plays out, King may end up being less independent than Republican Olympia Snowe.

Current Maine secretary of state Charlie Summers is a public servant, successful businessperson, and Iraq War veteran. While I consider him qualified and likely to rise to the calling of the office, unfortunately Mr. Summers’ campaign — and it’s many surrogates — have waged a nasty, often times untrue and completely negative campaigned aimed solely at making Mr. King look bad.

Lacking any shred of positive message and offering nothing other than defensive reasons to elect Mr. Summers, his campaign has never shed the pall of a desperate, angry crusade by a major party that appears more concerned with power and control than with carrying on Ms. Snowe’s impressive and honorable legacy.

Like Mr. Summers, Mr. King is an experienced business person and public servant. While Mr. Summers has squandered his impressive record on a soulless campaign, Mr. King has run a positive campaign, largely by himself and supported by his record and vision, without the excessive and aggressive push of party insiders and special interests bent on claiming his seat.

Both candidates earned the right to be considered. Angus King deserves to be our next senator because he has more clearly laid out his vision for following in Olympia Snowe’s footsteps as a leader free of insurmountable debt to a power-hungry major party.

No one politician can, as Mr. King has suggested, “fix” Washington. But if we elect a leader who can remain independent — not just use it as a prop to get elected — that’s a step in the right direction.

Yes on Question One

Next week, Mainers heading to the polls to vote for president, senator, representative, and local leaders also have the chance to legalize same-sex marriage in a ballot measure commonly known as “Question One”. A similar measure passed in 2009, but was overturned by Maine’s People’s Veto process just seven months later.

Three years later, with a second chance, it’s time that Maine people approve question one and finally make it legal for same-sex couples to marry in our great state.

It’s easy and popular to call same-sex marriage a “complicated” issue, but I disagree. Both for individual liberty, and for the good of society as a whole, I think it’s quite simple and essential to support the expansion of the marriage contract to include same-sex couples.

Separate from its religious overtones, and along side the rule of law, money, and freedom, marriage is an essential, foundational element of a civilized society. At its most basic, it is a contract between two willing participants that provides both individuals, as well as society in general, with widespread security, stability, and, yes, occasional happiness.

Opponents of the law have little ground to stand on. I see two primary arguments levied against allowing same-sex couples the right to marry. The first is that religious institutions will be unfairly harmed – in Maine’s case, that concern is respected and mitigated by the language of the law, which as written protects religious organizations from legal retribution should they choose not to perform same-sex ceremonies.

The second most common opposition comes in the form of a vague “threat” to marriage, citing “studies” and claiming that marriage will actually decline if more couples are granted the right to the marriage contract. The leading organization opposing the law, “Protect Maine Marriage”, goes so far as to claim that “When marriage no longer has its historic meaning and understanding, over time fewer and fewer people will marry.”

The lunacy and desperation of that argument is staggering. The institution of marriage is more, not less necessary in a society fighting war and economic decline; in that context marriage is as important today as ever. In its time of need, welcoming more consenting adult couples into the institution will strengthen, not weaken, marriage’s position in general by expanding it to include a class of people devoted enough to fight for the right to participate in it. It will also strengthen, not weaken, families as children see their family unit validated by society on symbolic (and many) practical levels.

You can often tell when an argument on any topic is on its last legs: it’s when fear will be grandiosely unveiled, a last-ditch effort to confuse and deter people from doing what they know is simple and just. In that spirit, Protect Marriage Maine writes on their website that the law, if passed, would “result in profound consequences for society.”

They are absolutely correct.

It would mean more people have the legal access that they deserve to one of our society’s most important elements. It would mean children’s lives enhanced by stability. It would mean our fellow citizens would be treated more humanely in the eyes of the law and as they go about their daily lives. It would mean a little, maybe a lot, more happiness in this world.

Those are indeed some profound consequences.

Groundwork: A WordPress starter theme

Inspired by my love for WordPress theme development and a great presentation by developer Sean Butze I attended at this year’s WordCamp Boston, I’m happy to present Groundwork, a WordPress starter theme.

Beyond the usual starter theme basics, Groundwork features many nice customizations to a stock WordPress install, including:

  • Custom log in screen logo & styles;
  • Customized admin area including logo and dashboard;
  • Customized/advanced wp-config and wp-config-local (yes, that’s outside the scope of a standard theme);
  • Basic responsive layout;
  • LESS for better stylesheets;
  • Best practices for speed and mark-up.

In short, Groundwork aims to encourage a more tailored and unique WordPress experience for you and/or your clients from how their site responds on multiple devices to how the admin feels when editing a page.

Groundwork is heavily inspired by the following people and projects, which I encourage you to check out:

I welcome your comments and feedback, and I hope it helps you do great work.

View/Download Groundwork on Github

Why I don’t like the political conventions

Note: I originally posted this on my WordPress.com blog.

Against my better judgement, I’ve found myself tweeting about the Republican and Democratic conventions over the past week. My tweets on the subject are usually sarcastic and/or attempts to be humorous, so I want to explain in a bit more detail why I think these are inane and even poisonous events.

2008 Republican convention

2008 Republican convention – Courtesy PBS NewsHour

Conventions are a shining example of the broken political system

Political conventions are a blatant reminder that most of American politics is not about governing, or innovating, or moving our society forward, but rather is about the two parties grappling for power, or attempting to hold onto power. As somebody who is not a member of either party, I find this shameless acknowledgement of the endless power struggle to be incredibly depressing.

Gary Vaynerchuck once said that one of the problems with America is that people put more effort into their weddings than their marriages. The same is true for politics: Governing is hard, messy, and wrought with failure; campaigning brings the glow of attention and the ability to say anything without consequence. Conventions celebrate the former excessively while completely ignoring the latter.

Conventions are insanely self-centered

No other segment of American life – not sports, not celebrity, not even business – spends as much time explicitly celebrating itself as the two main political parties (and their politicians) do during their conventions. As citizens, many of us are gleefully complicit, praising the days of empty rhetoric, self-serving video productions and ignoring the complete lack of substance or self-reflection. If you doubt that, watch as pontificating speeches about personal experiences are praised – and then the praise is praised!

Conventions bring out the worst in spectators

Like a YouTube video of bystanders idly filming a crime instead of attempting to intervene, I feel like people are at their most viciously partisan during conventions, whether it be predictably attacking every scrap of their opponents’ convention, or blindly celebrating every aspect of their own party’s event. The denial of reality and the refusal to be honest is established as a tone by the conventions, and then perpetuated by partisans.

What to do

To start, the conventions should no longer be given airtime on major networks. It’s ridiculous that major broadcast networks continue to provide prime-time air to the conventions In a time of hundreds of news and entertainment sources available across every possible medium and device providing years of coverage of every detail of the campaign.

Parties have the resources and the technology available to broadcast the conventions on their own – they no longer need or deserve the media frenzy supported by prime time air time.

In an ideal world, I’d love it if both parties retired the outdated and increasingly absurd tradition and replaced it with a new kind of event that placed integrity above pageantry. Give up the meaningless (and sometimes corrupt) nomination process and replace at least some of the endless cavalcade of speeches with honest assessments of the candidates’ records, plans, and promises.

Warm as you write

From this fascinating Paris Review interview, Ernest Hemingway on creativity and the wring process:

When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.