I’ve been paying a lot more attention to the IndieWeb space this year, with the intention of revamping my lifelogging site to both include more services that I still use (and remove the fitness tracking that I decided to stop), as well as become a repository for webmentions.
I started using webmentions on this site, and have been working to integrate the social accounts that I still use together and create a new template more geared toward sharing and displaying information in a canonical area. My need to control and own my data and information is coming around to the point that I’m finding a whole community of people who do the same with their websites.
The issue with a new community is the amount of work that can go into it. I’ve been listening to podcasts, reading articles and W3C specs, and watching git repos and discussion channels. I’m getting close to overwhelming myself with the amount of information that I’m consuming in pursuit of leveling up my knowledge before attempting to make any sort of a presence.
I don’t really have any reason to do this. When I started with the WordPress community I was just some guy who’d been using it for a few years and had never met anyone else just to talk websites. That slowly grew into whatever this is that I do now. I should take a similar approach with a new community, but instead I’m getting too inside my own head.
So my goal now is to start participating, even just to say hey to that existing community of IndieWeb aficionados. I’ve got lots of projects that I want to work on, more than I have time for, but in the meantime maybe there’s something that I know how to do that I can help someone else there with.
As WordPress swiftly moves towards its next iteration, with the Gutenberg editor part of core, I want to look back a bit on my time with WordPress.
My Introduction to WordPress
I was working for a company doing rote data entry in early 2008, while building small sites for clients on the side. I had seen a basic CMS before, having used CushyCMS as directed by some past clients. The concept of storing content separate of the template files wasn’t pressing though, and I was still working in individual HTML and PHP files using Dreamweaver.
While looking around at some options I stumbled upon WordPress, though I honestly can’t say that I remember where or how I was introduced to it. I do know that I was tasked with helping the company that I worked for build a new website for themselves. This would be my introduction to WordPress, as well as my introduction to doing jobs well above my pay grade for close to minimum wage. That part certainly hasn’t changed for a lot of agencies around Orlando.
Before building the company site I decided to test out this software that was still known primarily for blogging. At the time that I started, version 2.5 or one of its maintenance releases would have been the newest version of WordPress, well before version 3.0 where WordPress Multisite, custom menus, custom post types, and custom taxonomies were part of WordPress core. At that time it definitely still fit the blog category more readily without those features.
So I started a blog. I was a collector and trader of classic video games and memorabilia, and I enjoyed playing old NES games. At the time I was attempting to slowly build a collection of all official (and some unofficial) NES cartridges, barring the few that were several thousand dollars. That was approximately 679 US released games, with a few dozen more foreign exclusives. I made it to about 200 games before I got rid of the collection a year later, which is another story in itself. I didn’t finish that project.
But I did finish the blog. It’s offline now, which is just as well since I didn’t realize at the time that my chosen domain misused the Nintendo copyright, and they were getting into their litigious phase with fans. I would blog about some of the games that I was playing and give them reviews. Not nearly as fancy as the people who do this on YouTube for a living, but it was fun.
My Next Steps
After starting that blog and working on the company site I was hooked on WordPress. I left the company for a job that was actually about web development before the site was complete, but the actual developer at the old company did eventually finish it and put it up.
I spent the next few years at two companies doing WordPress development, which was becoming higher in demand. Those new features appeared, and made it even easier to create sites for businesses and marketing efforts, which really did democratize the web for a lot of people.
I visited the wordpress.org support forums a few times in this period, but don’t think that I ever posted, just read. That’s also a habit that I keep to this day with most sites: I lurk around for years before I sign up, if ever.
Even having seen those forums it didn’t really click for me that there were people behind WordPress. Software was still this far away thing for me where someone made it and I consumed it. If I had a problem that I couldn’t solve, I chose new software or did without.
It was only when I was into that second job that I met another developer who was part of a local technical community and I saw that people actually met up to discuss and build things for the web.
My Introduction to the Community
In late 2011 the WordPress Orlando Meetup was started, and I made sure to make it to the very first meeting. I didn’t know anyone there at the time, but for a new event around a piece of software, there were a lot of people that showed up. I met a few people at that first meeting who are still involved with the group to this day.
I spoke with some folks there and mentioned that I build WordPress sites for a living, something that only a few other people there seemed to do, as most were users of the tool for their own businesses. I quickly got involved with giving presentations on things around WordPress, and was helping set up some events and speakers right away. I became a co-organizer quickly, and within two years was the only remaining organizer, making me the de facto lead when we got pulled into the WordPress Foundation.
Fast forward nearly seven years and we put on multiple events each month with a group of about ten organizers. We also restarted the defunct WordCamp Orlando in late 2012, and I’ve been involved in a variety of roles with a slightly larger group of organizers ever since.
In between I have attended several dozen WordCamps, speaking at a good portion of them, and making lots of friends along the way. At this point the majority of my social life revolves around the community, which has helped to give me so much that it only makes sense to keep giving back.
15 Years and Onward!
I’m happy to be included in a group of some of the smartest, kindest, and most helpful people that I could hope for. It’s not always the easiest when there is so much coordination and a lot of personalities to keep together, but it’s been worth it for me. It is not an exaggeration to say that discovering WordPress changed the course of my life.
WordPress is one of the rare open source software releases that is still actively developed 15 years after initial release, especially at such a regular pace. The community is thriving, and I hope to see Gutenberg and other future thinking tools continue to improve WordPress for a long time.
I’ve been considering ways that I can up the design of my site, now that I’m back to blogging a bit. I’m not much of a designer myself, and while I appreciate a good minimal layout, somehow it’s harder to pull off something that looks good with fewer elements on the page.
When I’m working with clients we normally have someone come in specifically to handle design. I have played around with wireframing apps before, and can sometimes sketch out basic ideas, but I admit to being clueless when it comes to anything between basic ideation and coding it up.
Usually I end up looking at other sites for inspiration, like Awwwards blog sites. I can see what people who review sites every day view as good designs, and try to get an idea of what makes them stand above the rest. I then try to remove the things that I consider too gimmicky, like some of the scroll driven sites that move content around. I always get the feeling that people scroll for the animations more than they care about any of the content on the site.
This is an issue that plagues me with my business sites too. I know that there are things that I could do with design to help improve the UX, but I don’t really have the skillset. I should find ways to improve on this, without taking too much time away from the technical learning that is constantly growing before me.
People like Steve Schoger make the process of refactoring UI look like wizardry. I don’t intend on working up to that level of mastery, but having someone walk through the process is a huge help for clarifying their thinking.
Do you have any tips for how you work out new site designs? What about any layout decisions?
Through the past two weeks, the combination of swapping over email addresses and GDPR have given me a ton of reminders of the random places that have my email addresses, including services that I used once years ago and services that I don’t want to use anymore.
But I’ve also gotten plenty of newsletters that I do enjoy. The ones that keep me in the loop on topics that I’m interested in. The ones that give me an overview of the day’s news. The ones that entertain with lighter fare.
For a year I ran a now-defunct newsletter called This Week in Web. Each Friday I would share some of the news stories related to privacy, technology, security, and random occurrences around the web. I would attempt to put variety in sources, and give a short impression of whatever I was sharing to give my opinion as well as make it easier to determine whether to read the full article or not.
That said, newsletters have been making a comeback. Email is still the killer app when it comes to reaching people most broadly, and if you’re like me, a lot of your consumption comes to your inbox as opposed to a notification feed.
While I’m on day 25 of my month-long challenge of daily blogging, I haven’t yet restarted a newsletter. I worry that it won’t be focused enough to attract regular interest, or that I will make it too focused for most people.
I don’t know which of those two options is the better outcome in my case, and I’m regularly concerned that by placing a newsletter on my personal site I will be tying subscribers to myself as opposed to a brand or business that could grow beyond myself.
But that’s probably thinking too far ahead. Instead why don’t I do the same thing that I’ve done with the blog: write about whatever it is that is interesting to me that day, and try to gauge where reader interest leads the content.
To that end I’m opening up subscriptions for a new newsletter. I’ll put out the first email next week, and I’ll start with a commitment to sending once per week. What that newsletter will have is yet to be seen, but I want to shake up the layouts that I’d used in the past.
Sign up below if you want to keep up with whatever random things I’m doing or thinking about, and get some links to cool things, gifs that I’m liking, or I guess links to my posts if you really want those.
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If you do subscribe, I want to treat it like a two way communication street. Email me back with stuff that you’ve seen recently that you liked!