Why I’ve Gone MIA, or What Next

This has probably been one of the quieter years of my life. I no longer post indiscriminately on social media, I don’t check messages often, and when I do it’s almost always about business. I’ve approached the point where replying to some people would most certainly have to begin with an apology.

WordPress as a stable means of income has become less reliable and the last time I heard from WordPress.com about premium themes was far longer than a year ago.

While we anticipated such an abrupt pause to premium theme submissions before it happened, we didn’t realize that pause meant moratorium. We’re okay and work continues, but from a practical level I would be lying if I didn’t admit that my team and I have long been hard at work to shield ourselves from the whims of 3rd-party platforms.

That said, WordPress businesses are grueling work and 15 years is a long time. I don’t know that I personally have another 15 left in me for it.

5, at best.

If I had to put a number on it I’d say that my focus since a few years back has been 80% blockchain and 20% WordPress. My staff’s focus has been the opposite. They are who help me keep things running while I’m busy shoveling dirt and paving a new road ahead.

My future is in blockchain. Not WordPress. I’ll give WordPress 5 more years at most. If core development teams continue to put such a high burden on us to adapt to new development patterns while supporting legacy ones, my exit will likely be sooner. They put 12 more monkeys on our backs while we deal with those already present.

In short, nothing’s changed and I still make the best code I’ve ever made. But everything’s changed and I’d be a fool to ignore the tide shift that’s occuring. I cannot survive in respond mode.

Blockchain has been my greatest joy in these last several years. I just haven’t talked about it much until now. I feel light, exploratory, funny, joyful, and like I’m in control of my destiny when I’m working with it. I stopped feeling that way with WordPress in 2013.

So we build and keep building, and themes and plugins will keep coming, but it will be up to my apprentices to carry on all the work I’ve done since 2003. It’d be a shame for that to be wasted and I trust them.

I’ve also just sorta-finished building a house that’s not complete. We’re at 90%. Next month we’ll likely be at 99%. I cannot think of anything harder that I’ve gone through this year than building my home. Nearly three months of morning to night general contracting and monitoring, as well as paying all costs fully upfront. I have no home debt. None. I owe nothing. Given everything I wrote above about my uncertainty with WordPress, you might imagine how good this feels.

Home ownership feels good. I’ve quietly been adjusting to it. I’ve been alone but not lonely.

My wife and I are also talking about baby stuff again. Sometimes life seems to push me into silence and thought when so much is happening at the same time.

I feel so much responsibility to be a caretaker, a boss, a leader, a hard worker, and a good family man. Sometimes I need to be left alone to sort through it all.

I haven’t spoken to my family much.

I haven’t checked Twitter or Facebook much.

I am on Telegram, LinkedIn, and deep in blockchain project white papers daily. My free time is almost spent exclusively thinking of what the next consensus mechanism or ICO will be that people go gaga over. I’m obsessed with the space now and have been for some time.

I don’t follow prices of anything that closely. I follow code and teams and research and token metrics and figuring out if blockchain matters. It’s not a buzzword to me. It’s a toy that I picked up and can’t put down.

I don’t regularly follow politics outside of technology regulations now.

I have no idea what songs are hot.

And I absolutely have no clue what’s going on in America outside of what my family tells me. I check on the weekends but not like I used to.

I’ve fallen into an obsession that may or may not be a horrible idea. And the only way I’ll know the answer to that question is if I do it.

I’m a little quiet right now but not where it matters. The best I can compare it to is relocating my cord from one outlet to another. I’m still charged up but just somewhere else.

I regret how little sleep I’m giving myself and how little exercise I’m getting.

Sometimes I eat ramen all day.

But it tastes so good.

Whatever happens moving forward I will never be homeless. This house is forever. It belongs to nobody. I have no decades-long loan on it. It’s ours.

In short, I’m free to explore new roads while my staff tend to old ones, and I am quiet right now because I dare not lose my focus and get lost on the way.

I’m happy for my friends who are having babies and traveling and changing careers and evolving. I miss many of them. I’m proud of everyone who is also silently or loudly staying steady.

I think of them often. And I hope they’re doing the same for me.

I’m floating in choppy waters and letting the waves come into me without resistance.

Little to no Experience

You’ll hear this a lot in blockchain circles now.

“Smart but young.”

“They don’t have much blockchain or tech experience.”

“Their background isn’t impressive.”

“They haven’t worked for an all-star company.”

“Nobody important has invested in them.”

I used to hear the same when I started working with WordPress, which just had its birthday, 15 years ago. Before I became a certified, legit, Automattic engineer and an untouchable, I worked for over a decade pushing through this Little to no Experience tag.

If you’re new to a technology ignore anyone who tells you that you’re too new and lack experience. It’s their way of making themselves feel better about the things they’ve done or may have also missed out on.

Everyone’s green. Everyone. Embrace the feeling of insecurity and hunger before you become just another jaded professional.

Nothing Is Sacred

There is not a single piece of software—all technology, in fact—that cannot be disrupted or forgotten.

Apache used to dominate web servers. Nginx said, “Hold my beer.”

Bitcoin was at near 95% market share dominance in 2013. Altcoins and other communities entered the space, and now Bitcoin is at 44% market dominance.

WordPress continues to grow. It’s over 60% of total CMS market share and 30% of the web. Joomla and Drupal are dwindling. Shopify and Squarespace are growing. Someone, somewhere, is working on something better than all of these.

Facebook matters today, so much that it’s jeopardizing democracies. It didn’t exist before 2004, and it may not endure in 2034.

These are broad, somewhat abstract ideas. I’ll go smaller.

Look around you. Pick something. I’ll pick my glass cup. It’s not that interesting at all; it holds water and ice and isn’t great on my wooden table during the summer time. It sweats and leaves traces of condensation around my phone and bedstand items.

There is someone right now in this world figuring out a way to make a better glass cup. One that doesn’t easily sweat. One that’s beautiful and fits with the aesthetics of almost any interior. One that stays cold and stays hot. One that doesn’t slip or chip. Someone is attempting to make the perfect glass cup when so many exist already.

Think of this whenever you marry yourself to an idea. You may love WordPress or Bitcoin. Nginx may be your jam. You may feel lost without the auto-sync between your MacBook, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch.

You may never imagine a future in which your favorite social network or current reality does not exist but that day will come. It will.

Your parents will die and so too will the roses you toss on their graves.

By the Time You’re 40

Should you have had a child already? What about a home that’s paid-in-full? All debts paid off? A career well on its way in an upward trajectory? A happy marriage—a decade into it, no less—and that ideal vehicle you always wanted? Vacations in locations with hard to say names?

Maybe. Maybe not. I guess it depends on if you plan on dying by 100, 80, or 41.

I’m playing my game with blinders on. It’s much too complicated to play by anyone else’s rules.

Stratechery 4.0: Not Just Another WordPress Site

Many moons ago I refactored Stratechery 3.0. I use “I” only because it’s convenient. Usually, when you do work with someone like Ben Thompson, it’s collaborative. At the time the bulk of the work was centered around gutting the old Stratechery codebase and making room for a new _s-based theme, new membership software, a better mobile experience, and more exposure for Daily Updates, Ben’s highly sought after and substantial analysis of the tech news of the day.

This time around, for 4.0, it was all about content discoverability. This meant, in short:

  • creating new content taxonomies;
  • integrating better search;
  • avoiding the disruption of Ben’s revenue stream while allowing paid content to selectively be shared freely;
  • exposing featured insights in the lesser noticed areas;
  • and improving the readability of Stratechery’s content.

The actual list of work done was much, much longer than this, but it shouldn’t always be the goal of a developer to expose everything but the kitchen sink. What the Stratechery reader sees on the front end is the tip. My job was making sure that it appears exactly as it should but, more importantly, ensuring that Ben is able to interact with the rest of the data management from the control panel of his site. The part that people will never see was the most difficult.

Working on Stratechery, or a site like it should be a requirement for anyone in WordPress or web publishing development that thinks he knows it all. Sometimes we create solutions we believe real, serious writers need, only to find out that everything we thought about publishing was wrong. Add in a revenue component, and our shortsightedness becomes even more apparent.

When I think about someone like Ben, who makes his living by writing independent, high-quality, fierce, uncompromising analysis of modern technology and all that it entails, I don’t know if WordPress alone could ever meet the mark. There are so many holes in the software’s publishing experience that it’s almost a certainty that themes and plugins as we know them—both custom and premium—will always be around to play patchwork.

We were promised that premium solutions (themes, plugins, you name it) would die back in 2008 and I’m still selling them in 2018.

Toss in Gutenburg, sure. Throw in style packs on themes if you like. Do what you will with content blocks or Jetpack or this or that, and it still won’t address a vast majority of issues that are faced by writers who depend on a predictable, controllable, unbreakable publishing experience.

If I had to recreate Ben’s website using WordPress and only WordPress, I wouldn’t be able to. We tried it. God knows I would have loved to make it happen, but it just wasn’t possible. Stratechery is the perfect example of a website that with WordPress should just work but doesn’t, and it’s also a perfect example of a business website that doesn’t look the part.

Stratechery is what I would show anyone who thinks that WordPress is just for blogs (it’s not) and also anyone who says that Jetpack-powered WordPress is enough to run a real business (it’s not). What’s my point here?

It’s mostly that I don’t know what WordPress is supposed to be anymore but I don’t mind where it’s at. It’s been shuffled into the category of my “must-haves” for site building but taken out of the category of quick-and-easy solutions for the average business owner.

What would I suggest now? I don’t know. There’s a void that can still be filled. WordPress powers a massive portion of the internet and will continue to do so, but it’s not immune to losing market share. We’ll see how things play out in the next decade. I hope that WordPress is still around. It’s how I spend the majority of my waking hours. I’d be lying, though, if I said that I didn’t think it could be completely disrupted by something better.

I wanted to write a post-mortem on the Stratechery 4.0 launch yesterday but I was too busy buying the dip.