Indie Web Wishlist

I’d like to self-host everything, and then broadcast those materials out to the relevant locations (rather than vice versa). With that in mind, these are my wish list services I want to replicate in a self-host+broadcast method:

  • Status Updates — broadcast automagically to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Google+, including long-form article notification
  • Gallery (media management) — with broadcasting to 500px and flickr.
  • Bookmarking — with broadcasting to delicious and google bookmarks
  • Identity management — tracking what services I’m connected to, with notes as to which are broadcast TO, and which are still broadcast FROM (plus aggregation of all these services into one self-hosted spot wherever possible)

WordCamp Portland 2011 (part 2)

Day 2! To clarify on two items on the schedule: custom post types is for when you’re doing CMS-level work such as tracking items in a store. Post Formats is more towards end-users, a new feature that allows you to tell WordPress to format different types of posts (standard post, aside, image, etc) in different ways.

Also, there’s a local wordpress user group here in Portland that meets monthly.

Also, there’s a “happiness table” with WordPress experts offering to answer questions you have.

Also, there’s a job board for folks looking for blogging related work.

Also, thanks to the sponsors and volunteers!

Jane Wells @ Automattic: What’s Coming in WordPress 3.3 and Town Hall Q&A:

  • Jane is one of the UX folks working on WordPress core
  • A bit of background: Jane’s first wordcamp was Wordcamp Portland, where she showcased the changes in WordPress 2.7, and is now showing the changes in 3.3
  • is the officially wordpress developer blog.
  • New in 3.3: the sidebar navigation now has menus rather than having to click into sub-menus.
  • More work in the admin bar, making it useful to connect the front end and the back end.
  • Improving the help menus (more readable, more relevant).
  • Improving the widget screen for larger screens.
  • Improving tablet support for the backend (not targeting phones yet, that’s a whole other kettle of fish)
  • In general going for a more responsive design.
  • Take a cue from gmail and similar, there will be hinting calling out new features.
  • Image handling is MUCH IMPROVED, using a new uploader.
  • Media management revamp is still not done, though. Some minor changes, but not the big one.
  • Inline feature update log (not ready yet, but being worked on), so you can see the changes in the latest version of WP.
  • New User “Welcome” to help new users with a lot of the initial defaults — most users don’t really do an exhaustive search of the admin panel to learn how to change defaults.
  • A quick call-out: there is a setting theme developers can add to a theme to tell the editor to respect the settings of your theme (fonts, line width, etc.), if you want your editor to act more “WYSIWYG”
  • Question came up about styling per post from someone still using tables for layout: You need to learn CSS. At this point, if you don’t know CSS, your HTML is almost worthless. (Preach it!)
  • Development: they tend to test features as a plugin, then if that goes well, patch it into core.
  • Question about the file url setting in the media uploader: they’ve got “none”, but the point of the attachment url and post url is workflow (attachment url is basically to have a smaller shot that links to a larger image; post url is useful for when you want to keep images skinned to your blog, not just the image).
  • Request: better PDF uploading support? Agreed, it would be great, but it hasn’t been a priority since there are other ways to upload PDFs.
  • Random anecdote: one of the reasons for the UI refresh in 3.2: when they were at SXSW, they saw a preview of the new blogger UI, and the new blogger post screen looked just like the old UI for WordPress. This has/had been happening a lot, so they decided it was time to prioritize the planned refresh. (This is anecdotal, not some sort of official reasoning.)
  • Feature scope for a new version is generally decided communally on an IRC channel, and the public are welcome to chime in.
  • Request: that the wpdevel blog gets more usage (used to be more active).
  • Favorite feature .com has that .org does not: email subscriptions (even has jabber support)! Also, automatic twitter/social media broadcasting.

Oh no, Voodoo Doughnuts delayed again! Hopefully after the next session.

Blogging/Content Productivity: How do you write? Workflow? Tools? Discussion of EditFlow:

  • General discussion session, asking about productivity and any tips and tricks and tools people have.
  • Example workflow: text editor, keep a file of drafts sync’d on Dropbox, so you can write from anywhere, and uses markdown.
  • [Personally, I’m curious on Scrivener for this.]
  • Idea to Draft to Post: the amount of time can vary wildly. Sometimes it’s fast, sometimes it’s weeks or months (or it stalls and is years).
  • Pinboard: similar to Delicious but not slowly dying (oh snap!). Useful for collected link posts.
  • EditFlow demo: grew out of a desire to manage and track external workflows across multiple people and projects.
  • Able to bring in a lot of that workflow into WordPress.
  • Features like custom statuses (“waiting for feedback” etc, instead of just “posted” or “draft”)
  • [This sounds like a godsend for a group blog/e-magazine, though I’m not sure how useful it would be for single user blogs.]
  • Calendar tools for viewing a story queue for scheduled stories/posts.
  • Also story budget tracking.
  • Editorial metadata (due date, location, photographer, needs, contact info, et cetera)
  • Looking for feedback from people willing to road test this plugin.
  • (Now they’re explaining a bit about how this could be useful as a one or two person blog vs a large team.)
  • As a single user, one of the big useful features is tracking drafts more efficiently. Custom statuses, and queues.
  • This actually makes a lot of sense: custom status of “pitch” for a trackable one-line pitch of your idea. Then maybe you have 20 minutes later, so you outline it, and then save it as “outline”. A few weeks later you have time and energy for writing a long form post, you then filter for outlines, and can immediately get to what you want. (Nice.)
  • The calendar view is also useful as a single user because it provides a visual tool to view when you’re actually posting — as was pointed out in the keynote, steady, consistent posting is the key to growing a readership, and this makes it easier to see this.
  • Request: showing due dates on the calendar: Developer: Check back next week, next version! (Yay for responsive developers, we’ll see if he was tongue-in-cheek.)
  • Request: Color-coding statuses. It’s possible easily enough (each post is wrapped in a status-specific class on the post list page in WP, already), just hasn’t been worked out yet.
  • Request: usage statistics (so you can see how many words you wrote through all revisions, and time tracking).
  • Request: RSS feeds to track status updates on posts (pitch to outline, outline to draft, etc).
  • Recommendation: using the new fullscreen feature in WP is great for no-distractions.
  • A lot of folks still use offline text editors for various reasons (I use Scrivener for long-form for the research note-taking, others use Evernote).
  • One thing currently lacking in EditFlow is documentation, and they’re going to work on that.
  • For EditFlow: treat it as a supplement to project management tools, not a replacement.
  • There isn’t a clear answer as to how to keep motivated for blogging. There’s two camps: those that push a schedule for a rhythm; and those that push the notion that “people share your content because it’s awesome, not because it was posted on Wednesday”. [Personally, I feel like it’s a mixture of the two: if you aren’t posting regularly, you don’t get the audience. If you aren’t posting quality content, you don’t retain the audience and they don’t share your content.]
  • Suggestion: go read Caterina Fake’s post FOMO and Social Media
  • It’s easy to get caught up in the noise: follow the people who are important to you and are consistently rewarding: if it’s actually important, it’ll still come up on your radar. The result is more signal, less noise, and clearer topics for writing.

Post Formats: Using Your Blog to Write About Anything:

  • Presented by Andrew Spittle (@andrewspittle), who works as a happiness engineer for Automattic.
  • Post Formats are a way in wordpress of designating a little bit of metadata about a post, so you can customize how different types of content is displayed.
  • Really simple, but requires your theme supports it (but is easy for a theme to add, and a lot are adding them). (Just add a easily cut-and-pasteable function into functions.php.)
  • Nine formats supported: aside, link, status, standard, gallery, image, video, chat, audio
  • Formats are not currently extendable (these 9 are what there are), because they wanted standardization on them so themes could more easily support the options.
  • [Personally, I’d love to see a twitter plugin that pulls and archives tweets as status-format posts.]
  • Post formats are easily re-skinnable.
  • The design can fit your content, without having to come up with one universal format. Different types of content have different needs.
  • Useful suggestion: tie post formats into categories, so users can quickly see all (for instance) images, or galleries, or quotes.
  • If you’re trying to convince your authors, show a site that is already using it, and then point out how easy it is to add by showing the “format” section within a “Create Post” page.
  • The big “shift” in using post formats is that blogging becomes more about what you want to share, rather than just “oh I need to write something now.”
  • One flaw to post formats is that it comes down to each theme as to what formats are supported. (The bright side is the content is still there, you just lose that custom formatting if you switch to a theme without that format support.)
  • Post format is a meta field in the database, so it’s persistent (if you set it to audio, then switch to another theme that doesn’t support audio, then switch to another theme that DOES have audio support, WP will still remember that it was set as an audio format before)
  • Changes to the “create post” page based on the post format is being discussed, but not implemented yet (and probably won’t be for a while, as it’s a BIG change, and they want to make sure they do it right). [This would be a great feature, imho. If I post a quote, I don’t need a title, I need a field for the quote, and a field for citation.]
  • You can’t currently filter your posts list (on the backend) by format, so also using them as categories seems like a good option (most useful if you’re not actively using categories for something else already).
  • A number of the themes in the Theme Showcase on wordpress already support post formats. (And all the free themes on are in a public repository in the SVN.) Just do a search with a filter for post formats.
  • [I’m pretty excited about post formats. It’s one of the things I like most about tumblr, and I’m glad to see that functionality in a self-hosted option.]

(Yay doughnuts!)

Adding Video/Audio/Animation to Your Blog:

  • Leader didn’t show up. Awwww.

And that wraps up WordCamp Portland 2011! (Since my last session aborted, I opted to skip out a little early and missed the wrap-up.) Thanks again to all the organizers and presenters, it was a lot of fun, and I was glad to be able to make it to the event.

WordCamp 2011

I’m at the Eliot Center in Portland, Oregon for WordCamp Portland 2011. The keynote was just starting as I arrived, so this may start out a little rushed.

Key ideas out of the keynote (Scott Berkun @ Automattic):

  • Without content, you don’t have a blog. The point of a blog is to post.
  • Automattic, the folks who drive WordPress, use almost no email, and are effectively all remote workers (they have an office, but it’s generally pretty empty). Instead they use IRC, Skype, and blogs running the P2 theme.
  • If you average 1 post per comment, you’re ahead of the curve.
  • Group blogs get more traffic, because when you first start, blog traffic is driven by the people you know: more authors means more networks that are getting tapped.
  • Slow growth is the reality of a blog: don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a lot of traffic right away, just keep posting on a regular basis.
  • They started a daily post challenge, and they’re getting good info about ways to make posting regularly easier. Some of which is already hitting WordPress in 3.2 and 3.3
  • Figuring out a “Post Post” page. The act of posting should be exciting and encourage the user, instead of just a little line at the top saying “Successfully posted.” They’re experimenting with pulling stats about how long it took to write your post, how many subscribers you just published to, how many twitter followers you just broadcast the post to, et cetera, and give you a more rewarding experience.
  • There are 60 million wordpress installs, half of which are on
  • Something to consider: a doc for new bloggers that says “What you should expect in the first 30 days of your blog.”
  • They use a lot of live-site A/B testing (keeping the experience good for people is important, but exposing new experiences on the live code seems to get more real-world metrics).
  • tends to be the proving grounds for new features, and where possible, those then get rolled into (sometimes into core, sometimes into a plugin, and they’re pushing JetPack as a catch-all plugin to house these features).
  • Project Management is largely about respect and trust (both ways). Developers need to respect and trust the PM, and the PM needs to respect and trust the devs.
  • Longer and shorter posts both have benefits: longer posts are more engaging, but are read less — the TLDR effect. Shorter posts get a higher read count and keep people coming back regularly.

And now we’re getting ready for the unconference session scheduling (Cami is explaining the process)… and now the mad rush to put up sessions on the board begins! (I’m hoping someone will have a session on coping with the Second Year Slump, but not enough to put it up myself.)

Using WordPress as MVC (Using WordPress as an application development framework):

  • There are apparently some interesting hooks and code within WordPress already present
  • The presenter was able to convince his team to switch to WordPress for their web application backend (vs Rails or similar), because WordPress basically does a lot of the annoying things for you
  • A lot of other options out there (Plone, Rails, Django, etc) are really customizable, which is great, but sometimes you don’t want to re-invent the wheel for your basic interface materials every time. Maybe you don’t need that level of customization. At that point, having a tool that has an opinion to express in their experience, like WordPress (where they’ve spent considerable time and resources making a lot of their interface very useable and clean).
  • The name of the session was a bit of misnomer: it’s not a replacement for MVC (awww), but it IS a solid application framework.
  • Check out WP Alchemy for some useful custom field handling.
  • “How do you mitigate using a platform that can change on you between updates?” — they avoid custom DB queries and other custom changes to core. By using stock functions wherever possible (and then small utility functions where extension is needed), it helps mitigate using an actively changing backend.
  • Constraints are your friend: if you are explicit about what you are using, you reduce developer chaos, and makes it WAY easier to maintain.
  • Stuff still happens: they’ve not moved to 3.2 yet because of changes to the metabox tools they’re using. (Minor releases tend to go out right away, bigger ones are delayed to make sure everything is working.)
  • Use logs! Get it logging to somewhere you can check, and check them regularly. It’s not enough to say “Well, it’s loading, that’s good enough.” It’s entirely possible for a page to load, but throw several warnings or errors with issues that could choke your site under load.
  • A key takeaway: Be kind to yourself, and be kind to your content creators.

The official schedule is now online.

Second Year Slump: What to do when it’s no longer shiny:

  • Moderated discussion rather than presentation: no one has a perfect answer, so let’s hear some ideas
  • (Since it’s more conversational, been harder to liveblog, sorry!)
  • Create a schedule of drafts that will post whether you post or not, so you’re driven to fill them in before they post.
  • A post can be three sentences (or even one)! It’s okay to have a short post!
  • Avoid self-censoring! Sometimes what you think was the crap post gets the most comments and people like it.
  • Switch media: if you’re stuck on writing, post a video, post a picture, or some sort of audio post.
  • Federate! Engage other bloggers via your blog rather than comments, create a dialogue.

Lunch. Pasta this time — in the past it’s generally been Nicholas’s, but pasta is good too. I also checked in for my t-shirt, but apparently a few too many people collected my size. I was asked to come back towards the end of the day in case more of the right size shows up, and if not they’ll order more and mail it to me. These things happen, not too worried.

Andrew Nacin: You Don’t Know Query (WP_Query):

  • In general, don’t use query_posts, use wp_query! Please!
  • Everyone uses queries, but very few folks really know how or what it’s doing.
  • Query is ridiculously robust, and is the core part of a loop. You can also run multiple queries, to create very precise, custom loops for content.
  • wp_query is actually a reference to a more obscure wp_the_query
  • When we load wordpress, before we load the theme, it already queries for a list of posts. Yep, before the theme loads, wordpress already has all your posts queried.
  • This means there’s actually a whole lot of querying going on, which isn’t super efficient. There are better ways to do this!
  • WP_Query is robust and lets you lets you manipulate the object and use conditional tags without having to re-query.
  • Something new in 3.3: is_main_query
  • Neat flowchart as to different query methods (and why you should generally use wp_query):

Music Blogs:

  • There’s the question of how to link to the music you want to review or expose, but doing it legally/safely.
  • The flip side is that artists often don’t want (or can’t due to publisher agreements) it streamed.
  • There aren’t many good solutions right now: it would be nice to have a clean plugin that stores music securely and then only exposes that song via stream.
  • Observations has been that you need to not worry about the downloading — if it’s streamable, it’s collectable, period.
  • Check out TopSpin for audio management. Creates promotion with tracks as reward. (Trading music for an audience.)
  • GigPress is still kind of the best plugin option for handling events/scheduling.
  • Most people tend not to make money on the music, they make money on touring and the merchandise and licensing.
  • Check out Press75 for some of the stuff happening with oEmbed for showing video.

Snacktime! Delicious fried berry pie, provided by @Whiffies. As an aside: I randomly came across a show while wandering N Mississippi with Jade back in July. One of the bands in that show was The Doubleclicks, and we thoroughly enjoyed their set. In true Portland small-world fashion, I totally just bumped into Angela from The Doubleclicks at the music blogs session.

The Personal Blog in 2011: Beyond Cat Photos:

  • Aaron Hockley is presenting, mostly because it’s relevant to his life.
  • Back in the day, blogs used to be really casual, just done haphazardly on geocities and livejournal and similar.
  • He’s been paring back on his blogs, came to the realization that a lot could be put back into a personal blog.
  • What sites he was finding himself going to was interesting writers with a small handful of topics, ends up being more of an evolved personal blog.
  • These broad-topic, semi-personal sites are more engaging and exciting to read.
  • The new “personal blog” is the consolidated blog — the personality-driven blog with a handful of topics.
  • Usage is medium-long form articles — there are gallery sites for photography (500px) and Twitter for status updates.
  • The reality is that while keeping topics separate makes some sense, it’s harder to generate the personality, and often there is a lot of overlap between interests, so why not run with that?
  • Personal identity is becoming increasingly important, and self-hosting means self-managing your identity.
  • Question Posed: Generating revenue is more straightforward on a targeted site.
  • Aaron’s gut feeling is that it’s not as easy but could be more rewarding overall.
  • Some debate over whether to just post everything into the same stream hodgepodge, or to offer feeds per category, and allowing users to decide what things they’re going to follow. (I’m inclined to say offer both.)
  • The goal of the personal blog these days is to consolidate, condense, and make it easier to create a relationship with the user.
  • [As an aside: a lot of this is line with the philosophy of IndieWebCamp]
  • The question: “If it’s your personal blog, why would you want to monetize that?” “Why not?” Longer answer: if it’s relevant monetization (amazon links/etc for a book or camera or whatever is being talked about), it’s not intrusive or bad.
  • “Do you want big numbers, or do you want more engagement?” (Targeted silos of content get more subscribers, but personal blogs get more engagement from the subscribers they do have.)
  • As you go more personal, where do you censor yourself, not necessarily in your own interest, but out of respect for those around you that may not be comfortable with information about them discussed online.
  • Personal blogs can be useful from a business perspective as well: the authenticity carries over, people DO research the people behind the brands, and tend to do more business with those who they can align with personally.

Last session for today (this is getting long enough that I’ll do tomorrow as a separate post).

Blogging for Photographers:

  • Mislabeled: actually about proofing via blogs.
  • Using WordPress as an online proofing manager.
  • (Another example of what we’re talking about is SmugMug or ZenFolio.)
  • What do we want out of a proofing service? @TheFrosty (running the session) is looking into building one and would like input.
  • Want: flagging for corrections (marking an image as desired, but needing touchups or other corrections).
  • Having some method of rating that can be shared between multiple proofers.
  • Having some method for sorting proofs, so you can show “photographer’s picks” and similar.
  • Lightroom plugins exist, finding some way to piggyback on that for image uploading would be great.

Some Backend Work

I’ve migrated to a different web host. I liked my old web host, but I wanted a bit more space for a bit less money, and ultimately decided to be pragmatic about it. If you notice anything funky on the site, please let me know!

A real post will be forthcoming soon. Promise.

Spinning Wheels

This is mostly a note-keeping post for my own purposes. I’m making it public to keep me honest and in case anyone is curious what’s happening in my life currently. I’ve been thinking more about where I want to be in 5 years, and what I need to do to get there, and it’s a little daunting and amorphous with regard to what steps to take.

High Priority

  • Get a handle on depression and motivation: This has been a recurring theme in my life for years: spurts of energy and productivity, followed by falling into ruts and depressive funks that put my momentum back to zero. I’m tired of it, I don’t have time for it, and so this is a big priority for me to start fixing SOON.
  • Start writing again: I’ve fallen off the writing wagon, and haven’t written anything but self-indulgent blog posts in a while. I want to get back to writing, both critical non-fiction and fiction.
  • Start reading again: This goes hand in hand with writing — reading drives writing, both in terms of research and in terms of sparking critical thought and ideas. I used to keep at least a paperback and a few pulp scifi magazines like Asimov’s and Analog in my bag at all times. Now, I have half a dozen books I’ve started reading and then haven’t touched in months. This bothers me.
  • Get back to photography: More than just taking more photographs, one of the reasons I “fell off the wagon” with my photography in the past few years is that I no longer felt like I was progressing (possibly even regressing), and wasn’t doing anything with the work I had. So when I say “get back to photography,” I mean photographing more, but also doing more post-processing work and actually putting some prints up for sale (whether individually, as a book, or a calendar, I don’t know and don’t really care — maybe all three).
  • Get healthy: I’ve always been more of a sedate person, preferring sitting in a hammock and reading over playing sports. (Don’t get me wrong, I like swimming and hiking and skiing and other activities, but all of those I listed tend to be more reflective and self-paced.) I’ve been lucky in that my metabolism and eating habits have largely kept abreast of this sedate lifestyle, but as I’ve gotten older (and taken a desk job), this balance has started to slip, and I’m feeling markedly less healthy than in the past. So, getting into an exercise routine that I can enjoy is becoming essential. (Still not going to get into sports, though.)
  • Passive Income: I’ve always been a gadget freak. I don’t want to even begin counting how much money I’ve spent on electronics, but suffice it to say, if I’d taken even half that much and invested it in dividend bearing stocks (let alone getting in early on some stock’s meteoric rise, like Apple), I’d be able to buy a steady trickle of toys now on the interest. Instead, I’m down to a 6 year old laptop and my camera. The reality is that I can’t afford a gadget habit right now. So instead I want to look into ways to generate passive/surplus income in my spare time. Maybe this will be writing, maybe photography, maybe both. Maybe programming will finally “click” and I’ll make a few apps I can sell in the Mac/iOS App Stores. SOMETHING. It doesn’t have to pay the bills, but it’d be nice to get to the point where I have some “fun” money I don’t feel guilty about spending.
  • Grad School: I got into University of Denver’s Digital Media program last year, but deferred due to costs and life factors. I can’t make it this year, either. Instead I’m applying to Georgia Tech’s program. Solid school, great program (several of the researchers I cited in my online communities thesis are still professors there), and literally a quarter of the cost of DU. The question I’m mulling right now is to shoot high and aim for the Ph.D program, or gun for the M.S. and get out and using my degree sooner.

Low(er) Priority

  • Update my web site design: I set myself a goal of not screwing with my site design for at least a year. I’ve done this. I want to update the site soon, and then don’t touch it again for at least a year. Things on my list: make the interface a bit more dynamic (not reinventing the wheel, just make use of jQuery and other UI tricks that exist now); make better utilization of microdata, RDFa, and HTML5 to make it more semantic; leverage the newer features in WordPress — the only features I can think of that I’ve been currently making use of that are newer than 1.6 (Maybe 2.0) are dynamic menus and widgets, neither of which I’m making great use of.
  • Launch If Critical Games is my game industry + academic blog, and Critical Self is my personal blog, I want to be my portfolio and outlet for my creative output. I’ve been pondering for a while how to do this, but every time I feel like I’m getting ahead of myself and need to get my output GOING before I worry too much about the site. Hence, this being a lower priority than getting back on the productivity wagon.
  • User Groups, Dammit: At least right now, I live in Portland Fucking Oregon. We have amazing resources for finding like minded people to discuss geeky/technical things, like ePDX. I’ve made it to some events, and they’ve not been bad, if perhaps a little cliquish (but that, ultimately, comes down to how willing you are to engage and insert yourself, rather than have others come and draw you in). I don’t go to any regularly, though, due to introversion, some mild social anxiety, and scheduling conflicts. This is something I’d like to correct, but I don’t really see my schedule opening up enough to really “DO” this until fall.
  • Programming: I’ve got a sheaf of application ideas, and an entire shelf of programming books, but I’ve yet to make what I read/practice stick. At some point I suppose I should just drop it and accept that it’s not my forte/focus and move on, focus on design and development and just commission programmers when I need ’em, but after this many classes and books and attempts, it’s become a matter of pride: I’m going to grok programming enough to put out at least one original application if it kills me.

I may expand this list later, but it seems like it covers the core things on my mind right now. Comments, suggestions, and advice are welcome.

Checking In, May 2011

It’s been a few months, again, since my last post. I must admit, I’m a bit rusty and out of the habit of writing. Out of the habit of most creative endeavors, to be perfectly honest. The very thought of creating anything, putting words to paper (or screen, as the case may be) sort of fills me with dread right now. It’s like this: there are a number of projects I want to do. I know what I need to do for most of them. The idea of doing what I need to do for them leaves me tired and filled with anxiety.

So, new thing I need to do: get past my block. Everything else will come.