John J Jacoby: Making a living scratching your itch

It’s one of the mantras of free and open source software (FOSS): Software is born when one developer tries to solve their own personal problem. That is, the developer is “scratching an itch,” not being assigned to code something after some corporate marketing department spends weeks/months/years trying to figure out what the world (or at least a significant market share) needs or wants.

A more difficult problem is when a project becomes popular, scratching a lot of people’s itches. The software gains features, develops more bugs, attracts more users (each of whom may have their own ideas of what the software should do), and … takes more time to work on. Time that the volunteer developer(s) just don’t have, because they have to pay the rent/mortgage, feed the family, and similar daunting tasks.

One solution to this issue is for companies to assign coders to a particular project full- or part-time. But sometimes the needs of a company change (as when Canonical reassigned Jonathan Riddell, Kubuntu’s lead developer, away from the project), and the developer has to return to volunteering for the labor of love.

Getting Community Support

BuddyPress Logo
BuddyPress Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We now come to a most interesting potential solution to this problem: John James Jacoby’s Indiegogo project. JJJ (as Jacoby goes by on the Twitterz and elsewhere) has been the lead developer with BuddyPress (a social networking layer over WordPress) and bbPress (WordPress-based forum software) for nigh on to forever. As a result of his talent and skills, he got hired at WordPress’ parent company, Automattic, and worked there for some time. Over time, BuddyPress, bbPress and a sister project, GlotPress (translations for WordPress) begin to suffer from lack of attention.

English: Logo of the software "bbPress&qu...
Logo of the software “bbPress” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Making a long story shorter, John believes that with six months of sustained, concentrated attention on these three projects, he can make a difference in these areas:

  • Query and caching performance improvements to both BuddyPress and bbPress (to help them power the almost 20 million user profiles and the immense amount of activity going into them from all the support forums)
  • Media & Attachment support in BuddyPress
  • Per-forum moderation in bbPress to help with plugin & theme moderation on WordPress.org.

This piece at WPTavern shares more of the story. My favorite quote:

WordPress is more community than software, yet the software that powers the community has nobody working on it full time

 

 

At WordCamp San Francisco in October, he was encouraged to seek community funding for this project. After some thought and planning, on November 11, the 30-day campaign went live at Indiegogo.

As happens so often with crowdfunding projects, JJJ hit 80% of his $50,000 goal in 48 hours. Since then, it’s been a little slack. Now he’s got another $6000 to go for the full six months.

Valuing open source developers

Just last week (before I knew about this campaign), I wrote about the value of open source communities. Now the WordPress community has the opportunity to prove its value in concrete put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is terms: Can it fund a developer (or more than one) to complete essential tasks without having to sacrifice on his/her standard of living? Can you make a living just scratching your itches?

John James Jacoby lives pretty close to me, and we’ve met a few times at WordPress Meetups and WordCamp Milwaukee. He is a terrific guy, and unquestionably devoted to the success of BuddyPress and WordPress. We should be able to come through for him in the coming days. I also hope that this followup idea from Josh Strebel from Pagely to make this type of crowdfunding project more formal and more permanent makes some headway in the process. Yeah, I’m going to kick in a pittance too, right after payday in 7 days. Maybe you have a payday coming up too? What is WordPress worth to you?

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Valuable Resources: From WordPress Beginner to Pro

Sorry there was no post on Tuesday. The good news is my grandson Ben (yes, I’m old) had the marvelous opportunity to play basketball on the home court of the Milwaukee Bucks at the Bradley Center (yes, there’s a corporate sponsor, but I’m not required to include that bank’s name) last night. His New Berlin West Vikings (western suburb of Milwaukee) played a team from Muskego (southwestern suburb) for around 10 minutes ahead of the Bucks game against the Detroit Pistons. Couldn’t tell you what the score was, but it was fun to watch, and even more fun to play! The Bucks won too!

A picture I, Jeramey Jannene, took of the Brad...
My friend Jeramey Jannene took this photo of the Bradley Center floor before a 2005 game. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But that’s not what I’m here to tell you about.

WPMU‘s Career Resources Page

English: WordPress Logo
WordPress Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you use WordPress? Want to get better at using it? Want to start developing your own themes or plugins? Think you can make a living doing any of the above? Rachel McCollin at WPMU has put together a spectacular set of links to help you do all of the above.

From WordPress Beginner to Pro: 200+ Career-Boosting Resources

McCollin walks you through the whole process of WordPress goodness:

  • Getting started with WordPress: Creating your first site, using themes and plugins, adding and editing content and tweaking your site’s settings.
  • Becoming an advanced user: Taking WordPress beyond the blog, managing your site and working with themes and frameworks.
  • Coding your own: Developing themes and plugins and adding more CMS functionality to your site.
  • Advanced developer topics: Action and filter hooks, the database, queries, WordPress APIs, translation and libraries and third-party tools.
  • Professional development for clients and users: Becoming a WordPress pro, managing client projects, selling WordPress to clients and customers, customizing the admin screens, development practices, Multisite and BuddyPress.
  • Contributing to WordPress and its community: Contributing to WordPress Core, creating free themes and plugins and helping others to learn.

Now you probably shouldn’t be surprised that many of these resources are from WPMU itself, but it’s not just linkbait. If you work through these sites, you are well on your way to becoming a WordPress pro – free!

When you’re done exploring all these sites, you should also track down a copy of WordPress in Depth for even more material that will help you learn and take part in WordPress.

McCollum and her colleagues pledge to update the list as required, so if you find a worthwhile site, let them know.

Rededicating to NaBloPoMo

One of the side slogans for National Blog Posting Month is “30 days, 30 posts.” I’m still aiming to do that. Despite the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US, there will be a post on Thursday. You’ll probably see two posts on Friday, even have the subjects picked out. See you then!

Book Review: WordPress 3.7 Complete

WordPress 3.7 Complete
WordPress 3.7 Complete

The fine folks at Packt Publishing asked me to have a look at their latest WordPress book, WordPress 3.7 Complete. This is the third edition in the WordPress Complete series, by Karol Krol and Aaron Hodge Silver. I am happy to recommend it to folks looking for a good introduction to WordPress.

Full disclosure: I read the edition covering WordPress 2.7, when I started getting serious about learning WordPress, but missed the edition that covered v3.0.

Packt specializes in web development and open source software books, so you shouldn’t be surprised that the strongest parts of the book are in this area. But you don’t have to know code to find good, solid information here. Chapter 3, “Creating Blog Content” offers a nice introduction to blogging that will help you start thinking about the kind of content to include in your blog, along with an introduction to the WordPress admin pages.The chapter on choosing themes has some excellent questions that you may not think to ask yourself before choosing a theme from the vast collection of choices.

While there’s a basic introduction to WordPress.com, most of the book’s content relates to WordPress on an independent web host. It might have been nice to note what sections (like setting up widgets and working with the Media Library) apply to both the dot-com and dot-org sites.

WordPress Complete really takes off in the second half, where Krol and Silver focus on creating and manipulating themes and plugins. I don’t know about you, but when I started messing with code, the first thing that scared me was the likelihood of me breaking stuff that was already working. Krol and Silver help break down that fear by showing you how to safely remove your header, footer and sidebar from an existing theme’s index.php file (“What, you want me to break my home page!?”), customize each new template file, and reassemble the new modules so that it all works.

Another big plus for the beginning developer is an extensive section about building themes from scratch. After comparing this method with constructing themes with the help of a theme framework like Genesis, Thesis or Thematic, they advise:

… create your first theme manually, just to learn the craft and get to know all the basic structures and mechanisms sitting inside WordPress. Then, as the next step in your mastery (if you’re planning to work on other themes in the future), you can pick one of the popular theme frameworks, get deeply familiar with it, and use it as the base for your future themes from that point on. Such an approach will allow you to reach maximum time efficiency and save you the effort of dealing with the core set of functionalities that every theme needs, regardless of the design or purpose.

After demystifying the process of theme and plugin creation, and introducing BuddyPress and WordPress MultiSite, Krol and Silver focus the last two chapters on “Creating a Non-Blog Website” using the increasingly powerful content management features WordPress offers.

You’ll learn a bit about using Pages to create corporate and e-commerce sites, membership sites and the like. Can I say that as an author, I especially appreciated introducing custom post types by way of creating distinctive ways of listing books on your site? You may see something like this on michaelmccallister.com soon.

Overall, WordPress 3.7 Complete is a fine introduction to WordPress and web development. Incidentally, don’t be upset that the book misses out on WordPress 3.8. With the increasing speed of WordPress core development, all us authors are at a distinct disadvantage–we can only type so fast!

So what do you look for in a WordPress book? Have you read this one? Comments always appreciated.

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A Surprise Ending to NaBloPoMo: Domain Fun

And so we come to the end of National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo). Now I was planning to try to sum things up, but that will have to wait one more day, as a friend and I need some help from the blogosphere.

Law School Textbooks
Law School Textbooks (Photo credit: Jesse Michael Nix)

This story begins last spring, when a good friend got accepted to law school. Among other ambitious ideas, Boone ran an online support and critique group for Milwaukee area writers. I built a WordPress site for this project, but now that he was leaving Milwaukee temporarily to hit the books, the workshop would have to run itself for a while.

The writers were notified of the situation, and Boone went off to law school. Apparently, we all forgot about the website. Last night, Boone had some downtime, and was thinking about updating the WordPress site, and making plans for its eventual revival. Except he couldn’t log in to WordPress, nor would WordPress reset his password. Boone (who is not a technical person) emailed me about this dilemma. I went to the site–and I couldn’t log in to WordPress either. The interesting thing is that the site itself (at least the home page) displayed normally.

Boone and snow!
This is a random dog named Boone in the snow! (Photo credit: otakuchick)

Both of us could get into the hosting account, but when I tried to look into the site’s database admin tool, I got a Server Not Found message. Couldn’t access the database online. After Boone had a chat with his host’s tech support, and just before I started researching their proposed solution, Boone wrote to tell me the domain had expired on July 1, and apparently had been scooped up by someone in the interim. That would explain much.

A WhoIs search for the owner told us the domain had been registered with GoDaddy in August, and the Nameserver was at domaincontrol.com in Arizona. Incidentally, GoDaddy was not the original host for this site. We later learned that domaincontrol.com is a GoDaddy subsidiary, but I’m no longer sure that’s relevant. You see, I’ve never fought with hosting companies, or had a domain I controlled expire, so this is new to me.

Good news is that Boone got a new domain for his site, and we still have the old database backed up. So I think we’ll be ready to go when it’s time to relaunch.

Less happily, Boone is concerned that the new owner/squatter is still using his (and his writing collaborators) content, presumably until whatever replacement content arrives. Boone would like to see that content disappear (and as long as we’re wishing, get a redirect to the new site).

To those of you out there with more experience in these situations, how does one find and contact the new domain holder? We’re assuming that large sums of cash would be required to reclaim the domain, but where do you send the cease-and-desist with regard to the content? Any other tips and ideas?

Thanks to all for any help you can offer!

Tomorrow, some more lessons learned during NaBloPoMo. A bunch of folks have done this already. Listed below are some of them.

NaBloPoMo #1: Assorted Experiments

Goodness, it’s still November 1 for a couple more hours in the US Central Time Zone, so I can still get in the first post for National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo)! For the next 30 days, you should be seeing at least one item here. It may be short, like this one. It may be somewhat more standard (like having just installed openSUSE 13.1 Release Candidate 2 this evening). You’ll probably even see some different post types, like asides, quotes and links this month.

I hope you’ll comment on the items you like, and especially the ones you don’t. I also hope you’ll be inspired to start posting on your own blog (like here at WordPress.com).

For more information on NaBloPoMo, here’s what I learned from today’s post from the WordPress..com team.

OK, gotta go. See you Saturday!