Welcome Back! Let’s fight for an Open Web

A few weeks ago, I was preparing a talk on WordPress at a local university. I knew that posting here at Notes from the Metaverse was on the erratic side in recent months. Yet it was something of a shock to discover that more than a year had gone by!

When confronted with a fact like that, you have to ask yourself if it’s time to recognize that Notes had run its course, and let it slip quietly away. Maybe no one would notice after all these months. After careful consideration, I realized I still had something to say. Blogosphere: You ain’t rid of me yet!

New Focus: Defending the Open Web and the technologies that enable it

What is the Open Web?

Notes from the Metaverse has nearly always been about helping people use technology, and occasionally how to think critically about technology. Moving forward, that really doesn’t change much.

I saw a headline last week that startled me: “Can democracy survive the Internet?” Haven’t read the article yet, but one of the philosophical premises of this blog is that the Internet might be the most powerful force for democracy that’s ever been. My concern is that the technologies empowering people through the Internet are under attack, and their promise might fade — or even disappear — if we don’t pull together to preserve what we have.

Thus, post topics here may benefit from a little more focus. For the immediate future, most Notes will fall under these broad categories:

Software tools that empower

Starting with the things that won’t change: You’ll learn stuff about Linux, WordPress and other Free Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS). You’ll also get news about the communities that surround the code. FLOSS represents the most empowering technologies for folks like you and me, because the goal is to put you in charge of the tools.

Defend net neutrality and universal access to the Internet

I’ve written a lot about net neutrality, because the basic principle of the Internet favors a level playing field, where everyone has equal access to every website. I use WordPress in part because it enables anyone, regardless of how much money or fame or sense they may have, to communicate with readers. If only the sites that can pay for a fast lane can find an audience, we all lose.

More on this to come, but in the meantime, do take a look at my earlier writings on the topic.

For an open, decentralized web

The fight for net neutrality is often portrayed as being between the big telecommunications companies and the big content companies like Google, Netflix, and Facebook. There’s some truth to that, but that’s not the fight I’m concerned with. The AT&Ts, Verizons, and Comcasts of the world that provide the “pipe” through which the vast amount of content arrives in our homes, offices, and mobile devices have much in common with the giant content companies who either view the average Internet user as either a pair of eyeballs to sell to, or the product whose content and privacy are for sale to advertisers.

Many of the founders of the World Wide Web, including Sir Tim Berners-Lee, organized the Decentralized Web Summit in June 2016 to revive the idea that the web’s users should wrest control of the Web from the content oligarchs. Users should be able to control what information they want to receive, what they want to controbute, and not have to give up their privacy to participate in the conversation. I think this is a great idea, and will be reporting on its progress.

Details

Of course, this is a blog, so I reserve the right to diverge from these topics whenever I feel like it.

I’m hoping to return to a weekly posting schedule, but we’ll see how that goes.

If you’ve been reading these Notes for years (or even a decade), welcome back! Let me know what you think about these changes.

If you’ve come across this post through some other means, please take a look around. If you like what you see, please subscribe in the . Also check my main site at MichaelMcCallister.com.

Questions, comments, rebellion against the new themes? It’s all welcome, in the big box below.

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?

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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WordCamp Milwaukee 2013: Links and Stuff

WordCamp Milwaukee 2013 Logo
WordCamp Milwaukee 2013 Logo
WordCamp Milwaukee 2013

Had a fabulous time at WordCamp Milwaukee 2013 Saturday. There’s a full summary and review at MichaelMcCallister.com, but here’s a link to my slides, and another to (nearly) every other presentation this weekend.

Hope your weekend was as fun and educational as mine was!