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

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, 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 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, 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!

Getting Ready for WordCamp Milwaukee 2!

WordCamp Milwaukee 2013 Logo
WordCamp Milwaukee 2013

My goodness, it’s less than a month till the second WordCamp Milwaukee!

<puts on organizer hat>

During and after last year’s inaugural event, veteran WordCampers were telling us that WordCamp Milwaukee was one of the best and most informative camps they’d been to. So, of course we had to make it bigger and better for 2013!

First off, we added another half-day to the extravaganza: Foundation Friday (June 7, 2013) is going to be a set of workshops aimed at WordPress beginners: We’ll have WordPress 101 classes for new users — bloggers, business folk, anyone who is making content for the web using WordPress.

But that’s not all! <see, I’ve got my organizer/promoter hat on!>  If you’ve been using WordPress for a while, and wonder what it might be like to design themes or develop plugins for WordPress–come to Foundation Friday! We’re having a development track too!

After Foundation Friday, you’ll still have two full days (June 8-9) of WordPress learning to enjoy! Plus a repeat of the fabulous Saturday After-Party, lunch both days, the Happiness Bar (to get your specific problems addressed), and still more wonderfulness!

<Putting presenter hat on>

Right after lunch on Saturday (June 8), I will be offering a mini-preview of my next book project, talking about “Building Authority – and Audience – with WordPress and Google Author.” Building your reputation and demonstrating your authority as an expert in your particular niche can be a difficult task. Google is trying to help you, though. I’ll show you how to put your high-quality content at the top of the findability charts, with WordPress and the Google Authorship program.

Learn more about WordCamp Milwaukee, and buy your tickets at the website. And hey, if you need some help with the price, type in ‘McCallister’ for a discount when you register.

Look forward to seeing you June 7-9 at Bucketworks!

Attend WordCamp Milwaukee 2012 for Just $10

If you read WordCamp Milwaukee 2012this blog at all, you probably already know that WordCamp Milwaukee is coming up real soon now. June 2 is just a week from Saturday, and the weekend after a big US holiday.

Maybe you also know I’m working on a presentation for Sunday, June 3 about what YOU can learn about WordPress just by wandering around and

A bunch of other WordPress gurus, nearly all from Wisconsin and Illinois, will be putting on a terrific program for both extraordinary users and extraordinary WordPress developers (and by “extraordinary” I just mean YOU).

Anyway, if $20 for a whole weekend’s worth of inspiration and practical help for your WordPress site is still a little tough to justify in these hard economic times, what if I can make this weekend cost just $10? Did I forget to mention that includes lunch on Saturday and Sunday, and a fabulous after-party on Saturday night?

So how do I get this deal? Go visit the WordCamp Milwaukee ticket window, and type (or paste): wcspeaker in the Coupon Code box. And you’re in!

I really hope to see you at Bucketworks in Walker’s Point on June 2-3. You don’t have to thank me for the sweet deal, but I’ll be happy to talk to you anytime over the weekend.

Somewhat Shameless Self-Promotion: WordPress in Depth

English: Old books
Image via Wikipedia

We’re not especially into the hype and commercialism that often slips into the blogosphere. At Notes from the Metaverse, the goal is to empower ordinary folks to use technology to find their voice and get things done. I hope this blog helps you navigate the occasionally treacherous waters of open source technology, especially desktop Linux and WordPress. I firmly believe that good content is the most important SEO tool there is.

That said, if you happen to know someone who is thinking about starting a blog in 2012, or wants to take advantage of all WordPress has to offer, you could do a lot worse than picking up a copy of WordPress in Depth.

I have to say that I’ve been amazed and humbled at some of the reviews for the second edition that have appeared at Indulge me for a minute while I show you some of the quotes that warm my heart (even if the spelling isn’t always perfect):

It is well-written for people like me who know there way around a computer but don’t consider themselves too technical.  –Michael Gallagher

This book WordPress in Depth, is easy to understand even when talking about the professional side of WordPress. –S. Nichols

Some manuals have the detail but not the clarity required to be user friendly. This one delivers the information in a clear manner and is well organized. It describes putting up a WordPress blog in a chronological manner that would allow the reader to sit down at the computer with the manual and just work their way through the process.  –Lou Belcher

I was very happy to receive this book because I am interested in starting a blog and I have absolutely ZERO experience with WordPress and very limited experience with any kind of programming at all, but I am pretty good at following “recipes.” To push the analogy, WordPress In Depth (2nd Edition) not only gives you the recipes, but teaches you how the various ingredients chemically react to one another to produce a result. Some chefs want to know that stuff; others just want the cake to come out right. This book is for the former.   –S. Rudge

Bud Smith and I worked hard to make the new edition more “in depth,” yet still friendly to the rank beginner. Admittedly, not everyone agrees that we succeeded.

Thanks to the inevitable lag in publishing schedules, the book doesn’t cover some of the newer embellishments in WordPress, but watch this space for help on that score soon. If there’s something in particular you want to know about, please leave a comment here.

You can find WordPress in Depth wherever you find quality computer books (and I know that’s harder than it used to be), be it in your town or at your computer. It comes in paper and electronic versions.

As the pitchman always says: If you liked either edition of WordPress in Depth, tell a friend. If not, tell me, in the Comments. Ideas for future editions are greatly appreciated too. What have you had trouble learning in WordPress? What features excite you most?

While you’re still in the book shopping mood, you might also want to check out these recent releases:

  • Bud Smith, my outstanding collaborator, never stops writing. He’s got Using iPad 2 out now.
  • Rochelle Melander, the WriteNow Coach, inspires writers in Milwaukee and elsewhere with her blog and workshops. She’s also a friend of WriteCamp Milwaukee, which makes her a all-round terrific person. Her latest, Write-a-Thon,  is something I’ve been meaning to get since before it came out, but I procrastinate.

And so concludes our marketing interlude. I’ll return to helpful content sooner than you think!

Whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year, I hope it’s a good one! And may 2012 be the best ever!

Dreaming of Summer — and WordCamp Milwaukee!

Wordcamp San Francisco
Image by planetc1 via Flickr

You have no idea how excited I am that WordCamp is coming to Milwaukee next June 2-3, 2012. A small group of us, led by Scott Offord, have been laying the groundwork for this two-day conference on all things WordPress at Bucketworks. We’re ready to accept visitors.

What’s WordCamp? It’s a gathering of WordPress users of all types, where the experienced can share what they know and the neophyte can share their enthusiasm and quandaries. It’s for folks who just started blogging at It’s for folks who want to understand how plugins work (and maybe why it’s not).  It’s for bloggers, designers, developers … anyone who wants to learn more about WordPress.

Things are still in the early planning stages, but we can tell you the weekend will feature three tracks:

  • User Track: more focused on the end-user (bloggers, writers, customers, clients, less-technical, marketing, experience-driven, plugins to make your life easier, SEO, etc)
  • Developer Track: more focused on web development using WordPress (Frameworks, creating plugins, customizing the dashboard, contributing to the open source project code, etc)
  • Unconference Track: It being at Bucketworks, the home of BarCamp Milwaukee and so many other unconferences, you know we’d have one. This track is more focused on multi-person discussion (create your own session, conversational, philosophical, interactions about WordPress-related topics, unplanned and only slightly structured and guided by you)

In between sessions, we want to set up a “Happiness Bar,” where you can get specific questions answered and problems solved with the help of experts. We’re trying to think of other fun and useful things to do.

You can sign up for WordCamp Milwaukee 2012 right now for the early bird rate of just $20 at the Milwaukee WordPress Meetup site. In the new year, we’ll put out a call for speakers, and launch a more formal site at WordCamp Central.

Want to know more about WordCamps? You can see a ton of video from past WordCamps at Wordcamp.TV. Live around here and want to help? Tell me or sign up at Meetup.

You hear a lot about “community” around open source software generally, and certainly around WordPress. WordCamp is where that community can make itself felt. Hope to see you in June!

Feel free to share your WordCamp memories and questions in the Comments.

Some Quick Hits: openSUSE Strategy, WordPress Upgrades, and Some Pointers

It’s summer in Milwaukee, and I haven’t been spending too much time in front of a keyboard lately. You’re surprised?

Anyway, I do have a lot of things on my mind, and here are some of them:

  • openSUSE Strategy Vote: This is directed at the 267 formal Members of the openSUSE Community who have not yet voted on the proposed strategy document: As I write this, you’ve got less than 24 hours to cast your ballot.  The proposal has a 90% approval rating right now (and I voted Yes, if you care what I think); but unless at least 35 more members vote, bumping turnout over 50%, the strategy won’t be adopted! The statement doesn’t take long to read, you can vote No, or even abstain if you like, but please make your voice heard!
  • WordPress v3.2: In the offhand chance you haven’t heard: WordPress released v3.2 (aka Gershwin) over a week ago! There’s even been an update already! Much more to say about this soon, but goodness knows if you haven’t upgraded yet, what are you waiting for?
  • Some Personal History: If you’ve read my About page, or checked out my main website, you know that I’m a technical writer by profession. I wrote a brief account of my “Adventures in Publishing: Finding a Gig as a Computer-Book Author” for the webzine associated with the venerable Technical Writing mailing list (TechWr-L). You may find it interesting.
  • Getting Yet More Social: You may have heard about this new little social network called Google+. It’s really been flying under the radar, don’t you think? I’ve been playing around there this week. If you’re there, connect with me here. If you’re not there, and are anxious to learn more, my Invite button is still showing. Drop a line with your name and email address to I’ll see what I can do.
That’s all for now. Expect to be hearing more from me on these and other riveting topics as the summer presses onward.

New Theme, Perhaps Temporary

This icon was introduced in Mozilla Firefox in...
Image via Wikipedia

Two days after WriteCamp Milwaukee 3, and I’m still pretty inspired. I will have more to say about that in the coming days, but if you happen to be reading this on, chances are good you’re observing the new paint job (if you’re reading the RSS feed or on Planet openSUSE, you can click the link).

Some time ago, I noticed that much of the sidebar material here at Metaverse had somehow migrated down to the bottom of the page, where it was largely useless. At first, I thought it was an issue with the Chrome browser, but last week saw the same problem in Firefox, in both Windows and Linux. This I took as a sign that perhaps it was time to retire the Regulus theme in use here practically since the beginning.

Further impetus to making a change came this afternoon, when TPTB at released the new Twenty Eleven default theme, which you now see in all its glory. A quick test of the widget situation, and it became clear that the time had come.

Twenty Eleven is a perfect choice for a transitional look, as it solves the immediate widget problem and makes the blog a bit more readable. Meanwhile, I can continue the search for an even better fit. So you’ll see Twenty Eleven here for at least a few weeks, but perhaps a bit longer. One never really knows.

For the moment at least, the header graphic will have next to nothing to do with the subject matter (though I suppose the “city at night” header I’ve been using up to now hasn’t been especially relevant either). I may play with that some. I will also be updating the blogroll and making a few other surface changes.

So if you haven’t clicked on the blogroll in a while, or are interested in getting these posts in your Inbox, take a look to the right column and click whatever strikes your fancy. In any case, thanks for your interest.

If you blog, how often do you change your theme? What prompts you to make such a change? Have some thoughts on Twenty Eleven specifically, or what should appear here? Please leave a comment!