Openness, the new WordPress, and the dance most of all.

When I started self-publishing on the internet, there weren’t a whole lot of options in terms of platforms for publishing. But to be fair, in a sense this also meant a lot more freedom. I would just open up a Notepad file and my favorite FTP client to customize and publish the content I wanted to post.

We watch this trade-off happen in an increasingly technological world. Our options and abilities to do anything have increased exponentially, but what kinds of presence, openness, and freedom are we sacrificing along the way? What about taking time to consider the openness that the web was built on?

In a Brain Pickings article, Maria Popova references Rebecca Solnit and ponders how we can “break the tyranny of technology and relearn the art of presence” —

Solnit wonders when the uprising will come — against the part of ourselves too easily lured by the promise of efficiency at the expense of aliveness, and against the corporations exploitively perfecting the allure of such seductive illusions.

So how do we as individuals and as companies keep our aliveness intact in the face of technological advancement?

I’ve watched the evolution of ways we share and consume news over the internet. I’ve stubbornly defended the role of blogging in a changing world and argued that, contrary to many people’s beliefs, it’s not losing relevance. Many think that blogging is antiquated because of the constraints of their definitions around it. On the contrary, blogging is more relevant than ever because of its flexibility and openness. Let’s not forget the lyrical possibilities and profound connections that technology can offer us on top of fast news consumption and narcissistic announcements, if only we allow ourselves the more soulful perspective that the point of it all is sharing.

Om Malik eloquently discusses this point:

Blogging has always been mistaken for its containers, tools, the length of the posts or just a replacement for the rapid-fire publishing of old-fashioned news. In reality, blogging is essentially a philosophy built on the ethos of sharing.

Today sharing on the internet is a major social behavior: We share photos, links, videos, thoughts, opinions, news. Except instead of sharing on a blog, we do the sharing in increasingly proprietary and corporate silos: Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Periscope and LinkedIn. You see, the blogging ethos is alive and well. However, the old blogging tools have to embrace change.

Most of those platforms are built to be silos, Facebook and Instagram being the worst offenders. Their approach is a threat to the open web as much as the rise of the app-centric internet.

I have used a lot of blogging platforms over the past decade. I admit that I moved back to WordPress.com with reluctance. While the desire to control a user’s experience is understandable (see: Apple), I craved the kind of flexibility that is rapidly shrinking on the web and I felt I was still searching for it.

Yesterday, there was a big news announcement about the new WordPress.com. This relaunch is spectacular for many reasons that are listed in neat bullet points in the articles covering it, so I won’t address all the technical aspects (it’s faster, it’s built on JavaScript, etc.). Rather, the open-sourcing of the whole thing and the big changes as a fervent adherence to a vision of freedom are impressive because I know:

  1. how hard it is for a company already in motion to reinvent itself while dealing with the million other things happening and
  2. how hard it is to stand by your vision while dealing with the million other things telling you to go the other direction.

Mark Bittman recently wrote an article for Fast Company about how difficult it is for any company (no matter how big or small or established) to uphold their vision and standards. There are so many voices to listen to, so many pockets to fill, so many people to please. I write for a very small audience relative to many people on the internet, and I sit in admiration of how WordPress has made ease-of-publishing available not only to huge companies but also to people like me.

I am inspired because, in the face of so many trying to stay afloat and sometimes even willing to sacrifice what they stand for in order to optimize profits, WordPress.com takes the risk of changing everything for the sake of freedom.

From one of my favorite Jack Gilbert poems:

Talking about how Charlemagne
couldn’t read but still made a world. About Hagia
Sophia and putting a round dome on a square
base after nine hundred years of failure.

“Not the great fires
built on the edge of the world.” His voice grew
fainter as they carried him away. “Both the melody
and the symphony. The imperfect dancing
in the beautiful dance. The dance most of all.”

I don’t always know what it means. But I think we all risk failure — as companies, as people — but the important thing is to still make our world. We may have gone down a certain road for nine hundred years, but why not take the risk of disruption? We may dance imperfectly, but isn’t the beauty in the dancing itself?

Cheers to openness, and the dance most of all.

Some references:

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