Tag: business

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:

Computer science — literacy for the 21st century

The moment a guy says, “I love reading books,” and then gives an example like, “Have you read the latest book by Junot Diaz?” I have to try to walk away and try calm my faster-beating heart. I have a similar reaction when any of the guys in my office have black screens of code open on two monitors.

Strange attractions and (sort of) jokes aside, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to require all public schools to offer computer science to all students. I admire the trend toward increasing emphasis on code as a fundamental literacy.  Whatever amateur coding skills I honed in the past are definitely obsolete by now, but my background has allowed me to at least understand code that other people have written. It’s been immensely helpful, not just in tech but in other areas of life (including writing!). On broadening the application of computer science:

But let’s back up a step: What if learning to code weren’t actually the most important thing? It turns out that rather than increasing the number of kids who can crank out thousands of lines of JavaScript, we first need to boost the number who understand what code can do. As the cities that have hosted Code for America teams will tell you, the greatest contribution the young programmers bring isn’t the software they write. It’s the way they think. It’s a principle called “computational thinking,” and knowing all of the Java syntax in the world won’t help if you can’t think of good ways to apply it.

Unfortunately, the way computer science is currently taught in high school tends to throw students into the programming deep end, reinforcing the notion that code is just for coders, not artists or doctors or librarians. But there is good news: Researchers have been experimenting with new ways of teaching computer science, with intriguing results. For one thing, they’ve seen that leading with computational thinking instead of code itself, and helping students imagine how being computer savvy could help them in any career, boosts the number of girls and kids of color taking—and sticking with—computer science. Upending our notions of what it means to interface with computers could help democratize the biggest engine of wealth since the Industrial Revolution.

— From “We Can Code It: Why Computer Literacy is Key To Winning The 21st Century” via MotherJones

It may not be requisite for everyone to deftly write enough code to become a lead developer, but I agree with the Mayor’s statement that “a computer science education is literacy for the 21st century.”

People make fun of me because I don’t carry Louis Vuitton or Coach or any designer leather handbags to work. I carry handmade canvas bags to work. Most of the time, people in the corporate world assess how I dress and the accessories I carry and assume that I’m an art-loving bohemian hippie, and I think I am okay with that assessment. I’m also okay with blowing their expectations out of the water when I open my mouth to speak about technology and business and streamlining work processes.

The handmade bags that I carry are made by Moop, which is a small business run by a lovely woman named Wendy. She started making these incredibly sturdy and useful bags, and I fell in love. I own more Moop bags than I care to admit. The only ones I’ve had to replace are the ones I have lost. I tell all my friends about Moop.

Today, Wendy wrote a post about her “breakup” with AdWords. It describes everything I feel about doing business and living life. And how the whirlwind pace of online technology can affect all of that, if you’re not careful.

I did not start Moop to master the art of SEO.  Someone else can take that on as their life’s passion.  For me, I’ll take everything listed prior to that.  The truth is, somewhere along the line, I lost sight of the most important things that make me love the business I have built.  At the very core, I am interested in relationships.  I value more than anything the relationships I have with everyone around me.

Thanks, Wendy, for reminding us of what matters.

I used to be very confused about my objective for blogging. Did I want to increase my pageviews? Did I want to encourage people to comment? Did I want to ask people to link to my blog?

In the end, I realized that what I cared about for this space here was freedom. Freedom to be myself, freedom to be thoughtful, freedom to take notes on the things I find important in life. I didn’t want to erect any boundaries around the writing I did in this particular forum. Later down the line, I found avenues for other trains of thought. The mediums to express yourself now seem endless, and I think it is worth it to look back and start revisiting how each medium helps you realize your goals and dreams. I think it’s okay to reinvent yourself. I think it’s okay to express different sides of your personality in the places you’ve set aside for that expression. And, like Wendy, I think most of all, I am interested in keeping sight of the most important things that make me love doing the things I have created. I am interested in the relationships that are borne from that love.

To this day, I don’t talk much about my writing here. I don’t advertise it, because that’s not the point for this particular blog. The reason why I feel like I can exercise my freedom here daily is because this is my sanctuary. Once I went back to find that sentiment that I had lost along the way (when I started counting pageviews or simultaneously hoping and fearing an increase of readership), I felt free.