Categories
Meta Wordpress WordPress.com

Why self hosted?

This site still runs the latest version of WordPress but the main difference between this site and my old Watirmelon.blog one is this one is self hosted and not on WordPress.com like my old site was since 2006.

“Why self hosted after 14 years?” I hear you ask. I did work for Automattic who runs WordPress.com for over three years and I am a huge fan of its products and platform but there comes a time when long-standing bugs/missing features weigh you down and make you switch away from something you love.

The first bug was a security limitation on all WordPress.com sites whereby you can’t embed any content from another WordPress.com site.

See I want to embed content from my own site in my knowledge base, but on WordPress.com it isn’t possible – and it just silently fails and falls back to sad looking text hyperlink.

An awesome WordPress embed

WordPress.com offers an awesome feature to email new content to subscribers but the inability to change it from anything but immediately was a constant anxiety inducer: if I accidentally hit Publish before being completely ready it would immdiately email 1000+ subscribers with no undo 😕

I now use MailPoet which enables configuration of when to send emails to subscribers – I send an email once a day at 1pm local time if I have created any new content since it was last sent. This alleviates my publish anxiety as I know I have until 1pm each day to fix it before it’s emailed.

I also really wanted to add an automatically generated table of contents to each page in my knowledge base – there was no way to do this on WordPress.com.

One thing I realised by moving to self-hosted is just how much WordPress.com offers without any plugins. I didn’t realise WordPress doesn’t offer in built site stats – that’s a WordPress.com thing.

I try to avoid WordPress plugins since they’re notorious for slowing down your site, however I did end up a small list of handy things that I need:

  1. Akismet Anti-Spam: name says it all 🐷
  2. List Pages Shortcode: to show child pages of a page in a page – just works on WordPress.com
  3. LuckyWP Table of Contents: table of contents
  4. MailPoet 3
  5. Site Kit by Google
  6. SyntaxHighlighter Evolved
  7. Widget Context
  8. Wordfence Security

One thing I can’t do at the moment is automatically publish to Twitter and LinkedIn, but due to my Publish Anxiety anyway I use a manual process for that.

The final question you may ask is why I didn’t use the Business Plan on WordPress.com that allows most plugins and would have solved most of my issues?

This site runs free of ads and creates zero income or revenue for me. The Business Plan would enable some of the features I mentioned above, but it’s AUD$396 per year. My employment income has fallen due to the economic impacts of COVID-19 and I can’t justify that cost when my current managed host costs approx AUD$50 per year to host the same site (8 times less).

Categories
Ask Me Anything

AMA: How to be a better blogger

Since the AMAs are coming in very fast (but please keep them coming!): I’m going to start answering these one by one (following my own advice below).

Sunil Kapil writes…

“I really love your blog and read it regularly. I also liked your this year talk in GTAC about flaky tests.”

“I am also as Tool/Automation engineer and write blog time to time. I find it hard to figure out which topic should I cover and how to organize the content of my blog. would like to to know, if you have any tips about that.”

My response…

I’ve had quite a few people ask me about this topic. There’s a great Mark Twain quote that I love that applies well to blogging:

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting on the first one.”

So, following Twain’s advice, the secret to getting ahead with blogging is to start writing small blog posts frequently, and the secret to starting writing blog posts frequently is make them as small as you possibly can so that the barrier to publishing them is so low you’ll keep wanting to do it.

Rather than trying to organise the content of your blog up front, just start writing and let it flow. Imagine a riverbed gradually forming over time: a river doesn’t know where to flow before it’s started: at first the water just flows anywhere and everywhere, but over time a pattern or channel will emerge so you can follow that to shape your blog’s content. Be sure to use tags and categories so you can see what you’re writing about and what people are looking for.

The best topics I have found to start writing about are exact problems you’ve faced in your work and how you went about solving them, even if you haven’t fully solved them, because chances are there will be lots of people with those exact same problems at a point in time.

Once you start writing you may get questions and feedback, so make sure you use that to shape what you write about next, this will become your riverbed.

I also like the idea of strong opinions; weakly held. So find a topic (bonus points if it’s contentious) and write a particularly strong view on it, but be very open to feedback and changing your mind on it, even if it’s in the next blog post you write.

I’ve found the actual blogging platform doesn’t matter as much per say, but the thing that does matter is the channels which you use to spread your ideas. One reason I love WordPress.com so much (where I work and where this site is hosted: shameless plug) is every post of mine is automatically publicised to LinkedIn, my @watirmelon twitter account and to over 600 email subscribers. Use this power to spread the ideas of what you’re writing about.

I’ll conclude by paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln: the best thing about blogging is it comes one blog post at a time.

Categories
Career

An Automattician To Be

I am excited to announce I will be starting as a full time Excellence Wrangler for Automattic working on WordPress.com from this coming Monday.

Improve the quality of the WordPress.com experience through testing and triage. Your work will inform product teams to act on the top priority issues facing our users. Tasks include automated UI testing, creating and executing test plans, effective issue tracking and triage, and identifying and monitoring quality metrics.

I’ve dreamed about working for Automattic/WordPress.com for a long time (I first wrote about working for Automattic in 2008), and with their newly created Excellence Wrangler roles this really is a dream come true.

WordPress is superbly simple yet beautifully powerful software that powers 24% of the Internet (including this blog), not only for blogs like this but sites for businesses, artist’s portfolios, hobbyists and giant media organizations like CNN and TIME.

Some amazing facts about Automattic and how I was hired:

  1. Automattic are 100% distributed with 395 staff across 36 countries all working from home or wherever they choose.
  2. I have already worked for Automattic for almost 3 months on a paid trial, where I was given a real project to work on in my spare time. This is a requirement for all new hires at Automattic. I can’t overstate how great this is, as it gave both Automattic and myself real exposure to each other before committing to a full time job. It now makes taking on a new job without a trial seem too daunting.
  3. Automattic does their entire interviewing/trial/hiring process via asynchronous text chat (Skype/Slack), including the final hiring discussion with Matt, so I have never spoken to a person from Automattic. Whilst this may seem unusual at first, it’s representative of how the company works in such a distributed way, and it’s a great way to eliminate all prejudice/bias from a hiring process as it’s all about what value someone can add, not what they look or sound like.
  4. Everyone who joins Automattic full time spends their first 3 weeks on support, regardless of their position. I am looking forward to this next week as it will give me broad insight into how WordPress.com is used by real customers by working as a ‘Happiness Engineer’: Genchi Genbutsu.

I can’t wait to be a part of the future of WordPress.com, so stay tuned for more updates as I begin this exciting next stage of my career.