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Le Web: Automattic and the virtual workplace

Sarah RossoThe Ignite talk at Le Web I’m most interest in: Sara Rosso from Automattic

No-one is inspired by a cubicle-filled office. But we’re locked into thinking about productivity as something that happens in an office. But what should that be? Some people are more productive at home, at the beach, in a co-working space. But remote workers are still viewed with suspicion in most businesses.

Automattic, makers of WordPress.com, are completely distributed. They don’t have an office. Their staff are scattered all over the world. Rosso lives in Milan…

How do they do it? Private chat on IRC, Skype and a bunch of internal blogs are the key communication tools. It means that all the information and discussions in the company are searchable as soon as you join. IRC is their “showing up” in the office. Everyone needs to be a self-starter, though, they need to manage themselves, and they need to over-communicate on their progress.

Companies need to be distributed because they can recruit from a bigger pool of talent. You can move beyond the idea of the Apple Store-radius of recruitment.

They meet once a year (at least) for a mix of fun and work. 

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WordPress, Six Apart silences and communities

The company that was Six Apart is gone. The name and Movable Type are ensconced in Japan, Vox is dead and Typepad is part of SAY Media. It seems an appropriate time for a post-mortem, and that’s just what former Typepad and Movable Type product manager Byrne Reece has done in a long, insightful and revealing post on his own blog. Between the post and the fascinating discussion in the comments, much that happened in the blog platform war of the mid-2000s is captured for posterity, and there’s a whole bunch of lessons in there for today’s web companies. It’s probably about the last word that needs to be said about the fall of Six Apart.

However, there’s one thing I’d like to add, my own bugbear, if you like, that I believe contributed to its fall.

For a company that was, apparently, all about supporting bloggers, it was awful at blogging. Truly, truly awful.

Compare and contrast the posting rate on the Six Apart blogs and the Automattic ones. The main Six Apart blog managed a grand total of 10 posts in the whole of 2010.  Movabletype.com? 8 posts. Movabletype.org? 16 posts. The Automattic product blogs produce posts at a feverish rate.  The most direct comparison would be wordpress.org/movabletype.org. 38 plays 16. That’s quite a difference. And if you take a moment to compare the posts, you’ll see a world  of difference in tone.

And yes, I think this matters. It makes your product look vibrant and alive. It makes it look as if you like your product enough to use it and enjoy using it. And it makes your community feel cared about. A blogging company that doesn’t blog has gone seriously wrong somewhere down the line.

I’ve no idea how or why Six Apart lost its blogging mojo – and find it interesting that SAY Media seems to have it back – but I’d love to know what happened.

The WordPress Attack, Competition and Blogging Innovation

First of all, a note to the fanboys: this is NOT an attack on WordPress. WordPress is an excellent piece of blogging software, and undoubtedly the best option for non-technical users looking to self-host. And therein lies the problem.

Back in 2003/2004 Movable Type was pretty much the predominant blogging platform for the self-hosters. And then two things broke its dominance in the market-place: a rather dumb pricing decision by Six Apart (which was rapidly corrected) and the growing wave of spam, which Six Apart was slow to get on top of. After all, there were a lot of MT blogs out there - it was worth the spammers targeting it. 
Fast forward 5 years, and WordPress has throughly usurped Movable Type's position as the leading self-hosted blogging platform. And lo, the weekend has been full of people tearing their hair out as their WordPress blogs were hacked seven ways to Sunday. Reading about people having to export, destroy and recreate their blogs was painful. Blogging is over a decade old. We should be better at this stuff by now.
But you could see it coming. It only takes a cursory search around the web to find blogs running on ancient platforms - a Movable Type 2.x here, a WordPress 1.x there.  And then the complaints started about the repeated waves of updates to the 2.8 version of the software. When people are complaining about updates, that means some people just aren't bothering to do it. And that means security vulnerabilities are staying wide open. The the odd savvy user like Suw got hacked. By Saturday, tech celebs from Robert Scoble to Andy Ihnatko got hacked. Twitter was full of the wails of the hacked, and the retweetings of the warning.
As I tweeted, WordPress has become Windows - so dominant that it's a huge target. And this is only going to get worse - access to millions of websites through attacking a single platform? That's just too tempting a target. 

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Automattic acquires Intense Debate

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An e-mail was waiting for me when I got home, announcing that Automattic has acquired Intense Debate.
For those not familiar with it, Intense Debate is one of those centralised blog comment services, where you replace your own blog’s comments with a centralised service. The key advantage of this is that a commenter’s activity can be aggregated across blog. The commenter owns her own comments, if you like. Competitor Disqus has been getting more attention, but Automattic’s acquisition will push the idea quickly towards the mainstream – and Intense Debate with it. 
Matt Mullenweg has already suggested that they’ll be integrating Intense Debate into the WordPress core, “as appropriate”, so we’ll rapidly see the concept spreading across the wide world of WordPress blogging.
It’ll be interesting to see how both Disqus – whose primary development has been around WordPress – and Six Apart – who have been showing more and more of a community focus in their products – respond to this.
But I think this is the first step major step towards making centralised commenting identities the mainstream – and default – way of working.

Aksimet: Too Enthusiastic in Spamming Comments?

Akismet logo

Darren of Problogger finally articulates something that has been bothering me for a while: Aksimet, Automattic’s comment spam filtering system, seems to be throwing up a lot of false positives of late. 
I’ve been using Akismet on this blog for a couple of years and we’ve been using it on the RBI blogs for around a year – and generally it’s been good. But too often of late, I’ve been getting e-mails from people saying that they’d left comments, but they never appear on the blog(s). I hope that they get on top of this soon, because I’d rather have more false negatives than any false positives. When you’re having to scan the spam folder in case of false positives most days, your trust in a spam-fighting system is shot, because you’re not that far from just doing the despamming manually.

Blogging News Round-Up: Prologue, Activity Streams & New Typepad

An interesting couple of days in blogging technology: