Why WordPress Still Matters

Good thoughts from Om here about the place of having your own website (whether it’s at WordPress.com or a self hosted WordPress installation for more flexibility) and feeding the beast:

Some Thoughts on the New WordPress.com and Mac App – Om Malik: “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. As someone who feeds the monster, I should have the ability to keep a copy of what I create. To stay relevant, WordPress.com has to become not only a publishing tool but also a means for me to route my sharing. Its role is that of an information router. I am looking forward to what talented developers do with the new capabilities of WordPress.com.”

Will our selfies survive us?

We like to think pictures that we take (of ourselves and other things) digitally are eternal and won’t disappear into the digital abyss. 

However, is that true it will our JPGs and PNGs (not to mention associated metadata) slip into the digital dark age canyon we’re construction for our ancestors?

“If only they had used more permanent materials” our archaeologists lament about the past. I imagine that will be a similar lament in the future. 

WordPress Reboots and Opens Up Code Base

Today we’re announcing something brand new, a new approach to WordPress, and open sourcing the code behind it.

Source: Dance to Calypso | Matt Mullenweg

I frequently talk with clients or perspective clients about the differences between having a site on WordPress.com and having a self-hosted site on WordPress (I’ll write more about that soon). The biggest difference being that if you have your site on WordPress.com, you’re trading off some functionality and customization for a more “set it and forget it” approach to having a site or blog. Of course, both options have their advantages and disadvantages (again, more soon on that).

I’m glad to see WordPress.com code being opened up and the switch from PHP and MySQL to Javascript and an API for backend power, but I’m a little cautious about what that means for the self-hosted sites (WordPress 4.4 is coming) in terms of the amount of work I’ll be doing in December to update our clients’ sites :)

Regardless, glad to see the open web taking on the likes of Medium and Facebook.

Visually-Driven Information-Rich Explainers

It’s an opportunity for visual storytelling that you won’t find anywhere else on the web.

Vox’s email announcing their arrival on Snapchat included this:

We’re using it to create a new form of deep, visually-driven information-rich explainers that we’re really proud of, and we think you’ll really like. What’s more, they’ll only exist on Snapchat, and they’ll only last for 24 hours each.

Source: Find Vox on Snapchat Discover – Vox

I read lots of tech jargon and buzzword filled studies and announcements everyday, but “visually-driven information-rich explainers” is a new one. I’ll have to use that myself in a meeting sometime soon.

Explainers aside, it’s definitely interesting to see how Vox, Vice, Buzzfeed, The Verge, Gawker’s sites etc are pivoting. Their once advertising and story heavy front page sites, that more resembled a traditional print newspaper than something like a “blog” or “news website” (I think of boing boing), are being put on the back burner to the flow outward of their news.

There are very good reasons for this that we can all take something from despite our business goals. Advertising revenue on that mode of website is drying up as ad technology gets smarter, marketing directors get wiser, and viewers start going elsewhere for their information binges or check-ins. That shift of advertising revenue probably doesn’t concern your business or group etc.

Those elswewheres, however, do. And for the time being, those elsewheres are social networks.

You probably arrived here from seeing this post on Twitter or Facebook or Google+ (hey, some do). “Social” traffic on this blog and many of the client sites we manage has proven to be “stickier” than traffic coming straight from a Google search, unless the search was for a highly targeted keyword (say “visually-driven information-rich explainers”).

However, reaching people on social networks and getting their attention is not as easy as it was just four or five years ago. That’s obvious if you have tried to put up a Facebook post on your company’s page and waited for the highly qualified traffic to come rolling in without any further effort (hint: it won’t).

Vox gets this as do many of the news / destination sites in their genre of web writing. Companies and groups successfully leveraging (to use another buzz term) social media networks for traffic, engagement, or leads are also aware of the challenge.

To be honest, the ability to tap into social networks is only going to get more difficult and … bizarre in the coming years. Again, Vox etc understand that their their websites are transitioning into “dumb pipes.” It’s the same thing we all want from our cable companies or internet providers… don’t fancy up the service, just give us fast access to the web. We’ll find all the entertainment we need without Comcast throwing in a package deal.

Except websites are dealing with content and information, rather than bandwidth, for their flow outward. Why does Vox etc care about having their “explainers” going out to Snapchat? Because that’s where we’re increasingly going to find the news and content and opinion that we want to have when we want to have it. I’d venture to bet that Vox.com’s traffic coming in from mobile Safari on iPhones isn’t as stimulating to their bottom line as the traffic coming in from social sites.

Social networks aren’t just about pictures of your friends’ babies or cat pictures anymore. Something like 35% of Americans viewed Facebook as their main news source last year and 8% viewed Twitter as the same. That’s only increasing:

How do social media users discover news? Facebook is an important source of website referrals for many news outlets, but the users who arrive via Facebook spend far less time and consume far fewer pages than those who arrive directly. The same is true of users arriving by search. Our analysis of comScore data found visitors who go to a news media website directly spend roughly three times as long as those who wind up there through search or Facebook, and they view roughly five times as many pages per month. This higher level of engagement from direct visitors is evident whether a site’s traffic is driven by search or social sharing and it has big implications for news organizations who are experimenting with digital subscriptions while endeavoring to build a loyal audience.

Interestingly, we’re running into a unique situation in that social networks as we know them are morphing into something else just as news, content sites, and companies are figuring out how to use them for traffic back to their own sites.

In the last year, we’ve seen the rise of Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News, Google Now, Snapchat Discover etc. “News” is blending in with editorial content and the method of delivery based on a person’s preferences is where the money is going to flow.

If you haven’t already, check out Nuzzel and you’ll see why.

That’s because our social preferences and our media consumption preferences are coalescing in this third generation of the web. “Going to” Facebook to check our newsfeed will seem as antiquated as picking up a newspaper from a newsstand to check the day’s news. However, once newspapers started being delivered to our homes, we started viewing the news differently. The same thing is happening here with social. The news / content /info we want (and the algorithms think we need based on our bank balance, location, heart rate, travel speed, or upcoming schedule) is going to be coming to us, via messengers and notifications on our mobile devices.

Messengers are the next wave that is quickly coming to the US (already happened in much of the world outside North America just as texting, video chat etc took a while for Americans to catch on). These initiatives by Google, Facebook, Apple, Snapchat etc are a very real signal that they want to be the distributor of the content that we’ll inevitably be receiving via Facebook’s Messenger or WeChat or Whatsapp or whatever we all network shift to for our social spaces in the next 3 or so years.

What does that mean to your small business selling widgets or your nonprofit?

Everything if you’re doing any marketing on the web in 2015.

What’s Important for Your Website?

At the annual Minecraft conferences the young fans are not provided free workshops on how to play Minecraft but on “Video Creation 101″.

What will they do when they go back home?

Source: 15 Digital Marketing Trends for 2016 That Could Destroy Your Business

Last night I dreamed that I had been brought into a website redesign and new branding initiative for a large university (I know, but this is what I do for a living, so of course I’m going to have the occasional “work dream”).

The group that the university had assembled to work through the process with me was well versed in what they wanted in a web site and had no shortage of personal opinions to share and cling to (which is normally how the process starts in real life as well).

After hearing their thoughts, wishes, and concerns on everything from user interface to colors to layouts, they asked me what I had in mind. I looked at their notes and the site they wanted looked like a site that was a perfect fit for a forward looking university in 2007.

“Mobile,” I said. “80% of your traffic in the next three years will come from mobile devices with screens smaller than 5.5 inches. That’s radically different than how university (or business) websites were laid out five years ago and means that you have to rethink your opinions and wishes and start over.” (I wrote this down in my journal that I keep bedside after waking up to feed our newborn at 4 am).

I asked everyone to pull out their phones. Everyone at the table, regardless of age or “tech ability” had a smart phone of some sort (most were relatively current iPhones).

“Now, let’s design your site based on those screens. What are your favorite mobile sites? Do you have any or do you just use apps? Do you need a website? What are you trying to communicate or do with your university’s site? What’s important?”

Do the reading if you want to be treated like a professional

The reading exposes you to the state of the art. The reading helps you follow a thought-through line of reasoning and agree, or even better, challenge it. The reading takes effort.

If you haven’t done the reading, why expect to be treated as a professional?

Important thoughts from Seth Godin. Keep up with the reading, regardless of what you’re doing.

The Web Strikes Back

Google has actually been indexing the content of mobile applications for two years now, as a move against the search giant’s potential obsolescence as the world of computing increasingly shifted off the desktop and to take place inside native applications running on consumers’ phones. Since its launch, Google has expanded its ability to surface “deep links” (links that point to pages inside an app) from beyond a small set of early adopters on Android and now indexes applications across both major mobile platforms, iOS and Android.

Source: Google Search Now Surfaces App-Only Content, Streams Apps From The Cloud When Not Installed On Your Phone | TechCrunch

Interesting concept of “streaming apps” from Google… basically allowing people to use the functionality of native apps without having to leave the browser and / or install the actual app on their device.

Of course, not every app developer is not going to participate in this, but it does mean that Google is thinking of creative ways to keep the web (and web advertising) relevant in the app dominated present.

Quality Means More Than Quantity Even on Social Media

Sometimes we think that just putting out a consistent number of things will just create some outliers that’ll help us win. Heck, I even believed this for a long time and advised people to just focus on quantity. I don’t think that’s true anymore. Yes, we need to output things at high quantity, but we need to treat every single piece of output as the one that’ll be a breakout hit.

Source: Buffer’s Marketing Manifesto in 500 Words

Quality > Quantity despite what other social media experts might tell you.

Amazon Finally Gets 2 Factor Authentication (Please Go Turn This On For Your Account Now)

amazon_logo_RGB

Here’s how to enable Amazon’s Two-Step Verification, a feature that adds an extra layer of security by asking you to enter a unique security code in addition to your password on computers and devices that you haven’t designated as trusted.

Source: Amazon.com Help: Turning On Two-Step Verification

Amazon finally has 2 Step Authentication. By all means, please go turn this on (and turn on for all the services you actively use from GMail to Slack to Dropbox to Facebook to Twitter etc).

I’m a big fan of Authy as my preferred authenticator, but Google has one and you can always use your mobile device for receiving authentication texts.

But you need to do this asap for your personal and business accounts or count the days until you’re “hacked.”

Don’t Sell Out.

At some point in the past ten years, selling out lost its stigma. I come from the Kurt Cobain/“corporate rock still sucks” school where selling out was the worst thing you could ever do. We should return to that. Don’t sell out your values, don’t sell out your community, don’t sell out the long term for the short term. Do something because you believe it’s wonderful and beneficial, not to get rich. And — very important — if you plan to do something on an ongoing basis, ensure its sustainability. This means your work must support your operations and you don’t try to grow beyond that without careful planning. If you do those things you can easily maintain your independence.

Source: Resist and Thrive — Medium

As someone who runs a marketing agency but comes from the Kurt Cobain school of “not selling out” myself, I found lots to identify in this post from Kickstarter’s CEO.

We’ve lost the notion of “selling out,” or it doesn’t sting like it once did when someone accused you of such or called you a “poser.” Remember the term poser? We should bring that back.

Too often, we sell out. We lose our idealism and our independence and we trade in our soul for those things that make us a few more zeroes of digital currency.

It’s not worth it, trust me.

Be yourself, whether you’re an entrepreneur or a church or a nonprofit group.

It’s much more difficult, but it’s more rewarding (even financially).

Thoughts in the Presence of Fear

We did not anticipate anything like what has now happened. We did not foresee that all our sequence of innovations might be at once overridden by a greater one: the invention of a new kind of war that would turn our previous innovations against us, discovering and exploiting the debits and the dangers that we had ignored. We never considered the possibility that we might be trapped in the webwork of communication and transport that was supposed to make us free.

Source: Orion Magazine | Thoughts in the Presence of Fear

Wendell Berry is a modern day Amos, speaking to us in a prophetic voice that we are quick to admonish.

Although written shortly after 9/11, this essay still resonates just as the words of Amos and Hosea challenge us today.

Practice Resurrection.

Google’s quantum computing announcement on December 8

It’s not exactly clear what this announcement will be (besides important for the future of computing), but Jurvetson says to “stay tuned” for more information coming on December 8th. This is the first we’ve heard of a December 8th date for a Google announcement, and considering its purported potential to be a turning point in computing, this could perhaps mean an actual event is in the cards.

Source: Google reportedly planning a ‘watershed’ quantum computing announcement for December 8

If Google has cracked quantum decoherence, we’re in for a very fascinating course of events in the next few decades.

Facebook’s Notify and the New Age of Invisible Apps

Facebook’s Notify is live and ready for your iOS consumption. 

Apps are moving quickly to be “invisible” and only interact with us in the notification space that is agnostic of the former modes of app badges and alerts. 

If you think this is just a ploy to flood your phone with news you might be semi-interested in throughout the day, you’re wrong.

Notifications are the next interface of computing. 

It’s about the ads

“The goal of Facebook Instant Articles is to keep you on Facebook. No need to explore the larger Web when it’s all right there in Facebook, especially when it loads so much faster in the Facebook app than it does in a browser.

Google seems to have recognized what a threat Facebook Instant Articles could be to Google’s ability to serve ads. This is why Google’s project is called Accelerated Mobile Pages. Sorry, desktop users, Google already knows how to get ads to you.”

Source: How Google’s AMP project speeds up the Web—by sandblasting HTML | Ars Technica

“Speeding up the web” is a wonderful sentiment, but Google, Apple, and Facebook are well aware of the impending transition to a post-mobile computing interface that will transform how we see and interact with advertising.

Google AMP, Facebook Instant News, and Apple News are stop gaps to make a few more dollars on a rapidly transitioning medium (web advertising) as it exists in its current state.

NYT VR

Saving this for when we look back in 10 years on the first mainstream uses of VR in much the same way we fondly look back at web pages from the 90’s today…

“Today, The New York Times takes a step into virtual reality. NYT VR is a mobile app that can be used — along with your headphones and optionally a cardboard viewing device — to simulate richly immersive scenes from across the globe.”

Source: NYT VR: How to Experience a New Form of Storytelling From The Times – The New York Times

Amazon’s Retail Store, Uber Surge Pricing, and The Ever Changing Price of Things

“It’s all about the data. Under the hood, the Amazon store has a few unusual features. Every book has a shelf tag that includes a capsule review from the website, a star rating, and a barcode. There are no prices listed. To get the price, you scan the code with the camera of your smartphone and the Amazon app. If you don’t have a smartphone or the app installed, an associate can do it for you. This brings up the product page for the item you’re looking at, with full reviews, specs and pricing.”

Source: Amazon’s Retail Store Has Nothing To Do With Selling Books – Forbes

Price is the main motivating factor in most purchasing decisions under $50, so it’s interesting to see that Amazon is trading off that variable with the need to scan a code with its app on your smartphone in order to give you the information.

There’s a very good reason Amazon wants to do that, of course… if you have the app installed on your smartphone and use it in their store, they are able to (in relative real time) offer up a more customized, or personal, shopping experience to you based on what Amazon knows about you. If you’re online in 2015, that’s probably a good deal, especially for Prime members with Echo’s and a long purchase history like me and my family.

Variant pricing will initially surprise consumers. “What do you mean he gets to buy that Star Wars book for $2 less than I do?” will be a common refrain. Amazon knows my wife and I have a little boy due to arrive any moment now (or they should based on our recent purchases), and they know I’m a Star Wars fan based on my Amazon Prime Movies streaming, and purchase of toys and collectibles for our kids (*cough* … ) or the frequent amount of times our 5 year old asks Alexa to play the Imperial March from the soundtrack.

So, psychologically there’s a great deal more involved with a purchasing decision than price point.

As we move towards a cash-free and digital transaction based economy (thanks, Apple and Android Pay!) and continue to contribute both our data and our purchasing habits to recommendation engines, it will be more economically efficient to move towards a market where goods and services are based on context and situational awareness (Uber’s Surge Pricing, for example).

“Showcase Stores” such as Best Buy get this. Even the weekly grocery store discount ads in the newspaper circular (for us old folks) will follow this lead and require an app or an interface not based on universal pricing in order for the “cost” of something to be displayed. Our nearly automated financial markets full of nano-second timed transactions carried out by bots are already there.

Time for advertising and marketing to catch up.

It’s going to be a fun decade ahead.

“Hey Alexa, play my Beatles mix. And order more newborn diapers.”

Hearts on Twitter and Secondary Orality

“We are changing our star icon for favorites to a heart and we’ll be calling them likes. We want to make Twitter easier and more rewarding to use, and we know that at times the star could be confusing, especially to newcomers. You might like a lot of things, but not everything can be your favorite.”

Source: Hearts on Twitter | Twitter Blogs

Interesting connection between Twitter and its rebranded hearts with the concept of “secondary orality:”

“In the era of electronic media it is difficult to keep the distinction between oral culture and literate culture, since there are more and more hybrid forms of culture that spread on the internet. The secondary orality character of applications like Twitter is a manifestation, a consequence of humans’ desire to group, not out of a survival instinct but as a deliberate, rational act of re-integration, as statement of self-consciousness and declaration of identity within neo-tribal cultures.”

Source: Liliana Bounegru | Secondary Orality in Microblogging

When people ask me how Twitter is different than Facebook (or Pinterest, Instagram etc), I like to present my admittedly boiled-down take on the phenomenon of secondary orality in a trans-literate global culture.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

“Since we started to roll out unlimited cloud storage to Office 365 consumer subscribers, a small number of users backed up numerous PCs and stored entire movie collections and DVR recordings. In some instances, this exceeded 75 TB per user or 14,000 times the average,” read the blog post, attributed to the OneDrive Team. “Instead of focusing on extreme backup scenarios, we want to remain focused on delivering high-value productivity and collaboration experiences that benefit the majority of OneDrive users.”

Source: Microsoft Kills Unlimited OneDrive Storage, Downgrades Paid and Free Options – Digits – WSJ

I’m not a OneDrive user, but I have made statements just like this as a middle school science teacher…and seriously, did Microsoft not see this coming?

Yes, your brain (and mine) needs more downtime

“Downtime is an opportunity for the brain to make sense of what it has recently learned, to surface fundamental unresolved tensions in our lives and to swivel its powers of reflection away from the external world toward itself. While mind-wandering we replay conversations we had earlier that day, rewriting our verbal blunders as a way of learning to avoid them in the future.”

Source: Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime