Beyond Tweetstorming

It seems "tweetstorming" - using a series of tweets on Twitter to share commentary that requires more space than a single tweet can hold - has become a thing.

For those of us who have been using various web tools to publish online for many years now without any notable space constraints, it's a puzzling trend to say the least. Why would you put your thoughts in a format and on a platform that was not at all designed for longer form writing, makes it hard for others to link and respond, and risks a loss of ownership or availability of that content later on (for starters)? I've expanded on these concerns in posts like Owning our digital homes, and made light of them in my own tweets.

But we know that the most elegant and flexible practices don't always win out over ones that are popular or compelling in other ways. So I'm trying to resist the temptation to be entirely dismissive of tweetstorming, especially as I see people call out why they prefer it over blogging: they're more likely to follow up on a conversation on Twitter than they are to check back on an individual blog's comment thread, they like the immediacy and wide distribution of Twitter, they like being able to respond to single thoughts one tweet at a time, and so on.

That said, I still see tweetstorming as a disconcerting trend for the realm of publishing and discussion online. In a time where we need more clarity of thinking, constructive dialog and interactions that don't shy away from details, nuance and truth-seeking, tweetstorms seem like a move in the wrong direction.

So what to do about it?

Continue reading Beyond Tweetstorming

Speaking at SupConf NYC

I'll be speaking at the SupConf New York City 2016 conference behind held at the Digital Ocean HQ in Soho on November 15th and 16th.  My talk is on a topic I've enjoyed thinking about and working on over the years, moving customer support interactions from transactions to partnerships. I'm also excited to meet and hear from some other great speakers.

If you're interested and can make it, tickets are available now. I'll also be sure to share the content of my talk here after the event.

Update December 3, 2016: My slides from the talk are below. Continue reading Speaking at SupConf NYC

Dispatches from my Internet of Things

A few years ago I noticed that a couple of different tools and services I was using at the time were offering the option to tweet when I engaged with them somehow. I was interested to try it out but I didn't want to clutter up my human-authored Twitter feed with a bunch of software-authored stuff that I couldn't necessarily control the timing or content of.

So, I created the @JCHThings Twitter account, and it's been a steady stream of activity from the Internet-connected devices and tools in my life ever since.

Sometimes it shares some bad news:

Continue reading Dispatches from my Internet of Things

Let's Encrypt SSL certificates on cPanel hosted sites

SSL is one of the most important technologies in use on the modern web. It enables all kinds of business, collaboration, commerce, activism and communication to happen securely, and the Internet couldn't thrive without it.  Yet for the average person, alongside domain name registration and management, obtaining and renewing SSL certificates has always been one of the least accessible and convenient parts of having a website.

So I was particularly proud when a year ago my employer Automattic became a sponsor of the Let's Encrypt initiative and even more proud earlier this month when we rolled out free SSL for all domains hosted on WordPress.com, using Let's Encrypt certificates. All of the sudden a huge portion of the world's websites were using SSL to make sure communications between site owners and users are encrypted and secure - amazing!

Let's Encrypt is itself pretty amazing. A bunch of industry experts got together and decided it was time to make the process of obtaining SSL certificates free, automatic, secure, transparent, open and cooperative. This is a long way from what it looked like in the late 1990s, when just a few "certificate authority" options existed, you could expect to pay $100 or more for a certificate, and the application process was painfully slow and analog (think faxing your corporate articles of organization and a photocopy of your driver's license to a call center somewhere), and that's all before you had to mess around with recompiling or reconfiguring Apache to use SSL on your site(s). Even with Let's Encrypt and other modern options some of the concepts and steps remain too technical for many site owners to tackle, but it's getting better all the time.

I'm used to paying around $10/year for SSL certificates on a few of my personal sites, and I actually haven't minded that price point given that the rest of the process has been pretty easy for me to manage. But I recently decided to try using a Let's Encrypt SSL certificate on a site that didn't have one yet, and I'm sharing the steps involved here.

Continue reading Let's Encrypt SSL certificates on cPanel hosted sites

Theme dev with Bones, Sass, Vagrant and PhpStorm

I recently played around with building a new WordPress theme from the ground up, and I'm sharing some notes here about what I learned along the way.

It had been a while since I'd created a WordPress theme from nothing, and I knew that best practices had shifted quite a bit since then. I also wanted to use a more modern development workflow than I'd previously been used to. In my daily work I get to help our clients test, refactor, optimize and launch their WordPress themes (and I enjoy that quite a bit), but sometimes I just want to tinker for a personal project.

I also had an itch to scratch with 47374.info, a site I'd created in 2011 to aggregate local news headlines into a single, simple list display. It uses the great FeedWordPress plugin (along with some custom Perl scripts I wrote to scrape news off of local sites that embarrassingly don't offer their own RSS feeds) and does its job just fine, but it wasn't responsive, the mobile theme wasn't working so well for this use case, and there were more and more parts of the original theme I'd used that needed cleaning up. I also wanted to create something that looked and worked a little bit more like the Hacker News front page (without voting or comments). I am my own primary target user here; the site in question tends to get 40-60 visitors per day (I hope you're enjoying it, whoever you are), but I know I use it every single day.

I didn't quite have the time to start with a totally blank slate, so I started looking at some of the starter themes out there: Underscores, Components, Minimum Viable VIP, and Bones were the main ones I considered. These starter themes include all of the basic requirements of a WordPress theme so you don't have to literally create each new file (like single.php and style.css from scratch). Each option then offers its own unique flavor to what a starter theme should have. For example, the Minimum Viable VIP theme is designed to have everything a developer on the WordPress.com VIP platform would need to implement basic functionality while also meeting code security and performance standards on our platform.

In my case, mobile-first and responsive was a top goal, and while Components has some great options there, Bones seemed to take care of what I wanted with a little less extra stuff thrown in. (Some day I will learn to write media queries from scratch, not this time around.)

So I downloaded Bones, opened it up, and started poking around. And that's when I encountered this:

Continue reading Theme dev with Bones, Sass, Vagrant and PhpStorm

New plugin, Debug Bar Widgets

A few weeks ago I created a new, simple WordPress plugin, Debug Bar Widgets.

It adds a panel to Debug Bar that displays all of the widgets registered on a site, even if the widgets aren't active. There are probably simpler ways to get at the same info but I've found it useful in developing some of my other widget-centric plugins.

Pull requests welcome.