WordCamp for Publishers Denver

I'm excited to be a part of the team that is organizing the first WordCamp for Publishers happening in Denver, Colorado this coming August 17th to 19th.

In my work on Automattic's VIP service offering I've been able to see some of the incredible things that journalists and publications of all types are doing with WordPress - really interesting stuff that pushes the software in new directions. So when I saw some of my colleagues discussing an event that would bring engineering, product and editorial teams together around all the things WordPress can do in the publishing world (for publications big and small), I wanted to be a part of making it happen.

We're looking for speakers and sponsors now. If you know someone who might want to be a part of this first-of-a-kind event, please point them in our direction. And if you're involved in publishing with WordPress at any scale, or just want to learn about how media organizations are using it to modernize their publishing  workflow, I hope you'll consider attending. Tickets ($40) will go on sale soon!

Creating a private website with WordPress

When we became parents in 2015, Kelly and I talked about where and how we wanted to share the initial photos and stories of that experience with a small group of our family and friends. In case you haven't noticed, I feel pretty strongly about the principle of owning our digital homes. So I felt resistance to throwing everything up on Facebook in hopes that we'd always be able to make their evolving privacy and sharing settings and policies work for us, while also trusting that every single Facebook friend would honor our wishes about re-sharing that information.

I took some time to explore tools available for creating a private website that would be relatively easy for our users to access, relatively easy to maintain, and still limited in how accessible the content would be to the wider world. (I tend to assume that all information connected to the Internet will eventually become public, so I try to avoid ever thinking in terms of absolute privacy when it comes to websites of any kind.)

I thought about using WordPress.com, which offers the ability to quickly create a site that is private and viewable only by invited users while maintaining full ownership and control of the content. I passed on this idea in part because it didn't allow quite the level of feature customization that I wanted, and partly because it's a service of my employer, Automattic. While I fully trust my colleagues to be careful and sensitive to semi-private info stored there, it felt a little strange to think of creating something a bit vulnerable and intended for a small group of people within that context. I would still highly recommend the WordPress.com option for anyone looking for a simple, free/low-cost solution to get started.

Here are the WordPress tools I ended up using, with a few notes on my customizations:

Basic WordPress Configuration

For the basic WordPress installation and configuration, I made the following setup choices:

  • I put the site on a private, dedicated server so that I had control over the management and maintenance of the site software (as opposed to a shared server where my content, files or database may be accessible to others).
  • I used a Let's Encrypt SSL certificate and forced all traffic to the SSL version of the site, to ensure all communication and access would be encrypted.
  • I set up a child theme of a default WordPress theme so I could add a few customizations that would survive future parent theme updates.
  • I set "Membership" so that "Anyone can register" in the role of Subscriber (see more below on why this is okay).
  • For Search Engine Visibility I set "Discourage search engines from indexing this site".
  • For discussion I set "

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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

Getting started owning your digital home

My recent post about owning our digital homes prompted some good feedback and discussion. When I talk about this topic with the people in my life who don't work daily in the world of websites, domain names and content management, the most common reaction I get is, "that's sounds good in theory, I'm not sure where to start in practice."

So, here are some of the basic things that pretty much anyone can do to get started having and owning your digital home.

Find a domain name

On the Internet, your domain name is the root of your digital existence. It's the address on your home, your entry in the phonebook, the shingle you hang out so that anyone and everyone can find you. While the domain name system (DNS) has changed a lot over the years, it's still the starting point for establishing a long-term presence on the Internet that you control, independent of other tools, services and providers you might use.

My domain name is "chrishardie.com." It's not only the URL/address of my website, but it's the domain where my primary email address lives. Whatever content management tool might power my website at any given time, and whatever server my email might live on or whatever email program I might use to read messages, I will always have my domain name to point me and others to those places.

Having a domain name is relatively inexpensive; in most cases it's $10-15/year, less if you register it for multiple years at a time. When I see people who pick email addresses derived from their Internet Service Provider (e.g. Comcast, Verizon) or from some free online email provider like Gmail, and then see the time it takes them to inform friends, co-workers and family when they change that address to something else, I know it's worth those few dollars to have a consistent address that doesn't change unless I want it to, and that doesn't depend on someone else's business model to exist at all.

In my opinion, your domain name should be something personalized, but not so specific to where you live, how you make a living, or what you find interesting right now that it will become outdated when you move to a new place, change jobs or update your interests. Your domain name doesn't even need to mean anything at all, as long as it's memorable enough for you and the people you share it with. If you're having trouble finding a domain name you like, this generator will help with some ideas.

Continue reading Getting started owning your digital home

Owning our digital homes

Over the course of my life, I've built few things that reside permanently in the physical world. There's a small foot-bridge over a winding creek a few miles from where I live that I helped to bolt together. There's a school building in southern Alabama whose ceiling joists I helped frame in. I weathered a few splinters to help build the deck on our house. A few half-finished knitting projects linger. I've installed a window here, hammered some metal in a forge there.

Beyond these and some similarly inconsequential offerings, most of my life's work and creations have come in the form of things published in the digital world: essays, photos, lines of code, blog posts, songs, podcasts, and database rows. Where a carpenter might wander the streets of his city admiring the houses he built, I must wander the hard drives, websites, .zip/.tar archives and code repositories of my world to remember what I've created.

Where these digital products of my life and work reside, who has control of and ownership over them, and how long they might persist is important to me.

This is why I try to use this site, chrishardie.com, along with a few other carefully chosen services to make up my digital home. It's part of why I love WordPress as a tool for publishing. And it's why I worry about others who take for granted that the digital things they create will always be there, accessible, under their control, searchable/viewable in a way that makes sense to them.

Continue reading Owning our digital homes

I'm joining Automattic

wordpress-logo-stacked-rgbOne of the main reasons I get excited about Internet technologies is that they amplify the power of the written word and other kinds of creative publishing. Modern online tools enable bloggers, software developers, poets, journalists, novelists, chefs, filmmakers, marketers, photographers, artists, scientists, organizers and many other kinds of people to bring their creations to the world, at a constantly decreasing cost. And even through all of the cultural transformations we've seen spurred on by the Internet, the power of the written word remains - publishing can still change minds, start movements, spark connections, capture beauty, reshape lives.

Next week I'm joining Automattic, Inc., the company that makes WordPress, runs WordPress.com, and provides a bunch of other publishing-related tools and services. I'm joining the WordPress.com VIP team as a full-time VIP Wrangler, where I'll be helping to provide support, hosting, training, and other services to some of the biggest and best WordPress sites on the web (NY Times, TED, CNN, Time and more).

There are many reasons I'm excited about this, including:

Continue reading I'm joining Automattic