I’m building Newspack

Lichfield Live recently celebrated its 10th birthday. I made cake.

As a freelancer at the time, contributing to Lichfield Live led to plenty of work in journalism from tiny startups like Hackney Citizen to established publications like Journalism.co.uk. I spoke at conferences and even once advised the regional editors at one of the UK’s biggest media publishers. Thanks to a recommendation, I won one of the most interesting projects of my career – building one of the first sites for campaign group Hacked Off, right in the middle of the phone hacking scandal.

Then of course moving to WordPress.com VIP, as part of the CFTP acquisition, I came to work with some of the most interesting and largest media organisations in the world: New York Post, Time.com, CNN, FiveThirtyEight and most recently, The Sun.

Journalism became important to me. Back in 2009 I grabbed a copy of the industry “bible”, Principles and Practice to teach myself more. Of course, I also learnt plenty from LL’s excellent founder, Ross. For a while, I even ran my own niche hosted platform for small media sites.

So when I heard Kinsey Wilson talk about his plans for a hosted WordPress-based solution for small media publishers I was definitely excited. I kept my eye on things from within Automattic and was thrilled to see the announcement about Newspack go out.

In what seems like a natural fit given my now decade-long experience working with WordPress in the media industry I’m incredibly thrilled to say that I am one part of the team that will be building Newspack.

It’s ambitious and it’ll be challenging and I’m sure it’ll be lots of fun. If you’re a small or medium-sized digital media organisation, consider applying to become a charter participant.

RideLondon Training Update #1

Very nearly one year ago I joined a big family group to do the  Memory Walk in Sutton to raise money for Alzheimer’s Society. We were walking in memory of my Dad who suffered from Pick’s Disease, a form of Dementia. We had a great time and smashed our fundraising target, generating over £1,000 for Alzheimer’s Society!

Next year, on what would have been my Dad’s 67th birthday I’ll be taking part in another Alzheimer’s Society fundraising event – RideLondon. It’s a 100 mile bike ride starting and finishing in central London and taking in the Surrey Hills. I’m targeting £600 as a fundraising target, but I’d really love to double that. Take a look at my Just Giving page if you haven’t already.

This is the first of weekly – I hope – updates on my training progress. I also want to outline what my training plan looks like.

As part of my training I’m using British Cycling’s couch to 50k plan. It’s a bit tame to start with, for me, because I cycle a reasonable amount already including tackling a 5% gradient pulling a trailer with my 3 and 5 year old in! But it’ll get tougher, and then I’ll move onto the Improver’s Training Plan which should get me capable of doing a 60 mile ride before March.

Beyond that, I’m not sure what I’ll be done to get ready for 100 miles, but being able to do 60 miles in March gives me the spring and most of summer to work up to 100 miles. I’ll be looking out for organised rides to take part in during those few months to both get experience and build confidence. Maybe I’ll even join a local road cycling club!

That’s the plan then… but I’ve already started! So what have I been doing?

Well, week 1 is pretty tame:

  • Monday – Rest (yeah, weird to start with a rest day)
  • Tuesday – 30-minutes steady ride
  • Wednesday – Cross training/rest
  • Thursday – 30-minutes steady ride
  • Friday – Cross training/rest
  • Saturday – Rest
  • Sunday – 30-minutes steady ride

This week I did the Tuesday and Sunday rides (see all my rides on Strava) but as the kids were with me it was harder to stick to the plan. I did more than that though, riding a total of 15 miles over Wednesday, Thursday and Friday pulling the kids around. I probably exerted myself more than the training plan demands of me!

Week 2 is pretty similar, with slightly longer rides, presumably to help build stamina – one thing I definitely need to improve on. Cycling makes me feel really good, so I’ve enjoyed this week 🙂 Looking forward to week 2!

Donate now if you haven’t, and if you have, maybe you can help me with some supplies?

The Bullshit Web, and some bullshit about AMP

Alright, let’s start off by saying that I’m definitely a little biased – part of my job involves working with the AMP team at Google and the fine folks at XWP on the AMP for WordPress plugin. I wanted to highlight some things about this Bullshit Web piece that’s going around, though. In short: the bit about AMP is largely bullshit.

AMP pages aren’t inherently faster than non-AMP pages

Where’s the data to back that up? I’ve seen (big) data that shows the exact opposite.

high-performing non-AMP pages are not mixed with AMP versions

Wrong! AMP Native means that sites can be AMP-first, and the WP plugin makes that incredibly easy now.

Google has a conflict of interest in promoting the format.

Of course, because it’s focus with search is to give people the best result, and that includes performance, so faster pages will be given a rankings boost. That’s good for the user!

So: if you have a reasonably fast host and don’t litter your page with scripts, you, too, can have AMP-like results without creating a copy of your site dependent on Google and their slow crawl to gain control over the infrastructure of the web.

This is true (and of course, if you want a fast host, choose VIP), but as Nick already stated, publishers aren’t doing that on their own. I think it’s a damn shame that Google has had to use it’s power to force publishers to stop cluttering up their pages with all the bullshit Nick is complaining about, but that’s where we are.

AMP shouldn’t be necessary, but it’s helping force publishers to lighten their pages and solve the very problem Nick is ranting about. I agree with him that there is a lot of bullshit, and that it’s bad for users. Google is trying to do something about it. It might not be perfect, but it’s having an impact. Does he have a better idea?

their slow crawl

As a bit of an aside: Google’s crawl definitely isn’t slow. In working with some of the biggest publishers on the web I can tell you that Google is incredibly fast with indexing. Sometimes to a fault, as it can cause real issues for publishers when they need to delete content.

He also says,

…users are increasingly taking matters into their own hands — the use of ad blockers is rising across the board, many of which also block tracking scripts and other disrespectful behaviours. Users are making that choice… They shouldn’t have to.

Correct! Just like Google shouldn’t have to use it’s clout to force publishers to do what they should be doing already, users shouldn’t have to take steps to improve the browsing experience for themselves because publishers won’t.

But what does Nick expect to happen? Ranting about it won’t change anything. You might not like it but it’s not as if publishers are doing this to deliberately degrade the user experience. There are well-justified business reasons that have been given more prominence over the user experience. What AMP has done is to give performance a real business impact, and give publishers that incentive to improve the user experience.

For now, it’s helping.

Happy 70th birthday, NHS, and thank you

Thank you for delivering me safely to my parents.
Thanks for all the eye tests and glasses.
Thanks for making sure I had healthy teeth despite my attempts to avoid brushing.
Thanks for looking after my sisters as they gave life to my nieces and nephews.
Thanks especially for nurturing the twins when they entered the world.
Thanks for saving my Dad’s life.
Thanks for helping our family through my Dad’s journey with dementia.
Thanks for saving my life. Twice.
Thank you for safely delivering my two wonderful children into the world.
Thanks for saving the lives of many of my friends, multiple times.

Thank you for doing all this for free.
Thank you for making sure we’re a healthy nation.
Thank you to all the staff for being so committed to doing the very best you can for patients, sometimes under immense pressure, with insufficient resources and inadequate pay. You are all heroes.


12 Years

Of course my WordPress journey is much longer, having picked up the software a while before joining WordPress.com.

At that moment, I didn’t even consider the idea that I might actually work at WordPress.com one day. I’ve come so far in those twelve years – I wonder where I’ll be in another twelve.