Jake Goldman

WordPress as an App Platform?

September 8, 2013

A slightly overweight 47-year-old walks up and says, “I plan to become the next Olympic medalist for track. What do you think?” I say, “Well, I like where you’re headed, anyways.”

In fairness, that guy would probably never make it to the Olympics. WordPress features many app framework and platform hallmarks, including core APIs and methods that automate and simplify otherwise complex operations like user authentication and remote data interaction. WordPress succeeds spectacularly largely because it emphasizes the publisher experience atop a capable, approachable, and open platform. Business-minded decision makers selecting a publishing system aren’t terribly interested in nuanced argument about PHP’s suitability to object-oriented software engineering.

So when the conversation is about “the best platform for content delivery and management”, there’s a compelling, evidence-based argument for WordPress. If the conversation is about “the best platform to engineer apps on top of”, it’s unclear that objective evaluation – of this admittedly murky and broad criteria – leads to “WordPress”, largely because this is a debate about the comparative merit of platform architecture. In a debate about architecture and engineering prowess, the freshest technologies – free from legacy weight and optimized for the latest real world use cases – are bound to excel. Our vision for auto-updates (Chrome-like updates that happen in the background without intervention) – which can succeed only with virtually guaranteed backwards compatibility – conflicts with a vision of a competitive, fresh software platform.

Unhealthy temptations

Some tangential, important context: I understand the temptation of a loyal, often insular community to think of every possible project as a nail when they only carry a hammer (Tom McFarlin effectively articulates the same point). There’s a cautionary joke told by doctors: take a difficult to diagnose patient to a neurologist, and they’ll receive a neurological diagnosis; take that patient to an oncologist, and they’ll find cancer. Engineers apply their personal tool belt to engineering problems. Salesmen push the product they have on the shelf.

…he’ll talk through the comparative merit of 3 or 4 different platforms, some of which he doesn’t support. I want to be that guy, not the “WordPress, f–k yea” guy.

Then there’s the fanboy thing. There’s nothing wrong with cheering for a team, until right and wrong is defined by the team. With my current fortunes tied to WordPress, a “WordPress good, platform X, bad” frame of mind is tempting – and dangerous. I don’t want to be that guy cheering for MovableType in 2008 or Adobe Flash in 2011. I’ve admired my friend and fellow web strategist John Eckman for years largely because you can describe your functional web platform requirements, and he’ll talk through the comparative merit of 3 or 4 different platforms, some of which he doesn’t support. I want to be that guy, not the “WordPress, f–k yea” guy.

Why I shouldn’t blog

September 1, 2013

I own an agency called 10up, which leverages and builds the web’s best publishing software: WordPress. If you believe my friends at Acquia, blogging is WordPress’s singular worthwhile purpose. I have unique perspectives and an oft-contrary but usually well-reasoned insight… or so colleagues and friends tell me when they’re not suggesting it might be time to stop speaking. Then again, maybe telling a busy guy to “write a blog post about it” is just a clever way of pocket vetoing the conversation, in which case: bluff called. But seriously: in the age of social media, strong personalities, and community engagement, how is it that I don’t have a blog already?

Jake's Sports Jacket

As “Mr. 10up”, I do have a blog

Granted, the 10up blog mostly features announcements and tips, though it’s a reliable way to see what I’m up to, professionally. If I have a new engineering tip I’d like to share, a new presentation, or just some exciting business news, you’ll find it all over there.

Which brings us to the heart of the matter: my perspective and insight is largely inseparable from the agency I own. I can shout from the hilltops that 10up policy and practice is influenced by diverse opinion within our team, and I’d be wasting my breath. I don’t blame the skepticism, either; at the end of the day, I call the big plays that land on my desk, and those plays are necessarily informed by a mix of concrete data and subjective instinct, informed by that same perspective. I’m told this is called “leadership.”

…public expression influences the way outsiders perceive our team, fair or not.

I remind every 10upper that public expression influences the way outsiders perceive our team, fair or not. That’s true for me, five times over. If a client or recruit actively doesn’t like a given 10up engineer, for example, I can get on the phone, apologize, and institute changes. If he or she doesn’t like me, odds are that he or she will pass on 10up, and encourage others to do the same.

Paneling on Team and Agency Building

September 1, 2013

During WordCamp San Francisco, I was honored to share the stage with inspiring friends and fellow agency owners Alex King, Shane Pearlman, and Brad Williams, along with our moderator, WordPress creator Matt Mullenweg. Even as we pushed our time allowance to 45 minutes, it seemed to me that we only scratched the surface, offering high level insight into the agency consulting model.

The moderator led conversation was at its best when each of us championed a different team engagement model. This panel was intentionally designed to showcase leaders with informed, strongly held, and most of all, very different philosophies on team architecture. I’ve debated the efficacy of distributed teams with Alex, who advocates passionately for centralized offices. Shane and I have argued respectfully for and against his 100% contractor model (as opposed to 10up’s salaried model), where the team is often paid a premium, but only as billable work is available. Even Brad, closest to me philosophically, differs on employment policy. Our successes demonstrate that there isn’t a “right answer”, making this an introspective choice for would be entrepreneurs; I would love to dig deeper into this topic at some point.