Webstock: Clay Johnson, Industrialized Ignorance

This week I’m at Webstock, a lovely conference in New Zealand. I’m doing my best to write little blog posts about the amazing presentations. Please forgive any typos, etc. If you’re here too, come write a haiku at Automattic’s booth.

Clay Johnson (@cjoh) started out with a comparison of knowledge. Most of the room knew the name of at least one Kardashian, but most didn’t know the child poverty rate in NZ. How can we build better communities if we don’t know these things?

In 2011, the obesity rates in America are so bad that they had to adjust the map for comparing states.

“Pizza tastes better than broccoli.” We tend to eat more of what tastes good to us, as opposed to what’s good for us. Evolution hasn’t caught up to agriculture, let alone industrial agriculture.

We’ve created huge multinationals produce cheap, tasty calories for us. The power of industry means that complex food items (e.g. Pizza Hut with a variety of crazy toppings) are more easily accessible than simple ones.

“Who wants to hear the truth when they can hear they’re right?” We’ve also created media companies that affirm what we know, as opposed to informing us of what we need to know.

Politics and media is A/B testing and optimizing for reader clicks. “Opinion tastes better than news.” How do inform a society when everything is optimized for business needs? The AOL Way is a classic example of doing it wrong. Editorial integrity is last on the list.

Something strange is going on in America, and Clay thinks it’s because of the media. Up until 1996, the voting distribution across America was mostly purple (e.g. red and blue mixed). Since 1996, voting distribution has become increasingly polarized. Some areas are bright red and others are bright blue. Clay argues that it correlates with the rise of television networks. Similarly, Google search results affirm what question you’re asking (e.g. “democrats are socialist”).

Our definition of ignorance has changed. Ignorance now can be caused just as much by the consumption of information as lack thereof.

“We need to manage our information intakes like we manage our food intakes.” Some ways you can manage your information diet:

  • Be a conscious consumer. Clay uses Rescue Time to track which websites he’s viewing. At the end of the week, review what you’ve been looking at and consciously think about whether it’s how you actually want to spend your time.
  • Schedule regular tasks like email, Facebook, and browsing the news.
  • Go local. Pay more attention to what’s going on in your neighborhood instead of what’s happening nationally. You probably aren’t going to have an impact on the international child poverty rate, but you can definitely have an impact on local child poverty.
  • Be a producer instead of a consumer. Stop using your iPhone as an alarm clock. The moment you check your email in the morning is the moment you start reacting to things. Clay has a goal of writing 500 words before 8 am.

We as a community need to get closer to the source material. We need to demand of journalists that they show their work. Data is what enables us to create a more honest media.

Most importantly, work on stuff that matters. Every moment in history there’s been a hyper-literate class. Computer illiteracy will be like book illiteracy in ten years, and there will be a lot of people left behind. Lawyers are transferring their power to developers. When Mark Zuckerberg creates a new feature on Facebook, he’s wiring society. Features, like laws, dictate how we operate.

#techrakingcir: The Future of the CMS

Today, I’m down at Google in Mountain View at Techraking, a gathering of technologists and investigative journalists. It’s been super inspiring because of the fresh to me perspectives — I’d love to help Portland media outlets with projects like those I’ve heard about.

At lunch, I learnt I was to lead a small group breakout on “the future of the CMS.” To keep the discussion going, we started out by brainstorming the things we liked and want to improve our respective software, and then did a roundtable to identify our six month personal goals.

Some things people like about their CMS:

  • Drupal done well is easy to use; there are a ton of modules
  • Affordability, open source is cheap
  • Community to work with
  • Many different homepage templates to choose from depending on the stories of the day

What people would like to improve (lots of conversation, as expected):

  • Data portability
  • More headless; produce output other than HTML
  • Scalability, faster when many people are working in the admin
  • Less steps for completing common, simple tasks
  • Integration with story budgeting, calendaring; API for story flow
  • Magical WYSIWYG editor; auto-save that works; track changes
  • Support structured data / semantic markup
  • Customization for story layout
  • Small pieces loosely joined; better integration with other services

Given the short notice, I thought the breakout session went quite well. About twenty people showed up. In terms of what worked:

  • Small group discussion; knew enough backgrounds to call out different people to talk
  • Noted salient points on the whiteboard as a way of plotting direction
  • I enjoyed the “what are you going to work on in the next six months” takeaways at the end

Next time, we should:

  • Figure out the location ahead of time so we don’t waste time finding it
  • Have people introduce themselves if they haven’t spoken yet
  • Every fifteen minutes, have something for everyone to participate in so people don’t check out

Upcoming talks: WordCamp Phoenix, PDXWP, and CMA NYC

Over the next couple of months, I’m looking forward to speaking at a few different events.

At WordCamp Phoenix on February 25th, I’m presenting “Mastering WordPress Development.” The title lends itself to a number of discussion topics, possibly including coding standards, how to perform migrations, writing bin scripts to manipulate lots of data, participating in open source projects, how to review your code, common mistakes we see at WordPress.com VIP, etc. If you have opinions as to what I should cover, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

On February 27th, Mike Bijon and I will be taking the Portland WordPress Users Group through using Git (and SVN) for version control and working within a team.

At CMA NYC March 18th through 20th, I’ll be leading three sessions (one per day):

  • “I Want To Learn WordPress – An Introduction To Key Concepts” – All of the basics you need to get started, including the WordPress interface and key concepts like themes, plugins, PHP and MySQL, and how to choose a good web host and design for your site.
  • “Hacking WordPress In The Newsroom” – How to take your WordPress development to the next level. We’ll review version control, coding standards, performance and optimization, debugging, and other best practices.
  • “Making The Switch To WordPress” – Everything you need to know about switching to WordPress from CMS X. Well, most everything.

Shaun, Erica, and I will also be hosting a mini-Happiness Bar for a few hours on Monday to help attendees with all of their WordPress questions.

Sweet!

Notes from livecoding the ONA11 website

This is a quick post I’ve been meaning to do about the work we did this year on the ONA11 conference website.

Background: last year, I was late on getting a conference pass and ended up volunteering for an entire day in the student newsroom. ONA’s student newsroom produces stories, video, and other coverage related to the conference. I had so much fun that I volunteered to do it again this year. I planned to work on it over the summer, but 90% of the work ended up being done in the last week.

The goals for the website varied depending on the context:

  • Before the conference, the focus was convincing journalists to purchase tickets and attend.
  • During the conference, there are two audiences: those who are physically at the sessions and those who want to participate virtually. The former probably want a backchannel for conversation and capturing the highlights, whereas the latter probably want to participate in realtime as much as they can.
  • After the conference, everyone wants to access a historical archive of the content presented in sessions, either to catch those they missed or find the link they heard referenced.

With this in mind, we worked on making the website dynamically reflect these needs. It was helpful, although somewhat distracting from the experience, that I was working on the website during the entire conference.

What worked this time:

  • Session pages as a custom post type. This gave us a structured database of all sessions and allowed us to easily build a session listing, etc.
  • Using Posts 2 Posts to associate posts and presenters with session pages. Our realtime curation crew could easily publish content from the WordPress admin, associate it with a session, and have it automatically pulled into the session page. Furthermore, every presenter had a dedicated profile page and their information could automatically be pulled into other contexts on the website.
  • Auto-showing the livestream player on an individual session page based on timestamp. Every session was associated with a track and I had a bit of logic to pull in the correct livestream based on current time, session start, and session end.
  • Showing the session updates in reverse chronological order during the event (because the user is most likely refreshing the page and wants the most recent updates at the top) and then flipping to chronological order 15 minutes after the event.
  • Leveraging the Zoninator on the homepage for featured stories and events. Editorial loved that they could have full control over which stories were highlighted. WordPress normally lists headlines in reverse chronological order, and developers hack this with “featured” categories, etc.
  • Post formats presented content exactly as it was intended to be presented. I was particularly proud of my gallery implementation, even if there weren’t the visuals to go with it.

Next time I’d like to:

  • Get started earlier so these features are actually fleshed out before the day of.
  • Build an interface for posting updates from the session page so it’s brain dead simple to update (no associating with session post, choosing post type, writing a title if you don’t need to, etc.)
  • Allow for “featured” session updates a la NY Times Editors’ Picks for commenting.
  • Guest session update submissions with a moderation queue.
  • Live update the session page so it’s essentially liveblogging with rich media.
  • Show the bylines/avatars for people covering the event, so you know how well it’s going to be covered (e.g. one person versus five people participating)
  • On the all sessions page, show the number of updates an event has, whether it’s currently live/being livestreamed, etc.
  • Order content on the single session page based when it was published (e.g. you can assume everything 30 minutes after the session is coverage of it, whereas during the event is realtime updates on it).

Lastly, I have one more idea I’d like to pitch: a way of indicating who you want to meet at the conference. Every attendee that registers get access to a page on the website listing every other attendee. Then, they can go through and indicate whom they want to meet at the conference. It’s a double win; you get to notify who you want to meet that you want to meet them, and you get to see in advance who wants to meet you.

For archival purposes, I’ve captured a gallery of screengrabs from the website too.

What I’d like to talk about at WordCamp Portland

In the spirit of being prepared, here are a few things I’d like to talk about at WordCamp Portland:

WordPress Multisite – In a nutshell, how it works and why it will make your life infinitely more manageable. If we have a group of people who quickly get their heads around the basics, I’d also love to share tips and tricks for pimping a multisite instance. For instance, using plugins like Restrict Multisite Plugins and customizing your admin bar to give easy access to the network admin for super admins. (People I should bump in to: Emma McCreary, Kayleen)

Test-driven Development – WordPress doesn’t do it, and I’m terrible at it. I should find a mentor with fountains of knowledge. (People I should bump in to: Michael Fields, Than Taintor, Toby McKes)

WordPress for Publishers – More and more newsrooms are using WordPress for all parts of their workflow. From experience, I know that journalists tend tolerate crappy technology. I’d love to hear from users about their current frustrations and pain points. (People I should bump into: Joe BoydstonToby McKes)

Dogfooding It – We love WordPress and sell to our clients, but a lot of us developers don’t actually use it on a regular basis. Why? How should we fix this? (People I should harass to no end: Nacin)

If you see me there on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, say hello! I look like this but with much shorter hair.