Notes from Pascal Birchler — Lessons learned working on WordPress magazine

These are notes taken with my tablet during the “Lessons learned working on WordPress” session at WordCamp Switzerland 2014 and I published them immediately after the talk. You can get a list of all my live-blogging posts of this WordCamp. Beware there may be mistakes, inaccuracies, and other imperfections in all these posts.

How it started in 2008. German WordPress community was growing and talked about a magazine, so he started it.

Lesson #1. Don’t talk about it. Do it.

Didn’t know how to get attention.

Fake 2.6.4 sec update. He blogged about it and got discovered.

Lesson #2 Make a name for yourself

Stats dropped again.

Lesson#3: Continuity is key.

He got contributors.

He got an apprenticeship as a web dev.
Blogging became boring, so he changed the formula to a PDF magazine download.

Lesson #4: Be a step ahead.

WP magazine made a great success. But InDesign is hard. And he got an offer to buy his magazine

He wished to change from PDF to HTML5. Pupig seemed a good solution. He got a liscense key for free. He writes in Wp and then packages it with the service and makes it downloadable. WP Magazine 2.0. 10000 downloads / 3 issues published.

Drawbacks. Content creation is expensive. Android version of Pugpig was never up to standards. People didn’t like having to register on the site.

Lesson #5: Listen to your audience

Still not quite happy with his project. He plans  on launching SpinePress and make some money.

Plans on paying writers going forward. He doesn’t regret not selling it. PDF doesn’t allow social sharing and fine analytics. Sharing was better with the app.

Visit the periodic table of plugins.

WordCamp Switzerland in Zürich: Live blog

The music in the night club downstairs had just died down. People were getting ready to go home after a festive Friday night. Roaming the streets waiting for the bakery to open. Waiting at the station for the first morning train. I, however, was just starting my day.

I had woken up at 4am. The train for the first leg of my trip left at 5:10. I am headed to the WordCamp Switzerland in Zürich, a conference about WordPress scheduled to start at 9. At the time of this writing, I still have half an hour of train and a little tram ride to get there.

Tweets have already started going back and forth. @purzlbaum put together a list of attendees and the hashtag is #wcch.

7:30ish. Arau is grey. I hope it clears and warms up.

9:00 Opening remarks. Meetups around the country. Zurich. Bern and Geneva.

Live-blog style notes takes during the conference


Round-ups and photo galleries


I’ll update this post when I can.

#MyTopTenBooks, enfin!

Mon #MyTopTenBooks a été long à venir. J’ai finalement pris le temps de le faire et de le publier sur Twitter. Comme Shalf l’a souligné récemment, cet exercice est difficile et les critères que l’on emploie ne sont pas toujours clairs — parfois pour le curateur de la liste lui-même.

La Librairie du Midi à Oron a lancé un mouvement de “top ten” personnels. Depuis samedi 5 avril, toute la Suisse romande s’y est mis. Funambuline a rassemblé les données dans un Storify et Martin Grandjean a fait une analyse de ces données.

La méthode de génération de mon tas est empruntée à Martin Grandjean. En me promenant dans mon appartement, j’ai parcouru les étagères et sorti les livres qui me parlaient sur le moment. Ainsi, le classement est dépendant du contexte. Par exemple, “How To Think More About Sex” d’Alain de Botton s’est hissé dans le classement car, le matin même, je suis allé écouter Viviane Morey parler de la genèse de la Fête du Slip.


“Let’s Pretend This Never Happened” de Jenny Lawson, à propos duquel j’avais déjà écrit ici, devrait bientôt connaître une suite. Je m’en réjouis d’avance.

Pour accompagner “Content Strategy For The Web” de Kristina Halvorson, je conseillerai aussi de lire “Elements of Content Strategy” d’Erin Kissane et “Content Strategy for Mobile” de Karen McGrane que je possède en e-books.

“The Areas Of My Expertise” de John Hodgman est le premier d’une superbe trilogie humoristique qui compte encore “More Information Than You Require” et “That is All” qui sont dans la bibliothèque en arrière-plan.

J’ai fait attention a avoir des auteures représentées dans ma liste (4 sur 10). Une autre chose remarquable est que tous ces livres sont en Anglais. Au delà de ces simples observations, peut-être qu’il n’est pas nécessaire de commenter cette photo dans les détails. Si vous avez des questions, je serai content de vous répondre.


#BizHeroes chat about curation

Last month, I had the privilege of co-hosting a #BizHeroes Twitter chat about curation with @SmallRivers and @KDHungerford. We had fun and I learned a lot. The feedback was positive. You can go to the transcript to see how people answered the following questions:

  • Why do you curate content?
  • How do you know when a piece of content is relevant?
  • How can we evaluate content quality?
  • What content do you feel can safely be dismissed? What have you decided not to pay attention to?
  • How do your curation efforts communicate your (or your brand’s) values and does it really elicit trust?
  • What are the most effective tools for content curation?

Zucchini and diced bacon muffins

Seeing the weather getting better and dreaming of getting in shape, I suggested a Sunday afternoon walk to my parents. Around this time every year we go for ONE walk. Then the guilt of being out-of-shape subsides and I let the laziness win. I don’t know that it’s going to be any different this summer. I should really make it so. But all I can manage right now is “Let’s hope”.

They accepted the idea right away. Since we’re not going on walks all the time and might not be going again for another twelve months, I thought I’d add a little bit to my Mom’s pic-nic. My cooking is a bit weak, my baking is way stronger. Playing on my strengths, I searched “vegetable and bacon muffins” on Google. This recipe on 750g looked reasonable.

Friday night, I left the office with my grocery list and went shopping. Saturday morning, I got all the ingredients out and started. On the table there were:

  • an onion
  • a zucchini
  • diced bacon (the recipe said 100gr but I had 163gr and put everything in)
  • 2 eggs
  • flour 120gr
  • milk 1dl
  • margarine 80gr
  • baking powder
  • pepper (I forgot to put it in, it was fine)

So, I had a plan and carried it out. Here’s how that went:

  1. First, I mixed the eggs and the margarine. Then added the flour and the baking powder. This is the basic part of the recipe that can be reused with other vegetables. The recipe suggested to add the milk now but it might be better to add it after the hot stuff.
  2. The diced zucchini, diced bacon and chopped onion were thrown in a hot pan with a little olive oil. It remained there until the bacon had taken a nice colour.
  3. The meat and vegetables were added to the dough. I put in the milk at this moment to prevent the mix from cooking further and stirred until it all became homogeneous.
  4. Then, the mix was transferred to the oiled up muffin pan with great patience and care.
  5. After a 15 minutes stay in the 210 degrees Celsius oven, they came out great. 

Our walk took us around the Rhone river from la Jonction to the Butin Bridge and then to Lignon. Geneva is lovely, the river offers tremendous sights. It was nice to complement them with a great pic-nic. These muffins delighted my parents who asked me for the recipe on the spot.

In responsive web design, designers like to ensure that browsers do not request unnecessary assets such as background images which might not get displayed. Some techniques are better than others. The article Media Query & Asset Downloading Results comes to this useful recommendation. It was recently mentioned on Twitter by the author Tim Kadlec in response to a question from Anna Debenham.

“If you want to hide a background image, your best bet is to hide the parent element. If you can’t do that, then use a cascade override (like test five above) and set the background-image to none when you want it hidden.

For swapping background images, define them both inside of media queries.”

For code examples and extended results, go to the original article.

“Blogging with WordPress” meetup


Last Tuesday, I was in a blogging workshop presented by Stephanie Booth. She first covered the basics. Her three main points were:

  • Blogs are ante-chronological websites that don’t necessarily need a rigid thematic organisation.
  • They can also encourage communication between the author and the readers when the tone is right.
  • When blogging software came on the scene, these solutions were the first to offer a way to publish on the web without knowing HTML.

Stephanie explained the rationale for blogging. Someone may blog to amass content for themselves and/or document their expertise in public. Both have documented benefits.

She summarized that by listing three main reasons to blog:

  1. Inform
  2. Share
  3. Denounce

We quickly toured a few personal and company blogs. Then, she showed the participants how to create a post and edit it using keyboard shortcuts. She encouraged us to follow along on our own blogs.

I always admired how she seldom touches the mouse while editing. I never took the time to make link-creation keyboard shortcuts into a habit. Part of the problem is that they change for every OS/browser combination. I use three OSes and, at least, two browsers on each. It is a convenient excuse, isn’t it? But anyway… I figured it out for Firefox/Ubuntu: it’s "Start" key + Shift + A. So, I’ll save precious seconds on each link. Thanks, Stephanie :)

We also went through the “Preferences”. There I noticed that my blog’s time zone was set on GMT+1 instead of Zurich which means that it didn’t support daylight savings time as Patricia pointed out. I also realized that nested comments where active. Oh, the horror! I fixed both issues on the spot.

It was, once again, a great evening of WordPress-based conversations. She succeeded in adapting her workshop to our 40 minutes format which was in itself a challenge. Regulars as well as newcomers seemed happy. After the meetup, we had a great time at the restaurant.

Would you care to join us next time?

Plopping a big, fat style guide on a coworker’s desk and saying ‘memorize this and then write me something’ is only going to scare them off. Instead, make style guides available for reference only, and focus on teaching new writers what they really need to know. At MailChimp, our voice and tone guide is required reading, but our traditional style guide (we use the Yahoo! style guide) is not.

Kate Kiefer Lee wrote this in Writing With Experts on her blog. It is a good point about the proper place of style guides in editorial workflows.

Guess-work and Offensiveness

We were just the wrong people. Lads’ mags aren’t staffed by lads. They’re staffed by middle-class graduates, some from Oxbridge, struggling wildly to guess what will appeal to a 17-year-old squaddie from Solihull. And getting it wrong, again and again. It took us six months to work out that young men liked cars.

Sex! Girls! Meltdown! Confessions of a baffled lads’ mag editor by Michael Deacon for The Telegraph (via @Suw).

What’s immediately apparent from this quote is that some editors don’t even know anybody in their target audience. Yet, it’s not the problem. The problem is “guessing”. Even when you’re part of your target audience, you should never assume all of your audience is just like you. You should want to do a minimum of research on the side and call for resources to be allocated to more thorough research.

“Offensiveness just seemed to… happen”, writes Michael Deacon about the controversies and problems the magazine has had. Again, research and a strong content strategy may help to avoid that. Erika Hall says it best when she states that “assumptions are insults” in Just Enough Research. Editors just like any type of designers can’t offer appealing solutions or entertainment to people they know only through stereotypes.

It is never easy to point out your team’s blind spots. It might feel like undermining your boss’ grand vision. The pressure is strong to do as you’re told — especially as a young graduate with no work experience. But it is important to ensure the success of your venture. In the particular case of lads’ mags, the author of the column says himself that their circulation do not show the biggest success. No amount of research can tell you what to design or what to publish, of course. Success is never guaranteed. True insights and solid plans can help you make better decisions though.

Editorial practices at Aol

Since I am flipping through the Yahoo! Style Guide, these days, I started wondering why Aol’s editorial practices never were the subject of publications. For example, on the Nieman Journalism Lab, we seldom hear anything from them. Apparently, I hadn’t been paying attention to the right sources. After a quick Google search, I found the “Aol Way”: a secret plan that leaked in 2011. It is a 58-page compilation of the editorial practices that the leadership at Aol wanted to force on their teams.

The Aol way relies on pressuring staff to increase keyword density and volume to lure search engine users on their properties. Their surrealist goals called for steep increases in volume and page-views through SEO and analysis of search traffic to select subjects. It didn’t address editorial quality much when in today’s competitive landscape quality and relevance should be at the centre of every content initiatives. These sentiments were shared by  Dan Mitchell writing for Fortune and Mathew Ingram from GigaOM. Their analysis is worth reading and should serve as a deterrent for people intent on following the advice contained in the 2011 Aol document.

Where are they now? The fact remains that there are very few articles about their editorial strategy available online. They don’t seem to be communicating on that very much. People covering new media could be a little more inquisitive, maybe? Do they find the company’s practices irrelevant? I, sure, would like to know more about the inner workings of their digital newsrooms. Because I am curious like that. If you have insights, do share in the comments. Please.